Q&A: Gareth Pugh on working with Forevermark

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From 3D printing and diamond mines to making steel a luxury material.

British fashion designer Gareth Pugh is known for his dark, armour-like designs. He was recently approached by De Beers’ Forevermark diamond brand to create a one-of-a-kind neckpiece using its stones. He talks design, manufacture and diamonds.

How did the collaboration with Forevermark come about?
Gareth Pugh: I was approached by Forevermark to be part of this project. Having seen that they had worked with some great jewellery designers, I was intrigued as to what I could achieve in a medium that is essentially a foreign language to me. This is my very first piece of fine jewellery. I like to challenge myself, and I really like to work with people who have the same exacting standards as I do – it seemed like a great match.

What made you want to work with Forevermark and use their diamonds in this neck piece – your first piece of fine jewellery?
GP: It’s always a pleasure to work with people who are at the top of their game, and with materials that are truly inspiring – Forevermark diamonds are just that. Also, I was allowed total creative freedom – something that is very unusual. It was this freedom that allowed us to realise something that I hope is truly unique.

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Have you long since wanted to create a fine jewellery piece?
GP: To be honest, it wasn’t really something I had considered until I was asked to do this project, but this is hopefully just the beginning – it’s been an amazing experience. I have always loved the process of creating something from scratch, something incredibly precise and exquisitely made. I have always had an interest in fine jewellery, so this project was a great opportunity for me to see what I could achieve using the best quality materials and working with the most skilled craftsmen.

Can you explain the main source of your inspiration?
GP: I was intrigued by certain processes used by the polishing factory we had visited in Botswana, particularly their use of 3D mapping to determine how a rough stone would be cut and polished into finished diamonds. I love the idea of something so ancient meeting high technology and this was something I was determined to include in the finished piece.

You travelled to Africa to explore the journey of a Forevermark diamond. What experiences or sights that you saw in Africa have particularly stayed with you?
GP: Seeing the Orapa diamond mine was breathtaking.

The neck piece is very identifiable as your style. Were you very clear on how it would appear early on in the process or did you have to adapt your ideas due to the manufacturing processes involved in fine jewellery?
GP: The piece was always fully formed in my head. It was a very complicated process to get to the end result, but do I think that nothing is worth doing unless it is done properly. I like to push the limits of what is possible, and discover what can be achieved. The design is of course very linked to my own aesthetic and I tried to be extremely precise from the outset – from the initial design, to how it should be made to how it should be finished – I don’t think it would have worked had I not been personally involved in every stage of its construction.

What are the main differences between fashion design and fine jewellery design?
GP: All design is essentially about problem solving and I find I can adapt quite easily to new parameters – so in this sense, the process involved in making the piece is not dissimilar to what I am used to in my own work. Other than the materials I had at my disposal, of course. But the end result is the same – it’s essentially about striving for perfection.

What were the main challenges you faced in designing the neckpiece?
GP: It was an incredibly intense process and a very steep learning curve for me – sometimes fully understanding how things are traditionally done can prevent new ways of thinking. With this project I was able to carve out a new way of working, a way that I could understand and relate to, and a way that I hope challenged everyone involved to work a little outside their comfort zone.

Have you enjoyed the process?
GP: Of course, though getting to see the neckpiece actually finished will be a great moment.

You chose stainless steel as the metal for the piece. This is a very industrial choice and by no means common in diamond jewellery. Can you explain why you chose this?
GP: I like the idea of mixing together two disparate elements. Steel certainly does sound very industrial, but we have worked it like you would a precious metal, and it has a delicacy to it that is quite unexpected.

3D printing is also an innovative choice. What compelled you to use this technique?
GP: I’m very aware of the craftsmanship that goes into a piece of fine jewellery and that is certainly something that is tested to the limit with this piece. 3D printing is a fascinating process; it’s very immediate and allows something incredibly complex to be produced very quickly, which is a totally different approach to traditional fine jewellery. A great deal of my work involves a desire for perfection, and with 3D printing we found it was possible to achieve very satisfying results. That said, for me it’s the combination of this high technology and the second stage of the production – intense handwork and craftsmanship – that really sets this piece apart.

How involved were you in the manufacturing process?
GP: Very much so!

Do you think working with Forevermark diamonds been an experience that will inspire you moving forwards?
GP: Absolutely. I think it’s something that will stay with me for a long time.
 

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