The jeweler Rosa de la Cruz, a member of the Cuban family behind Miami’s de la Cruz collection of contemporary art, approaches gems in the same way she does art: looking for “purity of form, proper scale and honest materials”.
“I don’t like contemporary jewelry in a way,” says Rosa de la Cruz, a designer of just that. “I like reinvention of the very classic. But in everything, not only jewlery. In art I love paintings, which is the ultimate classical form of art. The way it will be presented will be edgy and contemporary but it always comes down to a foundation that is classical and actually very simple.”
De la Cruz’s use of art in her explanation of her jewlery is pertinent, for she is part of the Cuban family behind Miami’s famous De La Cruz Collection of contemporary art. Not that high minded artistic ideas inform her own work. “I like less thought in my jewelry,” she says. “Beautiful materials, beautiful craftsmanship, the proportion and scale are much more important than complexity.” It is refreshing to hear from a designer who talks of inspiration not in terms of obscure themes but in terms of pleasing aesthetics.
What started as a hobby (“I was an attorney and went to business school as a background”) became a business when she moved to London in 2000. Last year, de la Cruz partnered with Tierney Horne, a former fashion editor and co-founder of J. Crew, who shares her “easy” approach to jewels. The pair cite their influences as early 20th century Boivin wood pieces, 1920s Verdura cuffs, 1930s Seaman Schepps bracelets and 1940s Van Cleef & Arpels nature-inspired work. It is not surprising, therefore, that timelessness is intrinsic to the Rosa de la Cruz capsule collection, as is personal style. “Style is about how to combine all these timeless objects in a way that defines your personal look,” says de la Cruz. Her philosophy is simple and universal: “Edit, edit, edit! And only surround yourself with beautiful things.”
Rosa de la Cruz’s definition of luxury?
Making sure that your basics are fantastic. A simple meal with the freshest ingredients possible. That’s what luxury is – family, food, your home – and maximizing those to the best.
I think luxury is an experience rather than an object. An object can help you achieve that but it’s a vehicle and is not luxurious in itself.
Family and friends. The people who are vehicles to allow you to experience that moment.
Home. If your home was really so beautiful, you wouldn’t have to escape on holiday. Your home is what should give you great pleasure and great fantasy.
Tierney Horne’s definition of luxury?
Luxury to me is about basic simplicity done with attention to detail.
Freshly cut flowers from the garden.
Engrossed in a great book.
Eloise at the Plaza!
Our stable in the Cotswolds with horses and ponies for the family.
You come from a family of art collectors – how does art inform your work with jewelry?
The influence of art is just part of a mix of what you’re exposed to. Sometimes you have it in your DNA and subconscious, and you don’t even realise that it influences the decisions that you make. For me, it’s all one in that you have art, design, fashion. It all affects what I naturally find appealing. With my jewelry, it’s the same thing - it’s a collection of things that appeal to me as opposed to a collection designed to sell to someone else.
You trained in business and worked as an attorney – how did you become a jeweler?
I was always very creative but not very encouraged to do creative things by my family. Being creative was a hobby, kind of like art collecting. You don’t become an art dealer. You do another business and your hobby is art collecting. I began doing jewelry for myself and just from getting people’s attention – magazines and stores who loved what I was doing – I decided to do it as a business. At the beginning it was just for me, then for friends, then for press. That’s when Tierney and I went into partnership.
Wood is prevalent throughout your collection – what is it about this material that attracts you?
Wood has existed in fine jewelry for a long time, in Boivin pieces and the early work of Van Cleef & Arpels. There has always been this combination of very precious materials like diamonds and gold mixed with crystal and onyx. Wood is just another material but happens to be beautiful in its touch and form. It’s alive. It’s an inherent and true beauty because wood is not pretending to be anything else other than wood. And it does provide this contrast of materials.
Ebony in particular seems to be a favourite of yours.
It’s very difficult to get a black that doesn’t die, that’s not a dead black. The black in the ebony is alive, it’s not void of other colours. On the contrary, it’s like a rainbow, it contains so much light inside of it. I would say it’s the perfect black.
Your family have frequently talked of the effect of their Cuban heritage on their art collection. Has this influenced your work also?
We grew up Cuban and not as American because we were exiles. Definitely, a lot of what I do comes from the style that Cubans had. My great grandmother’s generation - even though they came from a tiny island in the Caribbean - were constantly travelling. My grandmother would go to the Dior shows in Paris and spend the summer there or go to New York. We had a portrait of her by Salvador Dali. The Cuban person of that time, the 1950s, was a very chic person, a cultured and educated person. And I’ve been influenced by that. The prettiest pieces of jewelry that I own are the vintage pieces that were my great grandmother’s. Many were Van Cleef & Arpels or Harry Winston. I had all my grandmother’s Dior couture dresses in my closet but one day my mother donated them to the Rhode Island School of Design. Now I’m like, ‘Where are my dresses?’ You can’t appreciate these things until you can see with a certain perspective.
Which pieces do you consider to be the “icons” of the Rosa de la Cruz collection of jewelry?
The classic black chain would definitely qualify. First of all, because of its simplicity and the truth of its form. And then the fact that it reflects proper style because you can do anything with it and that’s where your own style comes in. You can wear it as a necklace, as a belt, layer it. That for us is interesting: to edit so that you only have beautiful pieces. Then you make them your own and create something that’s new as opposed to dressing like everyone else. Tierney said that she thought the gold heart cuff was a bit like the modern version of the Cartier Love bracelet - an iconic, very simple piece that different generations would wear. And definitely the wood cuffs. I would be happy to put them on my coffee table as an object.
The Duchess of Windsor famously said that she would always remove one piece of jewelry before she left her home. How do you advise how your jewelry should be worn?
There are no rules, that’s what’s fantastic about jewelry but also what’s bad about it because it means you have even more responsibility and more freedom to make mistakes. The only rule I would say is edit, edit, edit. I approach all objects – the art on my walls, the sofas in my home, the shoes I wear – very much with this editing. Do you really love it? Is it beautifully made? Does it have proportion of form, harmony, and symmetry?
How do you feel when you see someone wearing one of your creations?
I’m very happy because I think it’s such bold jewelry that in a way the right wearer comes naturally to these pieces. These are pieces that wouldn’t appeal to someone who doesn’t have a certain sense of style. It’s nice to see these confident wearers that do have style.
Many artists also create jewelry. Do you own any artist-created pieces?
Personally, I am not attracted to most artists’ jewelry from a purely aesthetic point of view. It’s difficult for an artist, because when they’re asked to do jewelry, they are asked to do jewelry as an artist, not as a jeweler or fashion designer. It takes on a very serious academic mind frame that creates things that are much more complicated than my personal taste. An artist has to put more thought into it. I like less thought. Beautiful materials, beautiful craftsmanship, the proportion and scale are much more important than complexity. For me, they lack a certain sensuality to them.
You are personally a big collector of contemporary art outside of your family holdings. Who are your current favourite artists and new discoveries?
When I started collecting 20 years ago, nobody wanted painting. It was considered old fashioned like the brooch is in jewelry. It didn’t define you as a contemporary collector. But now there is a huge resurgence of painters and I think they’re doing fantastic things. One of the very interesting schools has been the artists that have been influenced by Christopher Wool. I’ve been collecting the work of Kelly Walker, which I think is beautiful. Then there’s Wade Gaiden, who is very simple, very pared down. They all have a certain graphic thread that brings them together. Maybe it’s a symmetry or an honesty of form.
What do you think of the word timeless?
If I were to give someone advice as to what to wear and what to buy in jewelry, I would say try to buy as many timeless pieces as possible. Avoid the trendy. The reason that they’re better – if we can say that – is because the foundations that they have are purity of form, honest proportions, proper scale, beautiful, honest materials. It’s these fundamentals that makes these things timeless. How do you bring in timelessness with fashion? For me, fashion is style. And style is about how to combine all these timeless objects in a way that defines your personal look.