As contemporary jewellers increasingly stake their territory at art and design fairs (Masterpiece London, PAD, TEFAF in Maastricht and now Gem Geneve, the new dedicated jewellery and gem fair which launched earlier this year), they put themselves somewhat at risk. Because despite the wow-factor of all the modern techniques, intriguing new materials and avant garde designs they may use, pitching themselves against true masterpieces from the past can backfire.
All the newness in the world may not stand up to scrutiny when presented alongside exquisite items of serious provenance.
Take, for example, a hitherto unseen brooch being shown by Wartski at Masterpiece London this year, a Coburg eagle in gold-mounted turquoise, given by Queen Victoria to one of her bridesmaids to mark her marriage to Prince Albert in 1840, inscribed on the reverse to commemorate the date. If that fails to impress you, then nothing else at the fair will.
Luckily, however, there are plenty of contemporary jewellers whose wares fit beautifully amongst the antiques, and Italian designer Fabio Salini’s extraordinary works are just some of them. The Roman jeweller – who has worked for both Bulgari and Cartier – uses precious gems alongside materials like carbon fibre, vividly hued titanium and rock crystal in his work, 100 pieces of which are on show now.
A pair of huge disc earrings rendered in carbon fibre, with the look of charred wood, hold boat-shaped amethysts in their Pacman-like mouths, lined in violet titanium. More classical pieces see a swirl of rubies, graduating in size, radiating from diamond branches in the form of earrings.
Cindy Chao, whose brand name is Cindy Chao The Art Jewel, is bringing her high jewellery pieces to London this year from her private Hong Kong showroom.
Fantastical, organic-inspired forms are often covered entirely with tiny precious gems, each one a masterpiece in its own right. A pair of feather-like brooches set entirely with emeralds of various cuts on stems – or quills – of yellow-sapphires are oversized works of art, each one seemingly curling its tendrils at whim.
Harry Fane, a veritable institution when it comes to the jewellers of the past, is showing, amongst other divine objects, a Verdura Wrapped Heart brooch, which was originally designed in 1941 by the New York-based Italian duke as a commission from Hollywood actor Tyrone Power for his wife Annabella. The design, in berry-like cabochon rubies all bound up in knots of diamond and gold ribbon, is one of the late designer’s most enduring pieces.
Elsewhere at the fair are works by Boghossian, a sixth-generation family of jewellers now based in Geneva, whose trademark ‘kissing diamonds’ technique sees stones set within stones to beautiful effect, and Moussaeiff, whose director Mrs Moussaeiff is something of an industry legend.
Few others could amass the extraordinary rare gemstones she does, which are then turned into high-octane pieces like a pair of chandelier earrings in deep pink and white diamonds to dust the shoulders of whoever wears them.
Van Cleef & Arpels has brought a selection of both heritage and contemporary pieces to the fair for the fourth year in a row, showing objets like a rough-hewn turquoise table clock, circa 1929, alongside an exquisite Columbian emerald and diamond bracelet from 1961 and one of the maison’s iconic Zip necklaces in yellow gold with diamonds and sapphires.
This year’s contemporary jewellers have stood up to the challenge of impressing just as much as the vintage and antique jewels on display, making Masterpiece a worthy pilgrimage for any jewellery lover.