The journey to making palladium cool

How the Palladium Alliance is working hard to get trendsetters on side

Vivienne Westwood very publicly launched her own palladium jewellery collection during London Fashion Week and where the high priestess of punk goes, the fashion pack follow. Rachael Taylor writes about whether the British designer can make or break palladium and the crusade to make palladium trendy.

Dame Vivenne Westwood is the queen of punk, the grande dame of anarchy, vanguard of edgy couture; in short, when she puts her name to something it is instantly credible and wholly desirable.

Whether that is designing T-shirts for discount fashion chain TK Maxx or teapots for Wegdwood, or even just holding hands with the once ridiculed busty American actress Pamela Anderson, if Vivienne Westwood’s in, we all want in.

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So it was no small coup when the Palladium Alliance, a US-based organisation set up to market the precious metal, managed to persuade the designer to turn her attentions to palladium to raise its profile in the UK.

Westwood is famous for her fashion designs, but she actually started her creative career in jewellery and even studied silversmithing at Harrow School of Art in the late 1950s. She left after one term, claiming that she “didn’t know how a working class girl like me could possibly make a living in the art world” but went on to create her own jewellery, selling it from a stall on Portobello Road while training to be a primary school teacher.

Jewellery has continued to hold a place in Westwood’s collections and a range of watches was presented at this year’s BaselWorld that were made under her name by Herald Group subsidiary Zeon Limited. Despite her punk roots and love of more controversial jewellery inspirations such as safety pins and dog collars, Westwood’s current jewellery collections are fairly tame with a focus on very commercial motifs such as her signature orb, candy coloured skulls and pavé teddy bears.

Her range of palladium jewellery, called Get a Life, is similarly tame despite its typically provocative name. The collection draws on pagan and naturalist themes that have translated into a line of highly polished jewellery with acorn charms and a selection of jewellery featuring asymmetric hearts that have been given a tarnished effect and embellished with inscriptions. She has also used the metal to create some of her signature orb motif jewellery.

Westwood says that she honed in on the acorn and nature motifs as a way of expressing her passion for saving the environment for future generations. “My focus at the moment is on what one person can do,” she says. “Stop climate change, save the planet. The acorn is symbolic of the rainforest, its importance and how it is our first duty to save it.”
The Get a Life collection was given a hugely high-profile launch on the eve of London Fashion Week. Westwood and the Palladium Alliance gathered press, friends and more than a few famous faces at one of the designer’s favourite spots in London, art gallery The Wallace Collection.

The collection was on display for all to see and to add that extra bit of celebrity sparkle, and ensure a few extra column inches, rising pop star Jessie J took to the stage for a mini concert whilst wearing a floral headdress made from palladium designed by Westwood.

The campaign behind the collection gathered more force when it was announced that Mad Men star Christina Hendricks would be helping to promote the range. The blazen-haired actress posed for a number of campaign shots, wearing the same palladium headdress borrowed by Jessie J and the asymmetric heart necklace, and the pictures were then scattered across the global press next to some choice quotes from the star about palladium.

“Vivienne Westwood has always been one of my favourite designers so it was a great honour for me to be asked to represent the Get a Life palladium jewellery collection,” says Hendricks. “I admire that Vivienne uses her designs to inspire change and the pieces are just so wonderful. I love that there are dramatic pieces such as the tiara and the heart necklace as well as more simple pieces such as the acorn earrings.” And here comes the killer line: “As palladium is a naturally white metal the pieces really sparkle under the lights and I cannot wait to wear them on the red carpet.”

This seems like an inordinate amount of fuss for a jewellery collection that will only be sold at Vivienne Westwood boutiques in London and Los Angeles. But the fact is that the Palladium Alliance is the one really pushing this project, and it is more focused on promoting the metal than
the jewellery.

Palladium has been used in jewellery design for decades but less than two years ago a hallmark was created for the metal and this has resulted in a spike in it being used in jewellery design. But the metal is dogged by the fact that it is often just perceived as a cheaper alternative to platinum, and while this in itself is a perfectly good selling point, the power behind palladium has quite rightly realised it needs to broaden its horizons.

Despite the purported enthusiasm of Hendricks to wear palladium on the red carpet, such events are typically a showcase of luxury, with platinum firmly staking its place as the metal of choice for star-studded evenings. To make sure stars are wearing platinum at key events the Platinum Guild International will set up dedicated lending suites at the awards shows such as the Oscars.

So what do you do if you want to grab consumers’ attention but you can’t compete in the luxury stakes? Why not become the go-to precious metal for the trendsetters and cutting-edge designers in the industry? That’s exactly what the Palladium Alliance is doing.

As well as its brilliantly set up partnership with Westwood, the organisation is also setting up links with design stars of the future by running a competition with infamous talent melting pot Central Saint Martins university in London.

Every year the jewellery industry hosts more and more competitions, with most seeming to have no real value at all other than bulking out a designer’s About Me page on their website while generating a nice press release for the organising body. But the Central Saint Martins competition has been run in a very slick way.

First off, it has avoided being nothing more than a flash-in-the-pan press release by dragging the process out over months, not minutes. The team behind the competition, which was open to students of any discipline, not just jewellery, was diligently documented at every stage with videos (watch them online at professionaljeweller.com/video) charting the processes of the competition from behind-the-scenes footage of initial entries to interviews with course leaders talking about why it is so exciting to have the chance to work with palladium to the finale evening when architecture student Leigh Cameron scooped the top prize for an architectural diamond-set palladium ring.

It even added some high-profile judges – none other than Central St Martins graduates Giles Deacon, who has gone on to build his own very successful fashion label and collaborate with high street store New Look, and Hannah Martin, one of the most talked about trendsetting young jewellery designers in our industry who last year collaborated with Pete Doherty on a range, and was named in the Professional Jeweller Hot 100. Not only are these two designers well respected in their fields, they are also respected for cutting-edge, fashion-forward designs. Finally, the competition was rounded off with a celeb-dotted bash at the Institue of Contemporary Arts, a venue completely fitting for the task at hand.

As a contender to platinum, the Palladium Alliance could have gone the route of aligning itself with the safe and the traditional aspects of the jewellery industry, particularly when to date its successes have mainly been in the wedding market. But champions of palladium have always been quick to point out the metal’s lightweight properties that make it ideal for designing larger, more fashion-led pieces, so collaborations with designers who work in this way, and
will inspire others to work in this way, are priceless.

Platinum might have the red carpet sewn up for now, but palladium’s march into the domain of the catwalks and glossy magazines might just give it that edge of difference to take it from a cheaper option to platinum to a metal of choice for price-conscious fashion followers that want an element of luxe. And with Vivienne Westwood leading the way, there is no doubt that others will follow.  

 

This article was taken from the April 2011 issue of Professional Jeweller magazine. See the whole edition by clicking here.

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