Just arrived in Paris to give a luxury lecture for Chaumet at Le Meurice tomorrow pondering the future for fine jewellers. The talk runs the gamut from Marie Antoinette to Princess Haya by way of Coco Chanel, Eva Peron and Anne Hathaway. The conclusion reached is that the unique and the ingenious will always triumph in a luxury landscape swamped with designer brands rushing into watches and jewellery that quite frankly will lose money like sands in an hourglass the moment you’ve paid the buck.
Of course Chaumet, a jewel house that dates back to 1780, is replete with history, mystery and craftsmanship. The house set crown jewels for the Empresses Josephine and Marie Louise, wives of Napoleon I, that were subsequently worn by the Empress Eugenie. In 2011, Chaumet’s Donnersmarck diamond and emerald tiara set a world auction record when sold by Sotheby’s Geneva for $12.76 million.
Very few contemporary artist jewellers make pieces of museum quality that are collected and coveted by the tastemakers whose collections will break the auction records of tomorrow. One such is Solange Azagury-Partridge whose debut Alpha men’s jewellery collection is unveiled tonight at her magnificent Mayfair townhouse No 5 Carlos Place.
Having waxed lyrical about my preview of the collection last week, my thoughts turned to Solange again while preparing for the Chaumet lecture. The lion’s share of the Alpha collection is made in sandblasted and blackened 18ct yellow gold with gemstones as accents rather than show-stopping centrepieces. The blackening process gives the gold a strong, secretive and masculine edge. The light of yellow gold is dimmed only for time and touch to reveal it as the blackened camouflage fades.
The star pieces of the collection are an 18ct gold signet ring and a gold pendant set with significant cabochon emeralds. Solange’s Villain ring is reminiscent of a Renaissance Papal signet belonging to a Borgia or Medici cardinal. Inclusions in the emerald gives the stone depth, interest and a masculinity that the rare flawless emeralds would lack. Far from being villainous, the emerald is a benign and powerful stone in the talismanic language of jewellery.
The emerald is the stone of successful love, linked in Greek mythology to Venus, that promotes friendship, balance between partners and is particularly known for providing domestic bliss, contentment and loyalty. Bought by or for a man, an emerald encircled by yellow gold (happiness, success and prosperity) speaks volumes in the language of precious metals and gemstones.
Of course there will be your man who couldn’t care less whether emeralds were the favoured jewel of Cleopatra, Aristotle, Alexander the Great or Charlemagne. They will simply connect on an aesthetic level to Solange’s designs and/or understand that a signed Azagury-Partridge emerald ring set in 18ct yellow gold will be worth so much more than the sum of its parts with the passing of time. Provenance is everything in artist jewellery.
What I really appreciate about Solange’s Alpha collection is the ingenious use of techniques rather than relying solely on bling to catch a magpie’s eye. Two pieces in particular genuinely say something new about men’s jewellery: an 18ct blackened gold chain link bracelet intricately woven that is shaped like a slim watch strap without the watch face. It is a tactile piece made like chain mail but as pliable as a piece of silk.
The Samson handwoven gold bracelet is made-to-measure incorporating a lock of a loved one’s hair. Contrary to popular belief, hair does not decay and can last for centuries as any Egyptologist will tell you. Jewellery incorporating human hair dates back to the ancient civilisations but enjoyed revivals in the 16th century and as mourning jewellery in the 19th century. Should it enjoy another fashion moment in 2014? Personally I would prefer to see a band of woven yellow gold rather like a Celtic torc entwined by handwoven blackened gold rather than human hair but Solange is nothing if not a brave and brilliant jeweller.
The Vanitas ‘ remember you are mortal’ motif is most successful as a blackened yellow gold skull pendant and ring pave-set with diamonds and emeralds in the eyes. I was also most taken by the Bareknuckle blackened gold fist pendant that could be interpreted as a threat or a promise. There won’t be many men who wouldn’t take the compliment should someone buy a set of Stud (thoroughbred horse relief motif) gold cuff links. Not entirely sure I wouldn’t be slightly offended should someone gift me the matching set of links entitled Pig.
Humour is an element of Solange Azagury-Partridge’s handwriting but I am most impressed by the sculptural strength of pieces such as the blackened gold Caveman ring, a tusked skull, that sits over the finger like a cage. The Tied-Up gold bangle – as brutal and simple as barbed wire – contracts onto the wrist to signify willingly becoming a slave to the lover who bought it.
What I think Solange is asking in this collection is ‘what makes a man a man?’ Her themes of love, lust, strength and beauty are all present and correct but what I like about Alpha is the fact that none of the pieces are cliched. These talismans hold many meanings and display multiple facets of the male of the species.