Thank you to the Opal Association for bringing this article to our attention. A very interesting article by Susan Owens on October 1, 2010 in the QANTAS Inflight Magazine.
As this year’s Paris Biennale des Antiquaires proved, the Australian opal is punching above its weight in the world of designer jewellery.
High above the Rue de la Paix, where explosive bursts of diamonds welcome you to Cartier’s eye-popping high jewellery atelier, an arriviste Australian is making its debut. The opal, with heart-stopping flashes of brilliant colour, has come in from the cold, generating an excitement not seen among French jewellers since early last century when Louis Cartier dared to do the unthinkable, combining blues and greens in an audacious fusion he called; “peacock décor”. His innovation elevated opals to the same status as emeralds and sapphires.
Fast-forward 100 years, to the Champagne-fuelled opening night of the 2010 Paris Biennale des Antiquaires, where 20 alcoves of full-blown roses scent the air of the Belle Époque Grand Palais. On this September evening, when le tout Paris rubs shoulders with international fine art connoisseurs, all eyes are on the opals and all talk is of their startling re-entry to the world of high jewellery. Cartier’s triangular beauty weighs in at 35.52ct. So beautiful that Jacqueline Karachi-Langane, the company’s creative director, set it on a necklace of emerald and milky opal melon-cut beads, above an 8.5ct violet-hued cabochon sapphire, eight briolette-cut diamonds and a scattering of rose-cut diamonds.
“The opal is poetic,” said Karachi-Langane. “Imagine a lake. All the colours are reflected by moonlight. This is what this opal is to me. It is like fireworks.”
There are others in the Cartier collection – the 26.04ct stone central to a 10-strand emerald bead necklace, scattered with diamond motifs. Karachi-Langane describes it as the impression of a bird, taking flight.
“I like the idea that the bird went so quickly, you are only left with the impression. The diamonds are like scattered feathers,” she says. “You ask, ‘Is it a fleeting peacock, a bird of paradise?’ – but it’s neither. It’s for your imagination.”
Why so many significant opals in this collection? “Ten years ago, Cartier only used the very classic stones: diamonds, emeralds, rubies and sapphires,” says Karachi-Langane. “A client would not accept a semiprecious stone with precious stones. Even the word ‘semi’ had a negative context. In the past four years, we’ve educated clients towards accepting the opal as a precious stone – since we regard all rare stones as precious. It’s a modern interpretation of jewellery. Stones like quartz, jade, aquamarine and morganite, when used with opals, announce the colours wonderfully.”
In Cartier’s atelier, 60 artisans worked on the collection of 68 pieces for the Biennale, taking two years to complete. “We work to an explicit philosophy,” says Karachi-Langane, describing that as “lightness, movement, poetry, humour. We like a hypnotic impression. Fantasy is the key word for Cartier.”
Cartier was far from alone in re-introducing Australia’s national gemstone to the Biennale, where it keeps company with collections from Marilyn Monroe’s favourite jeweller Harry Winston, Christian Dior (designed by Victoire de Castellane), Piaget and Chanel, who first showed at the Biennale in 2008. But the biggest opal splash of all is the Van Cleef & Arpels collection: Les Voyages Extraordinaires. “The opal is a stone we treasure,” says Nicolas Bos, vice-president, creative director and CEO of Van Cleef in the US. “Two stones are never the same. Each one is like a great sky or a universe or a kaleidoscope. The black is the most iconic, lovely in the company of diamonds and garnets. The others have so many shades, which are enhanced when put with orange sapphires, aquamarines, peridot and tourmalines.”
Bos describes how he rediscovered opals at a celebration marking his recent US appointment. “I felt I had been given a huge, new position and there was a small company party where I was introduced to an opal dealer from Australia. He showed a remarkable collection of stones, which he had sourced over 40 years. It is such a slow process, gathering a handful a year; it represented a lifetime of collecting. They were beautiful stones, with unique contrasts of colour and landscape all harmoniously spread within each stone. I wanted to dive into them and spread the feeling across other pieces. Many found their way to this collection.”
Bos puts paid to the myth that opals – fashionable in the 1930s-’40s, but far less so from the 1960s-’90s – are unlucky. “In the late 19th century, when this myth took hold, they were mostly set as rings. Opal is fragile and the stone often cracked, which was seen as unlucky. And so the unlucky story began, because of their fragility. But for me, the opal is like catching a lucky star, a shooting star. The opal is back as a lucky stone. When you receive one, you have to make a wish upon it.”
Louis Vuitton’s first-ever entry to the Biennale is marked with a collection called L’Ame du Voyage (The Soul of the Journey), designed by Lorenz Bäumer. A gifted creator, who moved from costume jewellery to high jewellery in 1992, Bäumer has previously worked in anonymity for Chanel and private clients. The key to this collection is two new, patented diamond cuts, the LV Flower and the LV Star, which mirror the company’s monogram.
Bäumer says these sparkling flowers allowed him to “write a new page for Louis Vuitton” because the new cuts have the capacity to reflect more light. The best diamond cuts have 58 facets; these sparklers have between 61 and 77. There are two outstanding necklaces in his collection. The first, Rock, is a cascading diamond necklace of miniature drum sticks, a CD, a record, guitar and floating musical notes. The diamond safety pin is his nod to punk – “I love the Sex Pistols. Rock music was about rebellion in the beginning, but it’s become so much a part of our world,” he says.
A second necklace – Sur Le Vent – is clustered with coloured stones: tourmaline, jade, emeralds and diamonds, combining translucents with transparents in an asymmetrical design. Bäumer, a globetrotter since childhood (“both my parents were diplomats”), says his design has always been influenced by travel. Not long back from an Australian surfing holiday, he also loves opals – “black is my favourite” – and Australia’s pink diamonds. “I haven’t used opals in this collection, but I love them because they’re so mysterious, extravagant – there’s something psychedelic about those colours.”
There’s an excitement surrounding these 21st-century designs, which ensures a place for high jewellery as collectable art. “The reason we have invited seven jewellery exhibitors to the Biennale is that we are seeing objects of such quality and artistry,” says Hervé Aaron, chairman of the event. “History shows that when the quality is there, so, too, is the increasing value in the investment.”
In November, Sotheby’s London will auction 20 pieces of jewellery once owned by Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, who was a huge Cartier fan. One of the pieces is a flamingo brooch estimated to be worth $US1-1.5 million ($1.1-1.6m). David Bennett, Sotheby’s chairman of jewellery, deems it to be “one of the most important brooches created in the 20th century.”
Like all collectables, jewellery is dictated by tastes and fashion. At Christie’s Geneva auction in May, signed period pieces proved the most popular, with sales topping $US33 million ($35.4m). Jean-Marc Lunel, head of jewellery, says, “Two private collections of fine vintage jewellery virtually sold out for $US9.9 million ($10.6m), while every lot in the Cartier section found a buyer.”
Among the Cartier pieces was a 1928 Tutti Frutti art deco bracelet set with rubies, diamonds, sapphires and emerald and onyx beads, which brought $US998,000 ($1.07m) – more than five times the estimate. Other individual designers who command top prices include Fulco di Verdura (the most collectable of the 20th-century jewellers), Suzanne Belperron and Ambaji Shinde, who was Harry Winston’s principal designer up to 2001.
Collectors in the know go to New York’s Primavera Gallery, one of the world’s best sources of 20th-century works. It champions artists such as Verdura, Belperron, René Boivin and Roger Jean-Pierre, who designed for Dior and Balenciaga in the 1950s. But the gallery also sells works from major houses such as Cartier, Tiffany, Van Cleef & Arpels and Buccellati.
At the Biennale, clever investors vie to identify the pieces that will grow in value generations from now. Daniela Mascetti, Sotheby’s senior global jewellery specialist, believes appreciation is not merely in the gemstone content, but in the artist and the artistry. On that premise, Bäumer at Louis Vuitton and Victoire de Castellane at Dior Joaillerie have added cachet as named designers.
Of course, if you’re a fan, but your budget doesn’t stretch to an original, there’s a strong case for investing in the next best thing – a “new” Verdura cuff. Ward Landrigan – former head of Sotheby’s New York jewellery department – bought Verdura in 1995 and regularly produces works from some of the 10,000 original sketches that came with the company. Among the most-wanted is a pair of ornamental cuffs designed by Verdura for Coco Chanel, which were reproduced and offered in a limited edition of 35 in 2009.
Source Qantas The Australian Way October 2010