There was Reese Witherspoon who accessorised her majestic necklace — featuring a 40.22-ct, D-colour, internally flawless, emerald-cut diamond at its centre — with a J Mendel gown; Naomi Watts in a shimmering Prada and a fern cuff set with a wild profusion of diamonds; and Diane Kruger at ease in a red Kaufmanfranco dress and a three-strand tanzanite, green tourmaline, aquamarine and diamond necklace with a 52.8-ct cushion-cut aquamarine drop.
It was Jessica Biel, however, who had the privilege of shouldering the scintillating bib necklace with over 3,000 brilliant-cut diamonds that made it into every website and magazine worth its salt earlier in the year, after Cate Blanchett wore it to the Costume Designers Guild Awards. And Biel was an effervescent beauty. Just ask any of the some 300 guests, including VIPs such as Singapore’s own Dr Karen Soh and Malaysia’s Marion Caunter, who had flown in to attend the gala unveiling of the 2016 Blue Book Collection at the Cunard Building in lower Manhattan. Soh sat next to the actress, in fact.
Described by Tiffany & Co. Design Director Francesca Amfitheatrof as one of the most challenging pieces from this year’s Blue Book Collection to realise, the fully articulated bib necklace was also the inspiration for the floating silver orbs that adorned the interiors of the ornate Italian neo-Renaissance Great Hall for the evening. With Grammy-winning Esperanza Spalding performing and dinner catered by Bryce Shuman of Michelin-starred Betony, there was no mistaking the opulence of the affair or the jewels it celebrated.
Only Amfitheatrof’s sophomore Blue Book Collection, this year’s pieces were built around the theme, The Art of Transformation, which takes its starting point from where her first collection, The Art of the Sea, left off last year. “It’s like handing over a baton from one collection to the next. Over time, you’ll see a very clear thread from one year to the next,” Amfitheatrof explains when we meet in her sunlit “creativity room” at Tiffany’s corporate headquarters at 200 Fifth Avenue in the Flatiron district, in which vivid sketches of the collection are still tacked to the walls.
“Last year, it was all about energy and power. But water, whether it’s the sea or the ocean, has another side to it — peacefulness and quietness. I felt there was more to say around what happens [at the edge of the water], where creatures and plants start to come onto land and transformation occurs,” she says, a spark of fire still dancing in her eyes. The 200-ct diamond bib, for instance, was designed to be as fluid as water touched by a soft wind; while the collection’s Elemental necklace, an even more generously proportioned collar, celebrates the convergence of air, earth, water and fire with its use of cabochon and faceted tourmalines, tanzanites, iolites, apatites and fancy-colour sapphires.
“Not to be political or to have a sociological moment, but we are going through a moment of transformation right now. The world is changing so much and it can be positive, it can be negative, but is very contemporary. It’s what’s happening right now in the world,” she says of the notion.
Born in Tokyo, but well and truly a global citizen, Amfitheatrof would be the first to admit that she can be prone to complex, even lofty ideas. Although a trained jeweller with jewellery collections for the likes of Chanel, Fendi and Alice Temperley under her belt before joining Tiffany in 2013, Amfitheatrof also had a successful run as an art consultant and curator — a chapter in her life that continues to inform her sensibilities as a designer. “The subject of transformation is very much a subject about art. Having worked in the art world, I do thrive on the complex. I like the fact that we can take on subject matters that are very big. I don’t shy away from them,” she says. “I’m not saying [what we do] is art, but if it can be as close to art as possible, that would make me very happy.”
That well-honed curatorial eye of hers can be seen in the way she establishes rhythm within her collections, segueing seamlessly from the serene to the exhilarating in a single breath (a beautifully unadorned 8.25-ct oval diamond ring vs a large baroque pearl masterfully transformed into an octopus brooch with diamond and sapphire tentacles). It’s also in the way she is almost fanatical in the way pieces are displayed — they need to create “tension” for the beholder. “Having worked as a curator also really helps me explain what we do, because we have to convey all these ideas in a way the world can understand them,” muses the Royal College of Art and Central Saint Martins alumna.
All this resonates even more, when one considers that up until fairly recently, the annual Blue Book — first conceived in 1845 — was simply a brand catalogue that even featured table-settings. (Until 1853, the book itself wasn’t even blue, but rather, green.) But with its evolution in recent years into a coherent presentation of what Tiffany considers its magnum opus of the year, the Blue Book Collection has taken on added significance. “What we’re trying to do here at Tiffany’s is create the couture high jewellery of the future and Blue Book is something that allows us to do this,” Amfitheatrof explains.
“It’s good when you have someone with a certain experience in jewellery, but not so much experience that they get caught up in doing the same thing they’ve done for years. Her approach to precious stones and colour is completely fresh. I mean the collection last year was great, but this year’s collection is a knock-out,” her predecessor John Loring, Tiffany’s design director emeritus, graciously enthuses of the more than 200-strong collection that features necklaces, rings, bracelets and brooches in a cornucopia of stones, from yellow diamonds that mimic unfiltered sunlight to the rich saturated hues of green tourmaline and passionate rubellite.
“Ever since she announced The Art of Transformation and the water as her theme, I haven’t been able to get Ariel’s song from Shakespeare’s The Tempest out of my mind: ‘Full fathom five thy father lies; of his bones are coral made. Those are pearls that were his eyes: Nothing of him that doth fade, but doth suffer a sea-change into something rich and strange’,” recites Loring, who is himself an accomplished artist and author. “It’s that transformation that even Shakespeare spoke about — something rich and strange, or rather, original.”
“Her colour sense is remarkable and she’s certainly not afraid of scale,” he adds, with a knowing chuckle. “You can’t tell Francesca: ‘I think that’s too big.’ Because, no, it’s not too big — it’s exactly the right size. It’s like someone telling Mozart that there are too many notes in his composition. No, there are exactly the right number of notes. And that’s exactly the way I feel about some of her jewellery.”
With the brand since 1979, it was Loring who, in 1981, changed the physical size of the Blue Book from a catalogue that could fit into a gent’s breast pocket to the larger square-shaped volume as we know today. And in so doing, it gave ample room for Tiffany’s opulent stones and necklaces to showcase their beauty across a printed page.
“It really is a huge team effort doing these collections,” says Amfitheatrof, reflecting on the past two Blue Book Collections. “In a way, Tiffany is the kind of jewellery house where we’re all family.”
And like family, who have been there every step of the journey a piece of jewellery takes from conception to finish, it is with anticipation and pride that they wait to hear who it is that has brought their babies home. “It’s not just me, all the craftsmen also want to know that the pieces go to the right home,” says Amfitheatrof. “It’s also interesting to know what those clients have, what they’ve already bought and what they want to add to their collections. I don’t see them as clients, I see them as collectors. And we’re creating their future collections.”