Hubert Burda Media

Song of the Sea

Tiffany & Co.'s Francesca Amfitheatrof turns to the sea for her first Blue Book collection.

Song of the Sea

There was a palpable sense of anticipation in a darkened room at Tiffany & Co.'s legendary New York boutique, a five-story Art Deco-influenced granite and limestone building located at the corner of 57th Street and Fifth Avenue. Below, on the first four retail floors, it was business as usual as the day's first customers streamed through the imposing stainless steel doors. But on the fifth floor, hidden away from prying eyes and inaccessible to the general public, we waited eagerly for Francesca Amfitheatrof, Tiffany & Co.'s design director, to introduce this year's Blue Book collection.
Dressed in her signature tailored jacket and pants combo with her hair pinned back, the 43-year-old seemed equally anxious to unveil her Blue Book directorial debut. While she is by no means new to the jeweller — having joined in September 2013, at which time she introduced the entry-level Tiffany T series — Blue Book 2015 marks her maiden effort at designing Tiffany & Co.'s most important collection.
Indeed, with roots reaching as far back as 1845, the annual Blue Book is the greatest showcase of the New York jeweller's expertise, and is predominantly composed of unique high jewellery designs adorned with rare gemstones.
“After working on the T collection which was more urban and linked to the city of New York, I wanted to create something very dreamy, fantastical and inspiring,” the brand's first female design director said. Moved by the mission of the Tiffany & Co. Foundation, which is largely centred on environmental initiatives, and drawing on her love for the sea, she themed this year's Blue Book Collection: The Art of the Sea.
“I'm like a fish, and not a swimming pool person,” she explained. “The rhythm of my heart is aligned to the rhythm of the waves and the tides. There's something about being close to the water that leads to a holistic change within me…I find that I'm very inspired and creative when I'm by the sea,” she added, before regaling us with stories of dive trips and summer vacations spent swimming from one island to another.
With the bulk of Tiffany & Co. Foundation initiatives promoting responsible mining, coral conservation and the enhancement of urban parks, and her own love for the sea, it was only natural that the deep blue would find its way into her work. “The survival of the sea and coral reef farming are important issues that also spoke to me deeply,” she said.
Some 250 high jewellery designs, drenched in a cornucopia of colours and dripping with diamonds, are offered like glittering tributes to Poseidon. Taking slightly over a year to conceive, these designs swing boldly from the classic to the outrageous, ranging from deceptively simple pearl strands to a chunky necklace teeming with clusters of turquoise beads and facetted aquamarine gemstones. There are also figurative and abstract creations that offer either literal interpretations or subtle hints of this underwater tribute. In Amfitheatrof's words: “There is something for every jewellery collector”.
As if a show-and-tell, the unveiling of the collection began with the most valuable tray of pieces composed of rings adorned with rare colourless and fancy-coloured diamonds. “Phenomenal aren't they?” she asked as she picked up a 10.01-ct D-IF Tiffany Soleste ring and a 3.03-ct oval-cut fancy intense blue diamond surrounded by a platinum frame of white diamonds. Sparkling under the down lights, they shared the attention with other exemplary pieces, including a ring with a 3.03-ct rectangular cut, modified brilliant, fancy intense green; a 1.29-ct square cut, modified brilliant, fancy greenish-blue diamond ring and the single most expensive jewellery in the collection: A 4.16-ct fancy intense pink diamond which will retail for some US$6.8 million.
While Tiffany & Co. maintains its stronghold as the industry's diamond authority, each Blue Book collection is also a reminder of its dominance over coloured gemstones. After all, this is the same jeweller who popularised turquoise, introduced kunzite, tanzanite, morganite and tsavorite to the world, and which also enjoys exclusive rights to an unusually coloured sapphire only found in Montana. In fact, it has taken full advantage of this privilege by introducing a bracelet in blackened platinum adorned in variedly sized Montana sapphires, blue sapphires and diamonds. Covering every millimetre of the bracelet, the stones have been grouped according to colour in an irregular wave pattern.
A turquoise, aquamarine and diamond necklace, recently worn by Cate Blanchett at the 87th Academy Awards, stood out as one of the most extravagantly designed pieces. Festooned with turquoise beads in different sizes capped with diamond end stones, aquamarines in a myriad of cuts and interspersed with brilliant-cut diamonds, this dramatic bib took months to produce. “I went back to the workshop more than 20 times because I wasn't happy with the way some of the beads draped. It had to look irregular because it needed to fall naturally but it also shouldn't have gaps. It takes a really good eye to make sure this has balance,” Amfitheatrof explained. Her inspiration was a dream weekend away on a tropical island. “I imagined being in a kaftan, on the beach or on my yacht, with my drink and this necklace,” she said.
The popular tanzanite, beloved because of its deep purplish blue hue, embellishes two cocktail rings. Weighing more than 20-cts each, they are surrounded by what Amfitheatrof called “a whirlpool of diamonds”. Elsewhere, a 21.66-ct chrysocolla ring enveloped by coloured sapphires in various shades of blue and another ring featuring a large cuprian elbaite gemstone that's “the colour of the sea,” continued Tiffany & Co.'s tradition of highlighting unusual and rare gemstones.
With the sea as a guiding source of inspiration, it was obvious that pearls would also play an important role in the collection. South Sea (both white and golden), Akoya and Tahitian pearls have found their way into rings, bangles, brooches and sautoirs, often paired with diamonds and other times, with coloured gemstones. “I wanted to approach pearls in a way that would be fun. There's a thing about people believing that pearls are a bit for older ladies and I disagree. I think pearls are for everyone and I think there's a great way to wear them nowadays,” she said.
She went on to take out a necklace strung with different sized Tahitian pearls interspersed with glittering diamond balls. Adorned with either wavy patterns or diamond bubbles, these little diamond spheres are a fun touch to an otherwise traditional pearl necklace. Unfortunately, we weren't able to view the matching bracelet because it had been sent back to the workshop to be restrung. “Some pieces come out perfect and some don't. It has to be perfect before I'm happy with how it looks,” she explained.
As testament to how fun pearl jewellery can be, she showed us a collection of rings which she stacked on her fingers. Going against the grain of traditional pearl jewellery, one of them featured a large and perfectly round pearl sitting atop a basket woven in platinum and rose-cut diamonds; another showed a cluster composed of a pearl and two diamond balls that move and rattle against each other. She also showed us a pair of cuffs designed with three rows: One in solid gold, one in gold with diamonds arranged in a wave pattern and a third row composed of a fringe of similarly sized round pearls. Meant to be worn grazing the palm, the pearls bump against each other with every flick of the wrist. “I love the noise they create, it makes you want to go dancing,” Amfitheatrof gushed.
True to her words, the design director, who once told Prestige that she wanted to be remembered as the cuff queen, has also designed other interesting cuffs for this collection. Among the many designs is a pair of elaborately designed bangles each composed of a central stone held by a gold and precious stone reef under which more gemstones are set. But there is only one creation that she calls her favourite: A pair of cuffs adorned with round and rose-cut diamonds.
Meant to be worn as a pair, they are characterised by their yellow gold bands and diamond-encrusted white gold wave cut-outs. Again, they were made to graze the palm in the same way a shirt cuff does. “I've been meaning to make cuffs that sit very low. I think it is so much more elegant this way,” she told us. The cuffs' wave design was inspired by a Japonesque pattern on an 1887 flask from the Tiffany & Co. archives. (Amfitheatrof has also gotten the jeweller's hollowware workshops to create six goblets featuring the very same motif.)
As if saving the best for last, she finally directed our attention to a 70-ct diamond necklace fashioned like a scarf. Requiring many months to perfect, this was one of the most challenging pieces because of how she wanted it to rest on the chest. Composed of rivers of diamonds in different cuts loosely knotted on one side and featuring an elaborate motif on the opposite side, it was a struggle for the craftsmen to find the perfect balance in weight. “It had to drape beautifully,” she stressed.
As Amfitheatrof had strived to showcase in her earlier Tiffany T collection, all jewellery — whether silver chains that cost less than US$1,000 or bracelets in the six digit price range — need to be wearable. In her words: “You want to wear something so important but not have to be weighed down by it”.
Through the way she fusses over every bead on a necklace, the deliberately playful designs of the rings and even the manner in which her cuffs should be worn, it was apparent that this was a collection designed to be worn and enjoyed — not hidden in safes.
Amfitheatrof has clearly created a collection that she could imagine herself wearing, and in turn, has left her indelible signature on the new Blue Book collection. As she said before leaving: “I wanted this to be a very curated collection. You know how when you look at a painting in a museum and you identify it to be from a certain period? I wanted customers to feel that they have bought a piece from this collection.”