Meet the new wave of jewellers getting to grips with smooth stones.
Cabochon gemstones have been overlooked in favour of facets, but a new wave of jewellers are getting to grips with these smooth stones. Kathryn Bishop reports on this emerging trend.
I was about 16 years old the first time that I held a star sapphire cabochon between my fingers, and I was instantly captivated by the winking, white star-shaped asterism that radiated from its centre.
This humble denim blue stone started my love affair with cabochon gemstones and ever since I have admired their quiet beauty, down to earth aesthetic and myriad colours.
Rubies, peridot, moonstone, rose quartz, malachite and onyx are just some of the stones that make an impact in cabochon form. The stone might have ancient connotations – turquoise cabochons, for example, hark back to Ancient Egypt, while darker red and green stones conjure up images of Maharajas’ jewellery and the tales of the Middle East – but, luckily for the jewellery industry and jewellery shoppers, the stones are becoming ever more frequent in contemporary design.
In the UK a handful of contemporary designers are working with cabochons in ever more creative ways. Andrew Geoghegan is one such jeweller and has been working with cabochons for about a year and half, setting them into his planetary-inspired Satellite collection of cocktail rings, earrings and pendants. "Initially it was the tactile quality of the cabochon that drew me to it," explains Geoghegan. "The smoothness adds a kinaesthetic element to the jewellery in which it is set and this can only amplify its desirability. It is a very versatile cut and can lend itself to modern and classic designs."
Geoghegan works with stones such a fire opal – which has a shimmering, molten orange opalescence – sapphire, rutilated quartz and amethyst.
The softer hues of rose quartz cabochons drew Sarah Ho, founder and designer of SHO Fine Jewellery, to experiment with the stone cut in her V-Seals collection. The range, inspired by Victorian fob pendants, contrasts cabochon stones with brightly coloured faceted pave stones. "SHO is all about having fun with fine jewellery and a playful use of colour, and the cabochon cuts have a simplicity about them and the colours are great, so fit the brief perfectly," explains Ho. "They are stylish and make a statement but are still sophisticated."
Her resulting designs have an elegant heritage feel, but also boast depth. Behind the stones, which act as the seals, are hidden engravings of the Chinese five blessings, representative of Ho’s East Asian heritage.
Cabochons have also grown in popularity among jewellery manufacturers that are creating more mainstream collections targeted at independent jewellery retailers. Birmingham’s Domino, for example, has added a colourful array of cabochon stones to its Trends & Fashions lines, while its Sassolini collection using cabochons was launched to offer retailers a more youthful collection targeted at fashion-conscious shoppers and self-purchasers.
"I find the solid blocks of colour, smooth finish and unusual cuts that this stone is available in appealing," says Domino jewellery designer Kelly Hart, explaining why the team chose cabochons for the Sassolini line. "The array of different colours available is a great way to pick on the colour trends of the current season."
The Sassolini range – the name translates from Italian as "little stones" – includes small and large gemstone stacking rings and matching pendants.
Having Fun with Colour
The beauty of the cabochon is its accessibility. In the main, cabochon stones are a little more affordable compared to some of their faceted counterparts, meaning designers can afford to use stones of larger carat weights, enabling them to create daring and colourful jewellery that offers consumers a bigger bang for their buck.
Canadian designer Anne Sportun has pioneered the use of cabochon gemstones in fine jewellery, with many of her cabochon ring designs, set with surrounds of white diamonds, doubling as alternative engagement rings. "[We have been using cabochons] for the past 10 years, possibly even longer," explains Sportun. "We are crazy for cabs right now though, and finding the perfect ones was a big part of our search for the 2013 collections."
The brand’s designs include organic, matt-polished rings in white and yellow gold, with a focus on the "quiet and natural" aesthetic that cabochon stones offer. But, says Sportun, its plans for 2013 are to add some more impactful pieces. "With 2013’s bigger is better trend knocking at our door we’re excited to create some larger than life pieces with the natural tanzanite," she explains. "Picture a spectacular diamond and gold necklace mixed with these deep hues of the tanzanite."
Caroline Creba, creative director at emerging fine jewellery brand Tomassa, agrees. "There is such depth and personality to cabochon gemstones, with their soft shapes, beautiful colours and lustre allowing a wonderful play of light," she enthuses.
Tomassa’s collection experiments with cabochons, setting them in unusual ways, whether swirling white gold knot rings or sweetie-coloured cabochon stone bracelets. "I love to see the amazing colours coming through the gems in a way that just can’t be captured when faceting a stone," adds Creba. "I think that there is something magical when a cabochon gemstone is set in 18ct gold that allows fine jewellery to become more accessible and everyday – perfect with spring’s casual clothes such as loose knit tops and denim."
Indeed, the wearability of a cabochon makes the stone a more appealing, everyday choice of gem over faceted stones, which can look too dressy or make too much of a precious statement.
London-based designer Ralph Masri mirrors Creba’s view on the casual chic of cabochons. He gathered large-sized garnet and sapphire cabochons for his debut collection A Trade of Lace, and combined the stones with open work silver cuffs, neckpieces and hoop earrings.
"I feel it’s a cut of stone that is less serious than other cuts, one you can have more fun with in designs," he states. "Cabochons work best in cocktail and designer jewellery, where the stones can be used in a more playful and daring manner."
Like Masri, jewellery brand Pomegranate has a wealth of statement designs featuring cabochon stones. Much of Pomegranate’s collection is made up of one-of-a-kind pieces that have a Middle Eastern feel created by rich 24ct gold plating and hammered finishes. The brand uses the cabochon cut to show off the natural beauty of stones, especially those that exhibit optical effects.
Chris Land, wholesale manager at Pomegranate, explains: "For Pomegranate, using a cabochon cut is a way of bringing out the best in certain varieties of gemstones. For example the optical effects of labradorites and moonstones are best shown in this medium, as are the stars in sapphires and rubies."
A Fashion Twist
Beyond fine jewellery design, a wealth of costume and fashion-led jewellery brands are opting to use cabochon cut stones. At the recent Jewellery Show at Spring Fair brands including Giorgio Martello, Ti Sento, Story by Kranz & Ziegler and Couer de Lion unveiled summery collections of precious and synthetic stone jewellery with cabochons taking centre stage.
Daniel Ozel, co-founder of Unique Jewelry which distributes Giorgio Martello in the UK, says: "[Cabochons] are ideal for showing off the bright colours of the summer season and this style of cut has become increasingly fashionable in the past few years, in part due to the increase in this type of stone being used in jewellery," he explains. "Giorgio Martello has combined traditional faceted cuts with the smooth cabochon stones [while] the solitaire cabochon collection is available in bright pink synthetic coral and also natural onyx."
Couer de Lion, which operates across gift-led and more traditional jewellery retailers, has increased its use of cabochons in recent years. Siobhan Holt, Couer de Lion’s marketing and sales assistant, says the stones have featured strongly in the brand’s collections since 2009, when its head designer Carole Eckrodt decided to experiment with something new. "The spring/summer 2013 collection has combined cabochon stones with Italian nappa leather to create bold, bright long necklaces that are perfect for summer," explains Holt. "The cut is very adaptable."
The word adaptable certainly sums up the cabochon. Whether the cut of stone features in a £100 piece of fashion-led silver jewellery or a £10,000 multi-stone neckpiece, it offers both everyday wearability and a bold, brightly coloured impact that faceted stones just cannot match.
This Trends feature was taken from the March issue of Professional Jeweller. To read the issue online click here.