Hubert Burda Media

T for Trailblazer

Encapsulating Tiffany & Co.'s spirit and bringing it to new heights is Francesca Amfithetrof, its first female design director

T for Trailblazer

Barely a year into her role as Tiffany & Co.'s new design director, Francesca Amfitheatrof has decided that she wants to be remembered as the “cuff queen”. “I always design bracelets and cuffs,” she elaborates when we chat during her recent visit.
It's no coincidence then that these gorgeous wrist ornaments make up about half of her debut collection, Tiffany T. As its name suggests, the range comprises jewellery pieces inspired by the letter T. The alphabet is expressed as a straightforward motif, a curved T-bar, as a cut-out or a three-dimensional link. Other than the letter T's obvious link to the brand, she also finds the alphabet very sculptural and reminiscent of New York City's skyline. Crafted from silver or gold, with some pieces adorned in diamonds and one particular cuff featuring the use of high-tech ceramic, these are contemporary designs meant for daily wear.
“This is the beginning of something new but it isn't such a revolutionary change that alienates the history of Tiffany. It's just how Tiffany is in the 21st century. I think every woman wants to go to New York — if I gave you a ticket now, you'd go. New York has that rawness that everybody loves. Tiffany T is very much about New York but it's also about what the rest of the world is sharing, so it speaks a universal language”, she explains.
Trust the woman who spent her childhood living in England, Moscow, Tokyo and Rome to understand what this universal language is. Born to a Russian-American journalist and an Italian publicist, Amfitheatrof is a trained jeweller and metallurgist with more than 20 years of design experience across varied industries, such as interiors and perfume. She considers furniture to be the most challenging to design: “It's very functional and I think that's very tough [to design]. Designing a chair is like the Holy Grail.” As for designing jewellery, it remains the one that brings her the most satisfaction.
“Jewellery is what I'm very good at and the one that I know so many aspects about. I can make it, I can design it and I've learnt a lot about different techniques and materials. I'm a very material-led designer and gold is my favourite to work with. I studied metallurgy and I can make gold elastic, in different colours and alloys. I love gold and I can do anything with gold,” she says.
She takes out a delicate Tiffany T gold wire bangle and bends it in a few directions. Each time, the jewellery bounces back to its original shape, thanks to a spring fitted within its hollow structure; a special 18k gold alloy — yet to be christened or patented — was also used to attain a certain level of malleability.
More than just a demonstration of her expertise, the bangle's flexibility makes it extremely easy to wear, another top priority for Amfitheatrof. Other examples include clasp-less chunky cuffs with spring hinges that allow the wearer to snap them on and off easily. The mother of two young children personally tests the prototypes of each of her designs to ensure that they are fuss-free and functional.
Given her access to Tiffany & Co.'s treasure trove of large scintillating diamonds and unusually coloured gemstones — many of which the brand enjoys exclusivity to — she could very well have marked her debut with the pomp and glamour of a high jewellery collection. Instead, the gutsy designer chose to do so with what she calls “accessories”, entry-level jewellery pieces that are “non-precious...up to US$5,000”. It's easy to impress an audience with the star power of large and beautiful stones, but to create memorable designs is a whole different challenge, she says.
Unlike other jewellery designers who try to situate themselves as far away as possible from the rapidly evolving fashion world, Amfitheatrof is determined to have a piece of that pie. “If you look at fashion today, it's so expensive that women are now buying their own jewellery...Tiffany T is sort of in the same price area as a gorgeous bag”, she says. That said, she is also quick to differentiate the various jewellery categories under the brand: Priced above the US$5,000 mark are fine jewellery that feature the use of gemstones and platinum, and beyond that are the high jewellery pieces that make up the annual Blue Book collection. These are the showstoppers that feature rare assortments of large and important stones.
In fact, keeping Amfitheatrof's hands tied at the moment is the much-anticipated Blue Book 2015 collection that will be revealed in April next year. She hints that it will bear influences from the 1940s, a particular era of the brand's heritage that she is currently greatly inspired by.