With a bow to the past, fine jewelry is ushering into the future with flexible designs. Movable, bendable and stretchable, novel pieces redefine the exquisite craft in the latest collections of jewelry powerhouses as well as of independent artists
By: Dimitria Vitanova
Posted on: January 19, 2016
A solid diamond-studded bracelet that stretches. A gold gauze-like necklace that drapes around like a shawl. A jewelry box built of the ornaments it stores.
From jewelry mavericks in the ranks of Tiffany and Cartier to solo designers of boutique pieces, fine jewelry is obtaining functions and forms not possessed before. Reinventing – as much as defying – the delicate femininity and the bold exoticism of the past decade, designers are now rethinking the basics of the industry. Ingenuity and simplicity, solidity and flexibility define an emerging trend of fine jewelry designs, which transforms traditional adornments into modern art statements. Single pieces twist and bend, unfold and coil, dismantle and assemble in smart shapes to be worn in a myriad ways.
“Designs that include flexible or multi-functional elements are increasingly popular and newer techniques and materials mean designers do not have to compromise on the aesthetic in order to create a functioning piece,” said Jean Ghika, Director of the Jewelry Department in Europe of international auction house Bonhams.
Take, for example, Indian jewelry designer Nirav Modi’s Embrace bangle collection. Made up of over 700 moving parts, a craftsman needs over 200 hours to put together a single bangle. Made of gold and diamonds, the bangle stretches and slides over the hand before springing back into shape.
Bending and bowing
Seeking to couple elegance with mobility, many designers, Ms Ghika said, are turning to an old and well-known element – titanium. Lustrous and firm, it is also lightweight – traits that have only recently earned the silver-hued metal a merit in fine jewelry. Designers are increasingly meshing titanium with the ageless staples of precious gems, plump pearls and shimmering gold to compose highly flexible pieces.
Dutch designer Annelies Planteydt, for instance, molds titanium in thin, long plates weaved along strands of pearls and colorful alloys to construct her Beautiful City collection, which plays with space and perception. Laid out flat, her jewelry designs resemble ground plans of perfect, shiny squares, circles and rectangles that seem to efface their adorning purpose. Looped around the neck or wrist, however, the rigid geometry recedes into layers of intricate swoops.
The untrained eye can easily take titanium with its greyish-white tinge for silver. However, while designers are still discovering titanium, sterling silver has consolidated its recognition as a strong yet malleable basic material for flexible fine jewelry. It dominates the works of Italian designer Elsa Peretti, whose emblematic Mesh collection for Tiffany & Co. ushers in a new design aesthetics of organic and fluid forms. Rendered in both gold and sterling silver, Peretti’s Mesh necklaces lithely fold and swerve in the manner of light scarves.
The creation of pliable and multi-faceted pieces is not only reimagining the purpose and function of precious metals and gems. It is also elevating craftsmanship by pushing for imaginative jewelry techniques. Yielding to the inventive techniques of contemporary fine jewelers, even traditional materials shed their predictability and acquire a sheen of newness. Computer-aided designs are only beginning to blaze a foray into fine jewelry, spurring precision and exertion hard to otherwise obtain. Coupled with the return of vintage techniques, the results might be strikingly artistic.
London-based designer Solange Azagury-Partridge said, “I blacken the surface of the metals used a lot, this gives a very graphic feel to the settings, references antique jewels which are a passion and offsets the stones in a way that I enjoy very much.”
The deft reinterpretation of jewelry as ornamentation reaches a creative precedent with the Ms Azagury-Partridge’s Metamorphosis collection of five jewelry boxes. They represent intricate sculptures of marble, gold, diamonds and opals which can be pulled apart into various jewels, from bangles to pendants to earrings. Calling them “beautiful objects for the home that deconstruct into wearable jewels for the body,” Azagury-Partridge aptly summed up the collection, conceding it was her hardest artistic endeavor.
Inspiration for the future
If the burgeoning flexible jewelry trend emits a distinct modern and sophisticated feel, it often draws on a rather yester flair. Many of today’s striking designs quote vintage jewelries, Ms Ghika of Bonhams said, pointing to a Cartier multi-functional bar brooch of the early 1930s. A string of five shield-shaped clips, the diamond-and-platinum brooch morphs into a bracelet, an epaulet, even a hair clasp. Such fluid artistic functionality also characterize Gaia Repossi’s Berbere collection.
Inspired by the elaborate multi-line yet simple tattoos of the Saharan nomads, Tuareg Berbers, the Berbere collection weds the ancient and enigmatic to the current and chic. Classic and minimal in material – gold and diamonds, Berbere features clear and crisp sets of cuff earrings, which embrace the ear to create an illusion of multiple pieces, as well as dramatic 9-row rings, which encase the finger, following its natural curve.
Contemporary flexible jewelries may trace their antecedents in the dainty, transformable designs of the 20th century or in the bewitching ornamentations of little-known peoples. Nevertheless, their unique spark reflects the modern woman – sensual, smart and in control. “There is a definite trend for financially independent women buying fine jewellery for themselves,” Ms Ghika said. “Amongst this group there is a real appreciation of strong, bold design.”
Gender no barrier
It is not only women, however, who seek the designs – busy with movement and originality – that capture their 21st-century lifestyle. Men might be equally drawn to flexible jewelry, even if it is only to parse how it is made.
“I find all types [of audiences] are able to enjoy my work. Men, in particular find it much more entertaining to buy an engineered piece of jewellery than perhaps a plain pearl on a chain,” said Irish designer Alan Ardiff, whose kinetic works are masterpieces of motion. Delicate and often miniature, Mr Ardiff’s pieces come alive with action – from the flutter of bird’s wings to the spin of copter’s blades to the rise and set of the sun.
Diverse in form and function as well as in inspiration and appeal, flexible jewelry captures the pace and rhythm of our age. True to its contemporaneity, it encompasses constant movement and transformation. It piques and refines our fascination with bygone times and unfamiliar cultures. Unlike many ephemeral fads of the day, flexible jewelry, experts and designers seem to agree, is only coming to stay.