Sarah Louise Jordan heads to Italy to meet Swarovski's 2014 winners.

Finding a global design competition with a family mentality might sound like trying to find a needle in a haystack, but International Talent Support (ITS) has managed to achieve the impossible. Nestled in its original home of Trieste, Italy, and armed with a raft of sponsors, including Swarovski, its hosts one of the most conceptual and creative jewellery design competitions around. Professional Jeweller’s Sarah Louise Jordan headed to this year’s event to find out more.

Once a year, the small harbour town of Trieste in the northern reaches of Italy is descended upon by a host of designers, artists, brand managers and jewellery trailblazers for International Talent Support (ITS).


Organised with military precision by founder and director Barbara Franchin and her largely local team, ITS guides visitors through a treasure trove of young and undiscovered talents; from conceptual jewellery makers and modern artists, to fashion visionaries and forward-thinking accessories designers.

Held over a 48-hour period from July 11 to 12, this year’s event marked the thirteenth edition of the global showcase, themed around the concept of a ‘Lucid Dream’ – whereby the daydreamer has a degree of control over their subconscious mind. 2014 also marked the fourth anniversary of Swarovski Element’s involvement as the lead sponsor of the high-profile jewellery category. Designed to offer visibility, support and a voice to young talents, Swarovski welcomed 100 entries for its Jewelry Award from 36 schools in 33 countries as far afield as Israel, Japan, China, Norway, Slovenia and Belgium, with the only condition being they use Swarovski crystals to create something truly unique.

The resulting 10 finalists’ collections were a conceptual array of raw textures, clashing colours, new materials and innovatively-used crystals; some with more commercial potential than others. However Swarovski Professional Design Centre vice president Ute Schumacher, who was also on the jewellery judging panel, admitted to Professional Jeweller that commercial viability didn’t rank highly on her list of priorities when choosing a winner. She explained: “The goal of Swarovski is to discover fresh, open-minded designers who can create new concepts in jewellery using Swarovski crystals. The most important criterion is to come up with a shimmering, original design that fits the brief. We expect finalists to demonstrate the skills required to take their concepts a step further and push boundaries. We look for extraordinary designs, but finalists must also present work professionally, based on the highest aesthetic standards.”

The entry criteria for ITS’ jewellery competition is thorough, but broad enough to allow a cross-section of young designer-makers to apply. Participants must be BA or MA degree students in their final year of a fashion, accessories or jewellery design course, or young talents who are forging their own careers in jewellery design. Entrants are expected to prepare a portfolio containing artistic and technical sketches of a five-piece collection, plus one special proposal for the Swarovski Jewelry Award, alongside an explanation of their concept, photos of previous works and a CV.

This year, the responsibility of choosing the overall winners fell to a diverse panel of judges from the worlds of high-fashion, high jewellery and beyond. Alongside Schumacher, Swarovski called on former Erikson Beamon designer Vicki Sarge, fashion designer Manish Arora, and founder and executive director of CauseCentric Productions, Celine Cousteau, to pick not one, but two winners for ITS Jewelry Award 2014.

For Manish Arora, ITS represents a key step forward in opening-up creative jewellery design competitions to students outside of the typical catchment zones of the US, the UK and Europe. He explained: “I find ITS brilliantly organised and I think it is a great platform for people who many not even have access to Europe. Coming from India, I strongly support the way this competition goes all over the world. It’s rare to see such a global outlook these days.”

Isreali-born Lior Shulak and Noriko Nakazato from Japan were unveiled as this year’s Swarovski Jewelry Award winners during a packed evening event, featuring a catwalk fashion showcase and an endless supply of cocktails. With the party mood in full-swing, both Shulak and Nakazato emotionally accepted their trophies, which is a mere representation of their real prize – a shared €10,000 grant and a six-month internship with Ute Schumacher’s team at Swarovski’s Design Centre in Austria.

Looking at both of their collections, it becomes immediately apparent why they deserved the coveted prize. At opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of style, Shulak’s minimal and geometric approach to jewellery clashes almost completely with Nakazato’s fiery-red and eclectic combination of beads, crystals, figurines and even light bulbs, designed to evoke memories of Japan’s technology boom in the 1980s. Hinting at the ‘Lucid Dream’ theme, Shulak focused her efforts on the relationship between calligraphy, movement and asymmetry, using heavy, dark metals to create pieces that protrude from the body in usual ways.

Commenting on her win shortly after picking up her trophy, Shulak said: “Swarovski’s support is amazing. I am very excited that my work got recognition from a company that is doing such great things in the jewellery industry. Swarovski’s support of young designers and their collaboration with ITS is a great initiative.”

ITS2014 WINNERS from ITS International Talent Support on Vimeo.

Vicki Sarge, who recently launched her new self-titled jewellery brand, has an equally positive view of International Talent Support. She revealed: “I first came to ITS in 2009 and I fell in love with it. The atmosphere is like a family, rather than a big corporate event, which makes a real difference.”

She continued: “There’s purity to the work of this year’s finalists, which comes from the soul before they become contaminated by the business. ITS is more about creativity than commerciality, and it’s definitely more personal.”

For all of the designers involved, the opportunity to meet the international press, liaise with global tastemakers and meet their peers is undoubtedly positive, but the experience is equally beneficial for Swarovski.

Schumacher admits: “ITS Jewellery is an excellent opportunity to showcase Swarovski’s product innovations, underlining the fact that Swarovski crystals and materials have been the ingredients of choice for designers since 1895. It also presents the chance to show its strong commitment to supporting young emerging talent. Students learn to work with crystals and how to use the vast array of materials and components, as well as acquire the technical skills necessary for the various application techniques.”

Now preparing to embark on their internships, Shulak and Nakazato will be fully integrated into Swarovski’s jewellery design team, learning to customise individual drawings, models and colours and to work within tight production guidelines. They will also be encouraged to present their own sketches and trend-related research to the team, while learning how to make commercially-minded and marketable jewellery collections. According to Schumacher it is not unusual for successful interns to land full-time employment in one of her design teams.

Overall, International Talent Support provides the creative community with an open, welcoming platform to present designs that would probably never make it into the mainstream. Although this year’s winning designs were more conceptual than commercial, the overall experience allows imaginative designer-makers to think outside of the normal limits imposed by precious metals and gemstones before the big bad world of business takes over. In addition, Swarovski’s continued involvement ensures that its product will always be firmly fixed in the minds of young competitors at the very beginning of their careers – helping to boost the company’s continued partnership with the jewellery industry as a whole.

This feature was taken from the September issue of Professional Jeweller. To read the issue in full online, click here.