There have been expressions of nature in jewelry design for millennia, from symbolic Egyptian scarabs to exotic birds with baroque pearl bodies dating back to the Renaissance period. Nature has come to define certain eras and resulted in some of the most beautiful jewels of all time. Among the most memorable is the frosty Fabergé Winter Egg from 1913, which was created by the renowned Russian jeweler Peter Carl Fabergé, whose jewels and objets d’art are among the most sought-after at auction among collectors.
The Belle Époque era in France saw the haute noblesse pair their beautiful couture gowns with ethereal diamond aigrettes from Chaumet featuring swooping hummingbirds and sunburst-style compositions of gemstones accompanied by extravagant spreads of feathers.
With the birth of the Art Nouveau style, a French jeweler called René Lalique quickly rose to fame. His keen interest in botany and aptitude for painting and drawing translated into hyper-realistic depictions of the natural world around him. Using pliqué-a-jour and cloisonné enameling techniques and gemstones, Lalique was able to perfectly capture the iridescence of a dragonfly’s wing or the intricacy of a flower
in miniature form.
With the arrival of Art Deco, bolder colored gemstones became de rigueur. Heavily influenced by the founder’s son Jacques Cartier’s trips to India, Cartier’s carved gemstone jewelry became synonymous with the period. A new exoticism was expressed in Tutti Frutti jewels set with sapphires, rubies, and emeralds, carved to resemble leaves or flowers – a time-honored tradition that is still celebrated today by London jeweler Graff. Recent masterpieces include an emerald ring featuring an elaborate flower carved into the gemstone.
Nature is at its best in a summer garden, and I can think of few flowers that haven’t been immortalized in jewels. Historically, they have symbolized different things: a declaration of love with the gift of a red tulip; forget-me-nots for remembrance; or pansies, a play on the French word pensée a moi, which translates as “think of me.” However, my favorite floral jewels are more concerned with capturing the minutiae of a flower in full bloom.
When I first saw Chopard’s orchid earrings, part of the Swiss jeweler’s Red Carpet Collection, I was mesmerized. Made from titanium, the cascading blooms, set with opals, yellow sapphires and garnets, are not only captivatingly colorful but surprisingly lightweight too. It’s no wonder Cate Blanchett chose to wear them to the Cannes red carpet on the opening night of the film festival.
The almost incomprehensible detail of the natural world is a powerful muse for some of the world’s most respected independent jewelers. The extraordinary Ilgiz Fazulzyanov,
a Russian artist jeweler who recently opened a salon in the heart of Paris, is often compared to the great jewelers of the Art Nouveau era René Lalique and Georges Fouquet. Like them, his specialty is enameling, and he has a profound understanding of the colors, textures and forms of leaves and flowers, which are rendered in microscopic detail in his miniature works of art.
Nature is Turkish jeweler and sculptor Aida Bergsen’s greatest inspiration. From her workshop and showroom in Istanbul, she tends to her bejeweled garden, creating exquisitely lifelike jewels in the form of flora and fauna. Pink conch pearls form the plump centers of flowers, with the petals’ pastel hues hand painted in enamel, while her use of blackened silver alongside rich yellow gold gives a unique antique patina to many of her jewels. If you are heading to Istanbul in the near future, do track her down – Bergsen’s enchanting creations are much in demand among jewelry cognoscenti.
There is plenty of room for the more abstract and avant-garde, too. Cactus de Cartier Collection launched in 2016, was
a delightful surprise. Instead of focusing on a more traditionally feminine flower, the French jeweler had recreated an altogether pricklier plant. A masterstroke for Cartier, the mildly rebellious, boldly beautiful jewels have gone from strength to strength, with new Cactus jewels being added to the collection each year.
Tiffany’s latest launch is the Paper Flowers collection. Inspired by the jeweler’s long history with florals and nature and aimed squarely at millennials, these are the first creations to emerge from new chief artistic officer Reed Krakoff. Pretty yet pared down, my favorite pieces trace the silhouette of petals in pavé diamonds.
The Dutch jewelry designer Bibi van der Velden’s powerful works regularly capture a side to nature that we don’t often see in jewelry design. Her new Forces of Nature collection includes whirling tornado earrings and an ice melt ring featuring a carved rock crystal iceberg slowly disappearing into the sea in a river of gold and diamonds that is as much a comment about the state of the world as it is a statement jewel.
For nature at its finest, however, there is Silvia Furmanovich and her astounding new creations. In recent years, the Brazilian jewelry designer has revived the art of wood marquetry in a collection of jewels crafted using wood that is native to her home country. Foraged from the forest, the wood is cut into tiny slivers then painstakingly pieced together by artisans to create elaborate blossoms, butterflies, or the plumage of a bird.
A masterful homage to nature, these jewels are also crafted from sustainable materials. From intricately realized representations of plants and animals to more abstract interpretations of the environment, nature-inspired jewelry holds a mirror up to the world and reminds us what a beautiful planet we live on - that is why they have endured for centuries.