Meet four trendsetting jewellers including Hemmerle and Sevan Bicakci.
Each page of An Inspired Style: 21st Century Jewellery Designers burst with colour and sumptuous jewels from the likes of JAR, Lydia Courteille and Tomasz Donocik. Here we present a snapshot of four designers features in the book, in the words of its author Juliet Weir-De La Rouchefoucauld.
Istanbul, city of domes and minarets, spread over hills alongside the confluence of the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus, is the home and inspiration for this jeweller-designer.
Biçakçi spent his childhood in the gold district of the old city in Samatya where many Armenian and Greek Orthodox churches exist. He was apprenticed at the age of 13 to Armenian master goldsmith Hovsep Chatak (Citak) in the Grand Bazaar, only a few minutes walk from the Blue Mosque, the Topkapi Palace and the Hagia Sophia.
Sevan Biçakçi draws from the wealth of all these facets to create his surprising and original jewels. His intaglios are his way of creating a link between himself and the city where he has lived and worked all his life.
“Istanbul is a city of many layers – so the beautiful ornamental churches and mosques reveal many things, not just the architecture on the outside but also the interiors, they reveal the many religions, stories and art which all go to make up Istanbul,” he says.
At the age of 18, Biçakçi took over the workshop after Chatak’s death and continued producing 18ct and 14ct gold jewellery in the European style until he was forced to close shop. Biçakçi readily admits that this was a godsend, allowing him the freedom to radically change his own design concept and move away from the branded European styles and the granulation and filigree gold work of traditional Turkish jewellery.
Experimentation has been key to Biçakçi’s success, it has been a process of learning by experience, with each step he has gone a little further: his first intaglios were flatter, lacking the relief of his later examples.
Taking a stroll along the rue Saint Honoré, a stone’s throw from the Place Vendôme in Paris, Lydia Courteille’s small boutique stands out as a beacon to all jewellery connoisseurs and gemstone lovers. Here flamboyant and theatrical design meets rarity.
Lydia Courteille – biochemist, antiquarian and collector – has always had a fascination with the beautiful, the strange and the curious. An autodidact, her inquisitive mind knows no limits, be it for design or her choice of stones.
Courteille is inspired by the world around her. She carries a notebook everywhere she goes to jot down small sketches and to stick in scraps of paper. Many of her ideas come from chance, a moment, a place and by necessity, the constraints that are encountered running a business.
“I have always been interested in everything around me – textiles, geology, butterflies, stamps,” she says. Her unique jewels start with either a drawing or evolve around a central theme, which is usually a stone.
The Xochimilco Collection is a case in point: starting with a magnificent selection of translucent and transparent Mexican opals, she uses the rich flashes of orange, yellow and green to create a world of salamanders, tortoises and insects spreading their wings.
Spessartite garnets and orange sapphires are used to give depth of colour and underline the play of light framing the beauty of these translucent fire opals. This is a collection inspired by the ancient Aztec floating gardens of Xochimilco, outside Mexico City. The gardens are made up of a labyrinth of canals and artificial islands formed from branches of cane, foliage and the fertile mud left from the construction of the canals.
Hemmerle is still in the same building it has called home for over one hundred years. This third- and fourth-generation family business still draws its very strength from the relationships that have developed between the generations and continues to use only the best traditional craftsmanship.
After two decades of working at Hemmerle, Stefan and Sylveli Hemmerle took sole control of the business in the 1990s, which coincided with Stefan finding an outlet for his immense artistic talent.
He is an instinctive artist, drawing and scribbling in a notebook or on a concert programme whenever an idea pops into his mind. Asked to create a jewel for a friend, a fan of the Berlin Iron style but not jewellery, Stefan was provided with the catalyst to revolutionise the elegant jewellery company into a contemporary jewellery emporium, which still prided itself on its top-quality workmanship.
Stefan researched the many archives on Berlin Iron and, eventually turning his back on the elaborate traditional designs, he created the simplest of forms with strong pure lines.
The success of that first venture in 1995 – a diamond ring set in iron rather than the more usual gold or platinum – was all the encouragement Stefan Hemmerle needed to explore further and start looking outside the noble metals to find materials that worked for him.
He took old traditional glass beadwork and transformed it into a jazzy handweave of gemstone beads and pavé-set stones of the same colour creating unusual texture combinations dreaming up deceptively simple geometric lines for bangles, earrings and pendants in particular.
Nuanced ideas have crept into these collections by using contrasting colours in the threads Hemmerle uses for their beadwork. For instance, at the Masterpiece Fair in London, 2012 Stefan showed a demi-parure set with pale amethyst beads strung on green thread giving the illusion of green silk shot with flashes of blue-lavender.
Nicholas Varney enjoys using contrast and conflict of materials in his designs. If a client brings Varney a diamond, the question for him is whether to set it in a three-stone ring or to set it in a more unusual way that would be the antithesis of what the client would expect.
On a visit to the Prado museum in Madrid, Varney saw amongst Diego Velazquez’s traditional court portraits, the portraits of dwarfs and, in particular, the portrait of Don Diego Igcedo. Varney understood what Velazquez was trying to achieve: he had painted this portrait in a much looser fashion creating an intimacy with the sitter that contrasted with the tighter more formal court portraits.
Varney used this theme to create his jewels with his own interpretation, using contrasting materials such as a 15ct diamond set with driveway gravel or a Burmese ruby set upside down in wood that was also set with apple-green tsavorite garnets to create conflict. Varney suggests that conflict can be achieved with colour, textures or it can be done using the value of the materials to make people think about the piece. He wants people to look at a jewel and instead of seeing a 15ct diamond on a woman as she enters the room and thinking ‘that person is rich,’ he wants them to think, in conjunction ‘oh that’s a piece of driveway gravel’.
The idea is that people should not be able to make an inventory of what a woman is wearing as she enters the room, Varney would rather confuse the observer, there may be a big diamond but why is it set that way? What are those colours?
“Confuse them a little bit and you can confuse them in so many different ways,” he says.
READER OFFER: Professional Jeweller readers can buy An Inspired Style: 21st Century Jewellery Designers for £35.20 (RRP 50.00) by registering at accpublishinggroup.com and entering the discount code JD1 at the checkout. P&P is £4.00; overseas rates available on request. Offer expires May 30 2014.
This Book Club extract was taken from the February issue of Professional Jeweller. To read the issue in full online, click here.