An Often Unseen Setting Reappears


Many designers working in the high jewelry sector take pride in crafting metallic settings that seem to disappear, allowing the color, fire and vivacity of extraordinary gemstones to shine through.

Luxury houses like Van Cleef & Arpels and Cartier, among others, have patented their techniques for creating what is known as invisible settings. Skilled designers, including the India-based Viren Bhagat, can craft platinum settings so thin that the gemstones they hold appear to float on the skin.

But others are now reimagining the place of metal by incorporating it into their pieces as a standout, aesthetic element. This fresh approach opens new design avenues for once stone-focused designers while also challenging conventional perceptions of what makes high jewelry valuable.

“Metal is omnipresent at Louis Vuitton in the hardware of our trunks, in closures, in buckles,” Francesca Amfitheatrof, the house’s artistic director of watches and jewelry, said by phone from her studio in Bridgewater, Conn. “For us, metal is right up there in high jewelry’s pantheon of precious materials.”

The white gold and diamond-set Myriad necklace (price on application) reflects her design approach: She presented it at the Louis Vuitton flagship on the Place Vendôme during Haute Couture Week in Paris in January as part of the brand’s Deep Time collection.

“This piece is designed as a collar with a series of white gold nails set with a diamond at the tip,” Ms. Amfitheatrof said. “Much of the metal is naked, she added, meaning not covered by gems, “which is unusual for high jewelry, but it is still a piece that required months of development.”

“We make several 3-D models of the metallic structure to measure the fit, the weight, how the edges will sit, and what the underside will look like,” she said.

Another Deep Time piece, the Skin choker, is set with 83 pink and orange Umba sapphires from Tanzania weighing a total of 19.45 carats, and diamonds, all on a rose gold and platinum structure that was hand-carved and textured to resemble the scales of a snake.

“We used rose gold to soften the overall palette of colors against the sapphires, which worked beautifully,” Ms. Amfitheatrof said. “Rose gold is a rarely used metal in high jewelry, but I love the idea of being playful with metal.”

Playful as well as versatile.

“I think the visible presence of metal makes my high jewelry feel younger, more casual, and maybe even wearable in the daytime,” she said.

At Dior, Victoire de Castellane used an intertwined metallic framework in white gold to outline the asymmetrical contours of a diamond choker in her latest Dior Délicat collection. The precious metal was used to emulate the fluidity of fabric and the intricate delicacy of lace.

In Beirut, the Lebanese designer Selim Mouzannar combined rose gold with platinum in his Basilik chain necklace ($75,160) shown at the Bon Marché department store in Paris in February. The metals were formed into uneven chain links to form the body of a coiled snake set with 38.2 carats of diamonds and 1.62 carats of blue Ceylon sapphires. According to Mr. Mouzannar, the metal took 460 hours to handcraft and set, bringing fluidity to a complex piece.

“European designers, under the influence of Italians, have since the ’60s snubbed rose gold in high jewelry,” Mr. Mouzannar said by phone. “But I love the warmth of this metal. I find that it enhances every skin tone and doesn’t have the neutral quality of yellow gold.”

The Italian house of Buccellati, for example, has specialized in crafting yellow gold and silver high jewelry since its founding in 1919, inspired by Renaissance goldsmithing techniques to create delicate, lacy openwork and engraved or etched pieces.

“The rose color gives more spirit to the snake,” Mr. Mouzannar said. “It is a metal with a visceral significance for me. Growing up I bathed in its glow in the souk of Beirut. It’s part of my family’s history. ”

When it comes to exploring lighter-weight metals for more wearable pieces, nonprecious metals also are blazing new trails in high jewelry. The Munich-based Hemmerle has been using anodized aluminum to create a colorful metallic palette that is lightweight, tactile and luminous. The company regularly integrates the metal into one-of-a-kind creations set with extraordinary gemstones such as diamonds, aquamarines and tsavorites.

At the Palm Beach Show in February, the Indian jeweler Neha Dani presented the Tazlina necklace ($145,000), inspired by Alaskan glaciers, and set with white moonstones and diamonds. The piece’s framework was made from blue titanium, creating a deliberate contrast of colors to bring out the white of the diamonds and the iridescence of the gemstones.

“The blue titanium also underscores the three-dimensional structure of the piece by contouring the asymmetrical design,” Ms. Dani said in an interview. “It makes the diamonds and moonstones pop out. A white gold setting would not have the same effect.”

Titanium, lightweight and sturdy, allows Ms. Dani to create more intricate pieces without compromising on durability or comfort, she said, though the metal’s craftsmanship requires skill.

“A setter may set 30 diamonds per day on gold, but they can only set 15 stones on titanium,” Ms. Dani said. “The work takes twice as long.”

Titanium may be difficult to work with, she said, “but it allows more elaborate designs. It is a metal that suits my creative process, which is to design first, then choose the stones.”

At Graff, design director Anne-Eva Geffroy takes the opposite approach. “For us, the star is always the stone,” Ms. Geffroy said by phone from London. “We treat the metal in harmony with the stone to create a composition and architecture dictated by that stone.”

Still, new pieces from Graff, like a 32.66-carat diamond solitaire ring set on a twisting platinum base, reflect a visible presence of metal.

“The metal is curved to direct the eye to follow the shape of the stone,” Ms. Geffroy said. “It is present but crafted to create a dynamic movement as it contours the stone and invites you to dive into the beauty of the diamond.”

Next year, Ms. Geffroy said, Graff is planning to showcase new uses of metal, in “light, strong and very thin settings that push the boundaries of Graff’s savoir-faire.”

“Technology has given us new ways of approaching metal,” she said. “We want to make metal a part of the story, rather than just a support for the stone.”

“I think metal has a long life in front of it,” she said.



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