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LUXURY NOW / A BREATH OF FRESH AIR / TWINKLING WONDERS OF THE NATURAL WORLD

Flowers bloom and animals leap as nature injects the world of jewelry with a sparkling splendor.

Whimsical, playful and precious – nature reappears as jewelry and rewrites the rulebook on glittering gems.


Jewelry has undergone some major developments in the last 500 years. Its forms, uses and significance have changed massively from the simple settings of diamond crystals and garnets of the late Medieval period through the elaborate enamel, pearl and gem-set colorful flourishes that characterized the Renaissance period. That style cropped up again during a revival in the 19th century but in the meantime, as new stones were discovered and cutting capabilities developed and perfected, the uses of the no-longer-humble stone developed too.

The International Era – as the period from the French Revolution to the Edwardian era in 1910 has been dubbed – gave rise to jewelry of an overwhelmingly naturalist style called “giardinello” after the Italian word for garden. Suddenly throughout France, England and Russia wheat sheaves, roses, myrtle, stars, birds, bees, beetles, spiders, and various other plants and animals found their way into brooches, pendants, rings and spectacular tiaras as mines from the colonies produced seemingly endless quantities of diamonds, emeralds, rubies and spinels. The addition of metal springs to naturalistic jewelry created ‘en tremblant’ floral sprays that pulsed and twinkled with every move the wearer made, as if the flowers were blowing in some diamond dust-sprinkled breeze. Art Nouveau in turn, arising at the end of the 19th century, rejoiced in the natural form, with sensual nymphs cavorting and coiling around.

With the development of the modern-cut brilliant diamond at the start of the 20th century, the corresponding rise of Art Deco abstract non-figurative jewelry became the norm throughout the 20th century. For women who hankered for something of a figurative nature, pickings were slim.

Victoire de Castellane at Dior has been instrumental in returning giardinello gems to the forefront of fashion in jewelry. By thinking big, she tapped into an unexploited and unexplored modern market for rings and other items buzzing with life, literally, when it comes to the brightly hued bees alighting on colorful flowers. These personal and permanent bouquets inspired a host of other designers and a revival in extravagant, naturalistic ornamentation.

De Castellane’s own oeuvre hasn’t ceased elaborating on the theme. Her small collections of one-off pieces – starting with Belladonne Island in 2007, and Idylle Aux Paradis in 2009 – injected these humorous, improbable, increasingly large pieces with ingenious mechanisms that allow flowers to magically bloom and bracelets to detach and transform into full suites creating, in their own way, more bang for one’s buck in these credit crunch times.

Cartier’s Caresse d’Orchidée collection brought impressive tropical blooms to global attention in intricate pavés of diamonds and colored stones, and dripping with rubellite briolettes detachable as brooches.

Cartier is one house whose animalistic creations have never taken a backseat. Its famous panther has splayed itself in gem-studded glory on the world’s most famous women throughout the 20th century to today, and has been constantly reinvented as a signature piece of the storied French jeweler.

Buccellati has taken the Renaissance motif of the decorated baroque pearl and made it its own, producing remarkable land animals, birds and sea creatures with the distorted, tumorous pearl as a torso with gold and diamond wings, tentacles, limbs, heads, and all manner of appendages for fantastical zoological wonders.

Chaumet has stepped into the world of entymology with bees and spiders as lively rings with large diamond thoraxes and pavé-set legs and wings. Boucheron, too, has revived a Mata Hari mood of dangerous serpents made palatable and precious in spinels and colored diamonds, coiling as pendants, rings, bracelets and necklaces. The renowned Parisian jewelry dealer Lydia Courteille, whose vintage jewelry business spawned her own line of special pieces many of which utilize old Indian stones, has a large fondness too for jewelry in a naturalistic vein. Tree frogs, snakes and birds are just some of the creatures that fill her store’s vitrine and will make a charming addition to a finger or lapel.

The whimsy and adaptability of naturalistic jewelry is its strength and unique selling point. It’s not cold and abstract, but filled with charm – overflowing with it, in fact –
and that’s what makes it the most playful of jewelry. The late, great Vogue Editor Diana Vreeland spoke of wearing rows and rows of blackamoor pins on her sweaters in the 1930s and the potential for that same massed effect is what makes naturalistic jewelry the perfect way to build an evolving and ever-adaptable jewelry collection.

Pile a front-of-shoulder with vintage trembling floral sprays and insert some tiger-eye and diamond bees, and some Van Cleef & Arpels dragonflies and a Delfina Delettrez arachnid for good measure; fill fingers with Dior’s lacquered floral bouquet rings, add Lydia Courteille’s tree frog, and a twisting, slithering Boucheron predatory snake bracelet and you’ve got a dose of jungle glamour. Create a watery surface down a lapel with flat agate brooches and affix a Buccellati jellyfish with its swaying tentacles. A simple pearl or bead necklace can have an aviary of colorful bird brooches clipped onto it, like an exotic migratory flight; or a lazy Cartier panther can doze in a meadow of Asprey fronds as a horde of winning rabbit pins from the Louvre boutique watches tentatively. Fine jewelry meets costume, vintage meets new, family heirloom meets fresh purchase, and the result promises to dazzle and delight everyone you meet.

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