December 29, 2020—There weren’t too many new jewelry collections introduced in 2020. Obviously, it was tough to conduct business as usual with the coronavirus shutting down offices, studios and workshops at various periods during the course of the year.
Yet some designers managed to be very productive during these quiet times, as opposed to being fully distracted by the world situation. Many designers went back to basics with drawing. There was a boomlet on social media of some super talents showing their drawings in live-action videos. It was a behind-the-scenes look at the creative process we don’t get to see too often.
When bench jewelers could get back to work, these designers were ready to go into production.
Of all the amazing new collections, I was particularly taken with a few that paid tribute to the arts. Brent Neale, Harwell Godfrey and Jessica McCormack, each in their own unique ways, made jewels with poignant and strong art and cultural themes.
In this year when so many arts institutions are suffering tremendous losses, these jewels were an added reminder of how meaningful the arts are in our lives.
BRENT NEALE’S REFLECTIONS
Brent Neale is known for jewels with lighthearted themes, beautiful made-in-New-York-City manufacturing and three-stone gypsy rings every jewelry lover knows on sight. Her new Reflections collection is a bit of a change of pace. It’s inspired by the Protractor paintings Frank Stella produced in the late 1960s.
The showpieces in the Reflections collection are Brent’s rendition of Stella’s curvilinear elements in the paintings. The jewels are made with stones in an arched curved shape I have never seen before. The colors of the stones in one of her Marianne necklaces—pink opal, carnelian, amethyst, blue chalcedony and yellow chalcedony—echo Stella’s palette. (The namesake of the jewel is another source of inspiration for Brent, Marianne Faithful.)
Cutting stones to fit into a jewel, so that they can never be disassembled and used for another creation, is the apotheosis of creative jewelry design. It is the equivalent of painting with gems.
Brent had her lapidaries put a curve in the stones as opposed to cutting them to be flat. The shape plays to the three-dimensional quality of jewelry and exhibits the designer’s creative interpretation of Stella’s iconic work.
As for the message of the jewels Brent told Vogue’s Lynn Yaeger, “It’s not a candy-colored rainbow, because I think we still have a lot to work through. But it’s still a rainbow nonetheless. Good things are coming—I truly believe that.”
HARWELL GODFREY’S CLEOPATRA’S VAULT
Lauren Harwell of Harwell Godfrey launched her label just two short years ago. I am constantly repeating this fact because with the sophistication of her collection and all she has achieved it is almost impossible to believe.
Just a few highlights from this year, when so many designer’s fell off the radar, Lauren raised over $100,000 for the NAACP through the sales of her black onyx heart. She also raised money for World Central Kitchen with a malachite heart. Cynthia Erivo and Hilary Swank are a few of the many who supported the causes via Harwell Godfrey’s jewels.
This year Lauren also designed an engagement ring for the Ten/Ten collab. And she was one of ten designers chosen to make jewels for Muzo’s fourth designer collection.
On top of all that, Lauren launched a new collection named Cleopatra’s Vault. The collection is inspired by the culture of Cleopatra and the imaginative idea of what Lauren envisioned the Queen of the Nile would wear if she were around today.
What makes these pieces so different than the countless collections that have been a tribute to the jewelry-loving Egyptian monarch is that they are completely contemporary and totally cool. There is nothing vintage about the designs. Instead, they reflect the fact that Cleopatra was a modern empowered woman in her day and she would be if she were around today too.
There is, however, subtle acknowledgement of Cleopatra’s legendary style. A few jewels are set with emeralds, Cleopatra’s favorite precious stone. Pearls, that were a big part of Cleopatra’s story, can also be found in the work.
Other striking elements in the collection are Lauren’s signature use of geometric patterns inspired by African textiles. Something I am sure “Cleo”—as Lauren calls her—would love.
THE HAAS THAT JESS BUILT by JESSICA MCCORMACK AND THE HAAS BROTHERS
Jessica McCormack has become famous for her Gypset jewels, astonishing engagement rings and the tattoo collection that harkens back to her New Zealand heritage and has been worn by luminaries including Meghan Markle.
The London based designer is also well known for the salon-like atmosphere of her Mayfair townhouse that includes her boutique, workshop and studio. Jessica often invites in artists and guests for evening chats.
Jessica took her relationship with artists a step further with The Haas That Jess Built. The collab between the jewelry designer and the Haas brothers, twins Nikolai and Simon, was underway when the coronavirus struck. Amazingly Jessica and the American artists who live in Los Angeles managed to finish the project in the midst of the pandemic.
I think, in the end, working through 2020 actually infused the collection with a lot more meaning about the importance of art in our lives. See how Jessica and the Haas brothers put that idea into words in the Nowness video about the collection directed by Max Hemmings.
Nowness Presents: Jessica McCormack and the Haas Brothers