Lush, vivid, profoundly pigmented color. It’s been catnip for fine jewelry buyers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s easy to understand why. Chromatics, the science of color, anecdotally supports the idea that color impacts our mood. Red, for instance, causes people to react with heightened speed and force, according to research.
Adored hues including red, blue, green—and those the very trendy pastel spectrum—have swept modern jewelry primarily in the form of enamel (and gemstone inlay, but on a smaller scale). The glossy veneer has allowed design minds to turn their Technicolor dreams into reality. To name just two examples: NYC’s Alison Lou used enamel to affect wavy lines of tie-dye in her latest collection, Groovy, while Melissa Kaye—a former yellow-gold-and-diamond-only devotee—has steadily unveiled neon-colored enamel versions of most of her signature styles.
Now a few big-name designers are traversing beyond enamel and incorporating handcrafted paintings into their pieces. Through collaborations with visual artists, both named and unnamed, they’re offering up jewels that double as Lilliputian artworks.
This feels like an organic progression. The interest in skilled artisanship has been on the upswing in jewelry design, and in luxury goods in general, as consumers have increasingly seen the value in artisan-made accessories. Kintsugi, the crafty-looking Japanese art of mending pottery, inspired full collections at Pomellato, Jennifer Dawes and Milamore last year. And in 2020, fashion designer Hedi Slimane, the creative director of Celine, introduced a series of jewelry collaborations with 20th-century artists that included painted-wood necklaces created by American artist Louise Nevelson.
Los Angeles-based Jacquie Aiche is among the jewelry designers whose latest works incorporate intricate, impossibly tiny paintings. Mushrooms, birds, flowers, and a lovely leopard are among the subjects painted and trapped for posterity under rock crystal to create rings and pendants that merge jewelry materials with fine artistry. An unnamed artist in Germany carves each motif into the back of the clear rock crystal cabochon, using handmade tools and a paste of oil and fine diamond dust. An oil paint is then applied to the carving, which is finished with a thin plate of mother-of-pearl. Each piece takes up to six weeks to complete.
Veteran jewelry designer Cathy Waterman also harnessed the power of fine art for her latest collection. Her Eye of Love series was inspired by 18th century “eye portrait” jewelry, which was given as love tokens and popularized by King George IV. Waterman conjured the idea for the series after recalling an exhibit she saw in 2012, The Look of Love, at the Birmingham Museum of Art. The pieces incorporate hand-painted eyes with gold and gemstones and are entirely bespoke: the designer works with a Los Angeles-based artist, who hand-paints the custom pieces using, you guessed it, photos of loved ones’ eyes. —Emili Vesilind
Top: Jacquie Aiche painted rings, prices vary