The enigmatic snake becomes a hit motif in new jewellery design.
Snakes have a mythical and historical past and in 2013, the Year of the Snake, this enigmatic creature has very much come to life. Kathryn Bishop gets to grip with a new brood of serpentine jewels.
For most people snakes are like Marmite. You either love them or hate them.
In jewellery design they are similarly controversial with consumers on the one hand beguiled by them and on the other finding their use concordant with beautiful jewellery design.
In 2013 snake jewellery has very much come to the fore as designers and brands pay heed to the new Chinese lunar year that began on February 10, marking the arrival of the Year of the Snake; something retailers should be ready to pick up on as the trend filters down into accessible and attractive jewellery design.
The Snake as an Historical Symbol
Snakes are known for their articulated vertebrae that enables them to slither and wrap themselves around tree branches or prey in a way that is nonchalant and elegant, yet fierce and powerful.
For many brands, it is the snake’s ancient connotations and historical symbolism that makes it an appealing design motif.
Zoe & Morgan’s use of the snake motif pays reference to the snake as an ancient symbol of protection, transformation and mysticism – Cleopatra is said to have had a cobra as the centrepiece of her headdress – while the serpent eating its own tail symbolises endless love.
Snakes are depicted across Zoe & Morgan’s numerous collections, the most popular being its Eternity Snake bangle and matching ring which have become the brand’s iconic designs. More recent lines have included snake rings with open jaws clutching large brilliant-cut gems.
Silver jewellery brand Sonya Bennett launched its Serpent and The Apple collection earlier this year. The range depicts femininity and the story of Eve using apple and snake charms that dangle as pendants or elegant drop earrings, while others hang as charms from silver bracelets.
The brand’s eponymous designer Sonya Bennett explains her inspiration: "My aim was to reinforce this most ancient of symbol’s meaning as a powerful expression of feminine potency. After looking at the Georgian and Art Nouveau periods, when it was last used widely as a symbolic motif I realised, certainly in terms of jewellery design at least, that its meaning has almost always been used as a positive cipher for rebirth and renewal, wisdom and creativity."
The idea of rebirth and the power of nature plays through Arabel Lebrusan’s charitable Cobra and Anaconda rings; the proceeds from each ring’s sale will go to the Water Project charity. The etched surface of the rings are offset by bright Fairtrade garnet and diopside gemstones set as eyes.
The Venom collection, the fruit of a collaboration between jeweller Rachel Galley and designer Meg Mathews, depicts snakes as cuffs, rings, hoop earrings and pendants, embellished with cabochon gemstones. It was launched last year but the brand recently added a charitable facet by promising to donate a portion of its sales to animal protection charity PETA. Meg Mathews explains: "I have always been inspired by the beauty and exotic nature of snakes, but when I learned how these animals suffer when they are skinned for nothing more than a bag or belt, it gave me the creeps and I could never wear them again."
On this occasion charity appears to go hand-in-hand with the snake theme, giving retailers an additional selling point.
While snake jewellery is an evident trend in silver and fashion-led jewellery collections, it is also a recurring theme in luxury jewellery design.
Stephen Webster’s It Started with Eve collection features an award-winning white gold double-finger snake ring iced with diamonds. Set into its curling tail in replacement of the fabled apple is a large 5ct Forevermark diamond.
Ole Lynggaard has given snakes a contemporary yet rustic makeover in a collection revealed at BaselWorld last month created in homage to the Chinese Year of the Snake. The delicate, roughly hewn gold designs feature randomly set diamonds and the Danish brand’s snake drop earrings are finished with pastel-hued tourmalines that dangle from their tails.
Of course a snake can also be translated as something fun and colourful, interpreted through gems or enamel. Enter Solange Azagury-Patridge, a designer whose creations always push boundaries between luxury, fantasy, fun and wearability. Her 18ct yellow gold Zodiac snake ring is topped with a red lacquered hooded cobra, nodding again to Chinese symbolism. Though snakes appear in numerous incarnations across Azagury-Patridge’s collections, her pop-colour Gorgon pendant brings ancient mythology bang up to date, with an almost cartoon-like take on Medusa’s weaving, darting and hissing snakes, decorated with translucent plique-à-jour enamel.
As shown, the snake theme is mostly translated as a literal design motif in jewellery. But some brands have created jewellery that echoes serpentine elements in more subtle ways.
Designer Cindy Dennis Mangan has taken the snake’s skin as her focal point, translating the skin as openwork pendants and bangles with repeated surface designs that echo the snake’s layered scales and stand out against the skin and clothing.
For fashion-led brands Elements Silver and Lara Bohinc the snake is alluded to through plain wraparound silver bangles and intricate hoop earrings, with Lara Bohinc’s new Apollo bangle given a surface texture reminiscent of a snake’s vertebrae.
Working with precious metals, Selim Mouzannar’s crossover Tayfun rose gold and diamond ring, which Rihanna wore on a recent Elle magazine cover, offers a beautifully simple take on the trend with white diamonds set into black rhodium settings, providing a ancient aesthetic.
As seen, snakes can be highly wearable, unfussy and elegant, but also fun and a way to add a dash of colour to fine jewellery. They offer retailers a story to tap into, especially those that welcome a large number of Chinese tourists to their town.
So while snakes may send shivers down a few spines, in jewellery form they provide a chance to glamourise a window display through interesting interpretations of the theme. After all, this serpentine trend is a very relevant trend in 2013 and, as the symbols steadfastness in jewellery history shows, has the potential to seduce this year and far beyond.
This feature was taken from the May issue of Professional Jeweller. To read the issue online, click here.