The one night in the year when one expects to see actresses in jewels the size of fists is Oscar night. So it was a surprise when star-of-the-moment Lupita Nyong’o floated out in a fairy-tale Prada gown accessorised modestly with a dainty diamond headband, crescent earrings and a frog-shaped pinkie ring. Fans were wowed more by her charming simplicity than flash factor. Hot favourite Jennifer Lawrence probably balanced her undignified tumble with her classy look – wearing an understated diamond necklace by American jeweller Neil Lane shimmering down her back.
Welcome to a new era of adornment, where precious jewellery is far from what Elizabeth Taylor championed – unassuming and cool. Heralded by a new generation of It girls as talented as they are up-to-the-minute, the look now is all about self-expression and personal luxury.
The bijoutieres du jour are Gaia Repossi and Delfina Delettrez. Both in their 20s and heiresses of the fabled houses of Repossi and Fendi respectively, their contemporary designs have removed the hauteur surrounding fine jewellery. “I didn’t want to wear pieces that I felt bourgeois with,” says Repossi. Indeed, her black diamond Berbere rings, along with Delettrez’s ruby and pearl ear cuffs, have become a staple for well-heeled yet cool girls around the world.
“I believe the same movement that happened in fashion about a decade ago, with the emergence of young designers such as Alexander Wang, Zac Posen and Jason Wu, is happening now in jewellery,” says jeweller Diah Djojonegoro.
The 29-year-old Singapore-born Indonesian founded her brand Diah D in 2010 while living in New York, because she had a hard time finding edgy high jewellery pieces to wear on an everyday basis. A flurry of new design names such as Jennifer Meyer (aka Mrs Tobey Maguire) and British Vogue sittings editor Nura Khan have emerged in recent years to hit that same sweet spot.
“The look is evolving to match what we’re seeing on today’s runway: Street fashion is being integrated with luxury fashion, as seen at labels like Balmain, Givenchy and Saint Laurent,” says Djojonegoro. “Likewise with jewellery – the emphasis is no longer large stones, but smaller pave diamonds set intricately in a creative design. Blackened gold has become a hot item among younger consumers who like how it makes the pieces vintage yet cool – a look that goes well with edgier outfits. ”
Soaring sales figures show that the rage for contemporary fine jewellery is no fleeting phase. Last year, Repossi sold 10,000 pieces – up 27 per cent from the year before – and it currently has 81 points of sale worldwide (compared to 35 in 2011). Things are equally impressive online. According to www.net-a-porter.com’s non-apparel buying manager Sasha Sorkin, the site saw fine jewellery sales more than double last year from 2012.
Meet the modern high jewellery consumer: a fashion-forward professional-on-the-go who wants what she wears to take her seamlessly from day to night, and who has no qualms about browsing and buying precious rocks off an iPad. Even storied houses are feeling her influence.
Last year, Tiffany & Co. appointed Francesca Amfitheatrof as its new design director. A chic British jeweller who has designed for Marni, Fendi and Chanel, she will have the heritage of an esteemed brand at her disposal, but is expected to imbue it with a fresh, contemporary vision. Likewise, Chanel Fine Jewellery’s latest Camelia Galbe collection is as irreverent as it is precious. One could imagine pieces like cocktail rings, and a headband with the brand’s iconic camellia motif in black ceramic, 18K gold and diamonds, worn with a rock chic get-up of leather leggings and biker jacket.
The same wit has translated to how the pieces are being worn. Trendsetters may have swopped costume for carats, but the idea is to carry off your gems with the same nonchalant cool. Says Djojonegoro: “I encourage my clients to wear several pieces at once, pile rings onto as many fingers as possible and stack lots of bracelets on both hands – as if they are wearing costume jewellery.”
This article was originally published in Female June 2014.