It began in Kauai, an island defined by its diverse landscapes of sandy beaches, rugged canyons, verdant rainforests and thundering waterfalls. It was while immersed in this unique tropical ecosystem that Tiffany & Co.’s creative studio drew inspiration from its dalliance with nature to design this year’s Blue Book collection, The Art of the Wild.
The 115-strong high jewellery ensemble is a continuation of the previous two years’ nature-themed Blue Book collections: Beginning with 2015’s The Art of the Sea and its jewels that recall the deep blue, the journey progressed to 2016’s The Art of Transformation, designed around the concepts of change, evolution and amphibiousness. This year’s Art of the Wild answers the call of the wilderness and enters unchartered territory, deep into a tropical wonderland filled with exotic flora and fauna.
“Nature falls like rain on everyone. People may not get esoteric symbols from other cultures but we all understand nature,” explains John Loring, design director emeritus of Tiffany & Co., on the recurring nature theme. An authority in the brand’s heritage, having shaped its creative vision from 1979 to 2009, Loring says that nature has always been the driving force behind Tiffany & Co.’s designs ever since the days of founder Charles Lewis Tiffany. At a time where ceremonial patterns and cluttered Victorian styles defined popular European designs, Charles turned to nature to create his own distinctive look, one that would later set the basis for American-style jewellery. “Mother nature is the best designer. People are fine but nature knows how to design better than we do,” he adds. Loring’s words echo the creative ethos of Louis Comfort Tiffany (Charles’ son and the brand’s first design director), who was convinced that nature should be the primary source of design inspiration.
The Art of the Wild is divided into six creative themes — Whispers of the Rainforest; Miracle Berry; The Falls; Leaves of the Sun; Feathered Cloak; and Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow — dominated by vibrant gemstones and sublimated by fiercely brilliant white diamonds. Conceived across the span of about one and a half years, these designs veer drastically from the classic to the outrageous, ranging from a sumptuous cocktail ring with a 51-ct untreated sapphire, to an extravagant necklace composed of individually handcrafted fronds strung on a collar of baguette-set diamonds. There are also figurative and abstract creations that offer either literal interpretations or delicate hints of this glorious tribute to nature.
“We used up to 20 different types and variety of gemstones in a very unique way. Just as how an artist produces a painting with his brush on a canvas, we also relied on the impact of colour in our design,” says Melvyn Kirtley, the brand’s chief gemmologist and vice president of high jewellery. Perhaps most exemplary of Kirtley’s statement is the series of bird brooches in the Feathered Cloak suite. Featuring coloured gemstones such as sapphires, yellow diamonds, spessartites and emeralds on the birds’ plumage, each gemstone has been deliberately set in place to create a gradated look that mimics the texture of real feathers. “These were done through an incredibly complex way of creating a painted finish of gemstones. We used each of the gemstone in colour and gradation just like an artist would when he paints, except that doing it with gemstones is a lot more difficult. Selecting these coloured gemstones and laying out the stonework was also a painstakingly slow process,” he explains.
Each bird was also designed to simulate the quiver and movement of actual feathers, with all of them featuring plumes that are attached en tremblant so that they animate in synchrony with the wearer’s movements. A particularly noteworthy example is the one set with diamonds, tourmalines, fancy, blue, purple and Montana sapphires: Designed with a cloak of varied-sized gemstones in a myriad of bluish shades, it has a crest represented by an oval blue cuprian elbaite tourmaline and two long tail feathers of diamonds arranged in a chevron style, attached at the ends with pear-shaped sapphires. Sensitive even to the slightest movements, the incredibly supple tail feathers move in a fluid manner as if unencumbered by any metallic joints.
While each Blue Book collection has traditionally been used as a vehicle to promote and celebrate the brand’s access to some of the most valuable and beautiful gemstones, this year’s collection also sought to highlight Tiffany & Co.’s technical expertise in the craft of jewellery making. Clever clasp and fastening systems as well as the magical manner in which metal and gemstones fall like fabric on the body elevate the brand’s high jewellery craft spectacularly, even if they go unnoticed to the untrained eye. After all, the true mark of an exquisitely made piece of high jewellery goes far beyond what the eye can see; it also encompasses the parts that are hidden from view.
Illustrating this beautifully is the Whispers of the Rainforest suite that is headlined by a stunning collier made of platinum, yellow gold and diamonds. Pegged as an, if not the most, emblematic piece in this year’s Blue Book collection, it was worn with a body-hugging gold sequinned gown by actress Jessica Biel at this year’s Oscars. The gleaming necklace is composed of some 350 individually handcrafted fronds, with each bearing a slightly different profile and finish. Attached to little gold hoops and placed together across three layers to create density, they are attached by a platinum stitching adorned with ultra-precise calibre-cut diamonds, to a diamond collier of 200 platinum-set baguette diamonds weighing some 60 cts.
“We’ve never done anything quite like this before. The making of the necklace was an incredible challenge and there were times throughout its production where we thought, ‘Is this even feasible to create?’ Eventually we worked through the challenges and came up with the most wearable and beautiful piece of jewellery…it is as comfortable to wear as an articulated necklace can be,” says Kirtley. Indeed, the necklace encircled Biel’s neck like a delicate fan of golden leaves, shimmying and shimmering against the light as she danced to the beat of husband Justin Timberlake’s opening performance of Can’t Stop the Feeling.
A feathered bracelet adorned with fancy coloured sapphires, tsavorites, spessartites and diamonds is another example of Tiffany & Co.’s mastery over the jewelled craft. Depicting a tickle of distinctly formed snow-set feathers wrapped around a curved structure, it features a hidden clasp to ensure that no additional component disrupts the flow of its design. “This is something that’s entirely new for us. We designed a very clever but complex new hinge system where the bracelet actually turns 360 degrees around on a single point. It doesn’t open normally,” he says.
Elsewhere, diamonds — both of the coloured and colourless variety — continue to wield their power over even the most resilient minds. A 15-ct emerald-cut D-IF diamond, set on a platinum ring, holds the privileged spot as the most valuable item in the collection with its eye-watering price tag of more than US$4.3 million. It is joined by a 26-ct fancy vivid yellow diamond ring set in a precious basket of diamond-set leaves that is priced at about US$2.75 million, the second most expensive item in this year’s Blue Book collection. “Ordinarily, with a diamond of this size, we would set it in a traditional setting,” says Kirtley. “However, this collection allowed us the opportunity to do something quite different and impactful. That was why we designed this wonderful setting of fronds to encapsulate beautifully cut and colour saturated diamond.”
There is also a necklace christened The Falls that is designed to mimic the gush of water falling over a cliff. Composed of a snow-set diamond collar attached to flexible trails of round and baguette-cut diamonds with large pear-shaped diamonds dangling from some of them, the diamonds on the necklace weigh more than 100cts — the heaviest in the collection.
Despite the brand’s stronghold over diamonds, the Art of the Wild is also a reminder of its dominance over coloured gemstones. After all, this is the same jeweller who popularised turquoise, kunzite, tanzanite, morganite and tsavorite and enjoys exclusive rights to some remarkably rare coloured gemstones, such as the unusual-coloured Montana sapphires.
Among the numerous notable gemstones that it launched this year, which includes a 7-ct Colombian emerald and a 52-ct oval cabochon rubellite, Kirtley’s favourite is a 51-ct unenhanced oval Sri Lankan sapphire that is set with four large diamond-set prongs. “The sapphire is completely natural, unheated and had undergone no treatment at all. The colour is exceptional and it has this lovely tonal quality that is neither too dark nor too light — it’s evenly balanced. Very rarely do we find anything like this and we really thought carefully about whether it should be on a necklace or ring. At the end, we felt that it needed to be admired and looked at on the fingers,” he says.
The Art of the Wild collection premiered in April this year at the private showrooms of Tiffany & Co.’s flagship Fifth Avenue boutique. Decorated with plots of verdant palm leaves and a digital screen of a cascading waterfall, both the jewels and its visitors were cocooned in this recreated tropical wonderland, impervious to the blistering winds that swept across New York City.
First published in Prestige Singapore’s June 2017 issue.