Newly crowned MBE jewellery designer on getting back to her roots.
She’s got a back catalogue of trendsetting designs that spans 15 years, a regular blog spot on Vogue.com and now an MBE, so it is hardly surprising that the International Palladium Board singled out Lara Bohinc in its quest to link palladium to trendsetting designers. Kathryn Bishop meets the designer to find out about her experiences working with the metal.
After more than 15 years working in the UK as a jewellery designer, Slovenia-born Lara Bohinc won the ultimate British accolade last month when the Queen singled her out for an MBE for services to fashion in her Birthday Honours.
Although the Lara Bohinc brand has evolved since its launch in 1997 to become a lifestyle accessories brand, with shoes, scarves and bags joining the original line-up of fashion-forward jewellery, Bohinc is first and foremost a jewellery designer, so much so that she has been working with heritage house Cartier as a jewellery design consultant since 2000.
But by embracing the fashion industry, Bohinc has broadened her appeal and perhaps made her more influential than if she had remained solely in jewellery. The fact that she has a regular blog on Vogue’s website is surely testament to this.
And it is this status as a trendsetting jewellery designer that made Bohinc a perfect accomplice for the International Palladium Board’s fresh assault on the jewellery industry, which sees it attempting to bring palladium into wider use in the general jewellery market by first linking it with trendsetting designers.
Only five months ago at London Fashion Week the International Palladium Board sponsored the British Fashion Council‘s Rock Vault, a jewellery exhibition behind Somerset House curated by Stephen Webster, where contemporary jewellery design from the likes of Hannah Martin, Tomasz Donocik and Jo Hayes-Ward was showcased, alongside emerging talent such as Fernando Jorge and Melanie Georgacopoulos. And now, of course, the International Palladium Board has Bohinc as its new secret weapon.
Bohinc studied at the Ljubljana Academy of Fine Arts in her native Slovenia before moving to London in 1994 to study an MA in Metalwork in Jewellery at the Royal College of Art.
Having graduated as a jewellery designer, her early pieces were focused on precious metals, but as she established herself as a brand, Bohinc moved further into accessory design and, in recent years, has become better known for her knot-decorated clutch bags, shoes and oversized costume jewellery.
While Bohinc has continued to work in silver and 18ct gold, this exploration into design with a different precious metal was somewhat of a return to her roots.
Bohinc was approached by the International Palladium Board to be its latest “inspirational partner”, following collaborations with fashion designer Hussein Chalayan and art college Central Saint Martins.
The actual collaboration was confirmed in early 2012, with Bohinc turning around the new collection – which is split into a fine collection called Palladium Fine and a more fashion-forward range called Collision – in only two months.
The designer and her team produced a collection that while referencing many of her signature motifs – spherical shapes, slices of black onyx, openwork structures – also plays with the metal in a way that makes it entirely different from many of her better-known knot designs or those that reference planets and space.
“My inspiration and the collection is focused on the theme of lightness and strength,” says Bohinc. “I’ve tried to portray visibly in the design the strong structures found in nature and architecture. I wanted to make something structural with relatively thin lines, maybe 1mm thick, but also with an organic element to the form.”
The result is a high-end collection that appears like futuristic architectural forms on the wrist, neck and from the ear, and an entry-level line that is chunkier and a bolder in its use of the metal.
The Palladium Fine line, for example, features earrings that hang, in Bohinc’s own words, like a cherry on a stalk but with a lightweight cage design in which a pearl is trapped, something Bohinc says adds luminosity and dimension with the way light travels around and through the piece.
One element of palladium has often been its more industrial connotations, while the metal’s grey-white colour can make it quite cold in appearance. This was something Bohinc was acutely aware of when designing, so that the white metal was not too harsh against the skin. “I wanted to avoid too many sharp angles or too much of a geometric look,” explains Bohinc. “So instead there are spherical shapes, rounded organic shapes with a softer feel.”
The collection is inherently Bohinc’s style with a space-age styling, cage-like openwork but simple styles. But how, in such a short space of time did Bohinc and her design team turn around such a sharp collection of fine and fashion-forward jewellery?
“The advantage has been working with CAD and rapid prototyping,” explains Bohinc. “I could never do it if we were sketching out ideas as we would still be sat here looking at waxes.”
In fact Bohinc’s team has been even more creative, albeit with technology and equipment often used in industrial processes. While no one has been sat at the bench creating the pieces by hand – something that wouldn’t work due to the precise shapes and clean lines of the pieces – the team did instead make use of technological advances such as 3D printers, which were used to print out the CAD jewellery designs in a wax format.
“All the designing was done using CAD on a computer, then we went to get it printed straight into wax and then cast straight into metal,” she reveals. “The 3D printing is amazing. You send off a file design and the wax arrives and it’s identical.”
The pieces were then hand-finished to get the high shine and, due to the strength and hardness of the metal, this was something that took a long time – days in the case of some of the more complex pieces.
So how has this fashion conscious jewellery designer managed to make a crossover collection that will appeal to both her fans and those shopping for fine jewellery? The trick, explains Bohinc, has been to keep an eye on the prices of each piece so as not to be astronomical even though the design remit would allow for it. “The designs start at around £7,700 and up go to £35,000 for the hero necklace. There are pearls, diamonds – I don’t think the price is too bad for the materials, the design and the work.”
Speaking of the metal’s appeal, Bohinc adds that its strength has been of the utmost importance when designing. “It’s really good for setting stones,” she explains. “For me I love bold jewellery that is also light so palladium is great. You can do bigger things but compared to gold or platinum when designing on such a scale, palladium is relatively inexpensive.”
The collections have been made in a limited run to begin with, and will be sold through the Lara Bohinc store on London’s Sloane Street, the brand’s website and though Harrods’ new jewellery room.
While wider distribution has not yet been confirmed, Bohinc recognises that the collection might have appeal to key jewellers in larger UK cities looking for a fresh take on fine, palladium jewellery.
Bohinc says that she has been impressed by the Palladium Board’s move into supporting new talent such as the Central Saint Martins students with which it collaborated for a design competition this year, while also working with more established designers.
“I think it’s great and it’s needed because there has been nothing like this for so long for the jewellery industry,” she explains. “In fashion there are so many initiatives such as the British Fashion Council’s NewGen initiative, the Vogue Fund, but for jewellery designers there are no major platforms.”
Palladium itself was only granted an official hallmark in 2009, meaning that to date exploration in the metal has, in the main, been limited to either smaller designers creating pieces to order or the larger manufacturing companies offering wedding rings and some engagement styles made with the metal.
This new route, creating fine jewellery with a fashionable, branded crossover appeal, represents a new direction and will perhaps add to the metal’s kudos among designers.
“You can do anything in palladium that you can do with gold, there is no reason why you can’t do anything on the market in palladium,” says Bohinc.
So, after going back to her fine jewellery design roots and getting to grips with the design of a metal completely new to Bohinc – she has never worked with palladium before – has she been inspired to continue working with white metal? “Definitely,” she says. “We will see how the public responds, but I can see that they will like designs and the price.”
This article was taken from the July 2012 issue of Professional Jeweller magazine. To read a digital version of this issue click here.