Category: Lifestyle

Jewelry: The Secret World of the Gem Carver


The Munich-based jewelry house Hemmerle inserts old cameos into modern jewels because “in the olden days, sculptors looked at the stone in a more artistic way, asking themselves how to maximize beauty,” said Christian Hemmerle, a member of the fourth generation to work in the family business.

Hemmerle also offers some sculpted objects in crystal. But, when asked, “Who was the glyptician?” Mr. Hemmerle, like many others in the business, answered, “I cannot reveal my sources.”

Few glypticians are known to the public; most work behind the scenes, hired by houses when their particular skills are needed. The houses will not identify them, worried about the lure of rivals, and over generations the glypticians themselves have become distinctly reticent. Discretion is now the prime directive.

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Mr. Nicolas opened his own atelier within Cartier. He teaches three apprentices. Credit Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

“Glypticians really are the unsung heroes of jewelry,” said Claudia Florian, a consulting director at the Natural History department at Bonhams auction house. “The majority of them don’t even sign their work.”

Yet Ms. Florian, who oversees two sales of glyptic works each year from her base in Los Angeles, knows the master carvers by name and where to find many of them: the town of Idar-Oberstein, Germany.

“This little town, two hours to the west of Frankfurt, has 500 years of tradition in carving gemstones,” Ms. Florian said. “The masters sculpted the agate they found in the river Nahe and kept their tradition even when they ran out of their own stone.”

She visits the area regularly to seek pieces for her auctions, and describes Idar-Oberstein as a sleepy town with modest (“I don’t want to use the word tired”) shops displaying goods to attract tourists. “But once you have developed contacts in the area, and it does take years to build those contacts, and you get invited to visit some of the carvers, they will show sculptures made by their grandparents or pieces they keep for inspiration,” she said. “It is here that you find more valuable things, behind the scenes.”

Ms. Florian said glypticians like Gerd Dreher or Manfred Wild had made their names by crafting animal sculptures, usually private orders. These masters are able to obtain the best raw materials and command prices that, she said, can rise to as much as three times the value of the stones they use.

In addition to the Idar-Oberstein area, glypticians also can be found in other regions rich in stone or gems that can be carved. Ms. Florian said that, for example, carvers have been emerging in Brazil thanks to the country’s abundance of agate and tourmalines.

And Tarang Arora, creative director at Amrapali, said he selects carvers from Jaipur, which has had a gem-sculpting tradition since Mughal times.

China also has a rich history of glyptic art — some of which was showcased in “Colors of the Universe: Chinese Hardstone Carvings,” a recent exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art — as well as many artisans now working in the trade. Bibi van der Velden, a sculptor who now designs jewelry in the Netherlands, described how she traveled to a remote Chinese village (“I can’t tell the name of the village”) to find artisans skilled in working mammoth bones for her creations.

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A black jasper Cartier cuff carved in the Panthère style. Mr. Nicolas said the human skill used to create the cuff was what made it valuable.

Every material requires specific training, as well as specialized tools, said Wallace Chan, the Hong Kong-based master jeweler. Like many glypticians, Mr. Chan makes his own tools: “I even have sometimes to build the machines first in order to build my own tools.”

The glyptician’s approach to work provides another key to understanding the skill. “You need to forget about your own breathing,” Mr. Chan said, “and when you have concentrated and forgotten to breathe is when you realize what you have been able to do.”

It was that kind of rigorous focus that several years ago prompted Mr. Chan to stop trying to train apprentices. He now puts all his energy into making as many pieces of jewelry as possible, hoping to inspire other carvers.

In contrast, Mr. Nicolas of Cartier is committed to teaching his three apprentices at his atelier on the Rue de la Paix in Paris, not far from the haute joaillerie center of Place Vendôme.

His specialty is a distinctive silky finish to carved stone: “I do not polish the stones,” he said. “I make them softer.” (He gently rubs the stone with little wooden batons, although he sometimes uses diamonds, iron, brass or carborundum, also known as silicon carbide.)

Mr. Nicolas, a graduate of the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts, spent 20 years working exclusively for Joel Arthur Rosenthal, the Paris-based jeweler known as JAR, from his independent atelier at Place Vendôme, where later one of his clients was Victoire de Castellane, creative director of Dior’s fine jewelry division.

But one afternoon in 2008, during the height of the global downturn, two of his major clients canceled all their commissions. A worried Mr. Nicolas asked to meet with Bernard Fornas, then the chief executive of Cartier; six months later, he opened his own atelier within the company.

Mr. Nicolas recalled telling the Cartier executive, “If a big jewelry house like Cartier doesn’t commit to the preservation of this art, all this will be lost.”

Now, almost 10 years later, Mr. Nicolas said that art is still what he wants “to keep, perpetuate and transmit.”

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Design, Jewelry and Cora Sheibani


Her home in the Kensington neighborhood of London, not far from the green expanses of Holland Park, doubles as a work space and a reception area for her by-appointment-only clients. (She also occasionally shows with Louisa Guinness, the London-based dealer of artist jewelry).

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Ms. Sheibani’s butterfly brooch in red gold with tourmalines and zircons. Credit Andrew Testa for The New York Times

At the center of a row of elegant yet uniform white stucco townhouses, hers has double front doors painted a rich canary yellow and a rainbow’s assortment of flowers in the window planters.

Inside, a Basquiat hangs in the hallway. A giant Damien Hirst dot painting dominates the living room and, below, colorful velvet trays laden with jewels are laid out on a Zaha Hadid-designed dining table, ready for a client appointment.

Ms. Sheibani’s latest collection, called Eyes, is a colorful, contemporary and resolutely design-driven interpretation of a traditional jewelry theme. Weighty gold rings, inspired by the flat-topped, elliptical shape of ancient Roman examples, curve boldly across the finger. The center stones, which include an ocean-blue tanzanite and an warm-orange spessartite garnet, were chosen not for their value but because, she said, they “have the sparkle of a twinkling eye.”

An abstract brooch, featuring a removable post so it can double as a pendant, suggests the eye-patterned wings of a butterfly, its highly polished, pear-shaped gold discs set with softly contrasting rosy pink rubellites, light brown zircons and mint tourmalines.

To ensure such a classic theme did not become too dry, Ms. Sheibani added rings inspired by South Sea masks. The surface of each one is engraved with a unique pattern of graphic lines and set with pairs of colored stones in varied shades.

Along with earrings that depict an owl’s comical eyebrows, she said, the mask rings added the playful dimension that characterizes much of her work. Without them, “the rest could be so grown up and I really don’t think of my jewelry that way,” she said.

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A mask ring in gold with spessartite garnets. Credit Andrew Testa for The New York Times

Her pieces span a broad price range, from 5,000 pounds to 40,000 pounds ($6,580 to $52,645), and bespoke items may be more.

Several of her previous collections have been accompanied by bound books that showcased the creations alongside topics like cooking or gardening with cactuses, a more lasting reference than the usual jewelry catalog. Color and Contradiction, her fall 2015 collection that consisted of deceptively simple pairings of contrasting, custom-cut colored gemstones, was paired with a riff on the adult coloring-book fad. And at Design Miami in 2016, her display backdrop was a giant coloring wall just waiting for passers-by.

Ms. Sheibani’s distinctive creations betray the fact that she did not come to jewelry via the traditional route of art school and goldsmithing apprenticeship.

After studying art history in Florence and New York, she relocated to London in 2001 when she married Kaveh Sheibani, who is a fund manager. Abandoning an earlier ambition to become a packaging designer, she enrolled at the Gemological Institute of America in London to study gemology.

She perceived that fine jewelry had a lack of contemporary design so she established her business a year later, while five months pregnant with the first of her three children. “I was very naïve thinking I could do jewelry part-time from home,” she said.

While she continues to work from home today, she acknowledges the challenge of balancing motherhood with running an international business. And it has been complicated by the fact that the craftsmen who render her designs are in Switzerland and Paris, so communication is not always straightforward.

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A little-finger ring set in white gold with spessartite garnets. Credit Andrew Testa for The New York Times

The ubiquitous smartphone has improved matters considerably, but the designer said she was waiting for some pieces to be delivered although it was only days before she was scheduled to fly to New York to present her new collection.

The effort and stress of working remotely still is worthwhile, she said: “The good goldsmiths are not just technicians, they’re creative engineers and craftsmen.” And while she has picked up considerable technical experience over the years, she said her jewelry is always the result of collaborating with them, whether it is a question of balancing ice cream cones of malachite and chrysoprase in a ring or recreating the texture of a cactus in gold.

“Solving problems is the joy of their profession,” she said. “After 15 years I know what is possible but still I design first and then we figure out how we’re going to make it and get it to work.”

Inspiration for the designs, she said, comes in myriad forms. It could be from her own art collection or the vast library of jewelry books stored on leather-lined shelves that stretch floor to ceiling in her office.

Her parents’ multidisciplinary tastes also still inform her work, whether it be the Jean Després jewelry that her mother persuaded the Machine Age designer to part with in his retirement, or the Arne Jacobsen cutlery they used to eat family dinners. “They appreciate fashion as much as jewelry, as much as chairs, as much as who designed your typewriter,” she said. “I think that’s why I approach it in that way, too.”

The feeling extends to her own collection of antique and vintage jewelry, an assortment of Berlin ironwork, Art Deco and ’60s and ’70s pieces. Not surprisingly, it “is a very design-based collection,” Ms. Sheibani said, “it’s not a gem collection.”

She hopes her designs will have the same longevity. “Jewelry should be of its time. It will be out of fashion at some point but that’s good,” she said. “At some point you overstep that hurdle and hopefully your jewelry becomes timeless.”

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His, Hers and Theirs: Jewelry Crosses the Gender Barrier


The London jeweler Sabine Roemer recently toned down a feminine rose gold ring by adding black diamonds for a male client and customized a round tanzanite ring for a woman “so the design is softer than sharp male lines,” she said.

Slide Show

Genderless Jewelry on the Runway

CreditGio Staiano/Nowfashion

The gender blurring has prompted some designers to think again. Luz Camino, who works in Madrid, said she has been re-evaluating her design process because men are wearing her plique-à-jour enamel brooches of flowers or shooting stars. “As I am drawing something,” she said, “if it isn’t feminine I will now think maybe this will be nice for a man too, so I will follow the idea through instead of stopping it as I have done previously.”

For Mr. Baumer, technology has been key. “Three-D printing allows open volumes you can’t do in any other way,” he said, “and creates the most interesting volume shapes as it allows me to see the inside of the ring even before we make it.” He was referring to his Mikado rings which combine, he said, masculine angles with feminine open spaces.

Yet the trend presents challenges. “Merchandising is a nightmare,” the London jeweler Stephen Webster said of his first unisex collection, Thames by Stephen Webster, which he introduced in September in collaboration with Blondey McCoy, a 20-year-old skateboarder and model.

The 15-piece collection, aimed at 20somethings, included razor blade motifs and a cutout that could be a star but also could be a cross.

“We have to carry more sizes particularly for rings and more stock as you can’t make a genderless collection geared to one gender,” Mr. Webster said. “I also had to focus more on what I put out there, reducing the number of pieces in the collection and doing a lot more upfront thinking about design as well as financial implications.” (Normally, the designer said, he does 25-piece collections, of which about 10 pieces become core designs.)

It also took some changes in retailing, Mr. Webster said. In addition to being sold online and at his own boutiques, the Thames collection is available at Palace, the skate streetwear store in London and New York, as “streetwear is genderless and what is disrupting fashion at the moment so customers know they are going in somewhere that is not gender specific.”

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A spider brooch with abalone pearl by Lorenz Bäumer.

As in fashion, genderless jewelry is not new. Seashell beads were worn by both cave men and cave women, Renaissance portraits show aristocrats of both genders wearing jewelry to communicate their status and power and, in India, the maharajahs’ jewelry usually outshone that of the maharanis.

The current and future spending power of millennials is also behind the change in designers’ thinking.

Along with reports showing that young buyers are affecting luxury sales, the Accelerating Acceptance report issued in March by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation shows that more young Americans are rejecting traditional gender labels, with 20 percent of the 18- to 34-year-olds questioned in the 2016 study identifying themselves as socially fluid, queer, bisexual or pansexual and 12 percent identifying as transgender or gender nonconforming.

The jewelry universe’s high-end brands also are taking notice.

At Bulgari, Lucia Silvestri, the company’s creative director, said the geometric B.Zero1 ring has sold across gender lines.

In the spring, Chopard plans to add larger and heavier pieces in titanium and more brushed finishes to its Ice Cube collection from the 1990s to offer a wider choice to an under-40 buyer “who might not have the money yet for high jewelry — but a lot do and will do in the future,” said Caroline Scheufele, the company’s artistic director and co-president.

And Giampiero Bodino, the Milan-based jeweler, is designing his first genderless collection for presentation next fall.

But Wallace Chan, the Hong Kong master jeweler whose recent pieces have reflected his childhood fascination with butterflies, said technological advances like 3-D printing and artificial intelligence soon will put the control in the wearers’ hands: “ “it won’t be the jewelry designer who designs what you wear in seven or eight years’ time but the person themselves.”

And, in vintage

The appeal of vintage jewelry has always reached across gender lines, but never more so than today.

“Men have always bought cuff links, stick pins and signet rings,” said Amy Burton, director of the antique jewelry dealer Hancocks in London. “But in the last five years men have come in looking for bracelets, brooches, necklaces, as there is only one of these pieces so they won’t walk into a room where there are 10 others wearing the same thing.”

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Women have expressed interest in buying men’s pieces, like a diamond stick pin of a top hat, cane and gloves.

For example, she said, a thirtysomething man who works in the City of London wore a vintage 1950s Cartier gold and diamond floral spray brooch at his wedding in June. “He had seen Pharrell Williams wear an abstract brooch at this year’s Oscars and thought it looked cool,” she said. (It was the Chanel Pluie de Camélia brooch, which Mr. Williams wore on his black Chanel tuxedo, along with multiple strands of black pearls.)

Recently, Hancocks listed a 1930s diamond stick pin of a top hat and cane — which several women, Ms. Burton said, have expressed interest in buying.

“I don’t believe there are rules when it comes to people’s individual sense of style,” she said. “People should express themselves however they wish to and this includes through their wearing of jewelry.”

S .J. Phillips, another antiques dealer in London, recently transformed a set of Art Deco ruby and diamond cuff links into earrings for a woman from Texas, lasering off the back fittings and adding butterflies to the design.

“They were easier for her to wear, more discreet and unusual,” said Rodney Howard, a Phillips sales associate. “As more people are seen wearing things like this, more doors will open.”

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When ‘Fashion Takes a Trip,’ Jewelry Comes Along


Around 1967, the era the exhibition calls “The New Bohemia,” the Beatles grew beards and traveled to India, the “Black is Beautiful” movement rose, and dashikis and dresses in bold African prints filled store racks. Jewelry turned ethnic, too; the show includes a rhinestone handpiece (part ring, part bracelet) by the costume jeweler Henry Schreiner and Mr. Lane’s gilded metal hobnail Indian pendant.

“Even jewelry in precious materials was used in a playful way,” Ms. Magidson said. The exhibition shows Tiffany brooches designed by Donald Claflin to look like little Aztec Indians and animal figures — a salamander, bird and lizard — in gold, turquoise and diamonds.

“Every piece we selected illustrates the wit, whimsy and beauty of Tiffany jewelry from this era,” said Ashley Barrett, the company’s vice president of global public relations.

Ms. Price said the overriding theme of the “Bohemia” portion of the exhibition was “color, color, color!” A bib collar in sapphire-colored crystals by the Italian jewelers Cupola & Toppa, coordinated with a color-swirled cape and dress by Emilio Pucci, showed exactly what she meant.

Turn, turn, turn. In 1970, a “New Nonchalance” arose. Women’s lib was born. By day, women clad in pantsuits strode into executive offices; by night, they danced in discos, confident in body-conscious, body-baring outfits.

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A bib collar in sapphire-colored crystals by the Italian jewelers Cupola & Toppa. Credit Emon Hassan for The New York Times

Elsa Peretti’s jewelry, designed for her friend the designer Halston, was as pared-down and sinuous as the fashion designer’s matte jersey, hug-the-body clothing: a mini silver flask on a leather strap, and an ivory cuff once owned by Lauren Bacall.

At Cartier, “the maison offered a new definition of luxury — making precious objects and jewelry more accessible,” said Pascale Lepeu, a company curator. The jewelry designer Aldo Cipullo shook things up at the venerable jeweler in the early ’70s and, Ms. Lepeu said, “transformed everyday objects into exceptional pieces of jewelry.”

Case in point: a bracelet that looks like a gold nail encircling the wrist, and a pair of gold and carnelian earrings that look like common buttons. Ms. Price said, “He took something right in front of him and made it into a piece of art.”

Cartier also exalted other everyday objects into luxury items: a nécessaire, a little evening bag, that looks like a silver lunch pail, and a cigarette rendered in silver.

The show ends in 1973, when American designers took their streamlined fashions and black models to Versailles to compete against French designers in a series of fashion shows (a competition that the Americans were deemed to have won).

From Jackie’s pearls to Ms. Peretti’s flask, in 13 years, fashion took quite a trip, and jewelry went right along for the ride.

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Starbucks Is Criticized for Its Holiday Cups. Yes, Again.


The nature of their relationship was not specified, but some viewers saw them as a nod toward the inclusion of gay and transgender customers.

The video itself did not attract negative attention. The latest controversy has focused instead on a pair of gender-neutral hands holding each other on the side of the cup itself.

Those linked hands came to wider public attention after BuzzFeed published an article about them on Wednesday.

It suggested the cup was “totally gay.”

“While people who follow both Starbucks holiday cup news and L.G.B.T. issues celebrated the video, the ordinary Starbucks customer probably didn’t realize the cup might have a gay agenda,” BuzzFeed said.

After that, it was off to the races.

Fox News picked up the story of what it called the “androgynous” cartoon hands, referring to Bible-quoting critics of Starbucks and criticizing BuzzFeed, which it said had “asserted the hypothesis is fact.”

The conservative site The Blaze also waded in, saying Starbucks had launched a “gay agenda campaign.”

Fox said it asked Starbucks about the cartoons but the company “neither confirms nor denies the allegations,” by which it presumably meant the promotion of lesbianism.

But in an email to The Times, Starbucks said it would let customers decide for themselves what the cup was about.

“This year’s hand-drawn cup features scenes of celebrating with loved ones — whoever they may be,” said Sanja Gould, a company spokeswoman. “We intentionally designed the cup so our customers can interpret it in their own way, adding their own color and illustrations.”

The War on Christmas

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The blank red canvas of the 2015 holiday cup. Credit Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

Controversy over the design of seasonal Starbucks cups is just one front in an annual culture war over the role of religion and liberalism in the five-week period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, a period that people inclined toward interfaith outreach might call “the holiday season.”

Like many divisive cultural debates, arguments over the Christian bona fides of seasonal Starbucks cups appear to have intensified during the 2016 presidential campaign as political and social tensions heightened in many areas of American life.

In 2015, Starbucks announced it would remove traditional holiday symbols, like reindeer and Christmas trees, from its holiday cups in favor of a more minimalist red design.

In a statement released at the time, the company said it wanted to “create a culture of belonging, inclusion and diversity” and meant the cups as an invitation for “customers to tell their Christmas stories in their own way, with a red cup that mimics a blank canvas.”

That decision was met with an angry online backlash from conservatives and others who saw it as an example of political correctness run amok. Joshua Feuerstein, a conservative Christian activist with a robust social media presence, urged a boycott in a Facebook video that has been viewed over 17 million times.

One of the people who weighed in on the 2015 Starbucks controversy was then-presidential candidate Donald J. Trump, who frequently used his campaign speeches to complain about people and retailers who say “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas.”

At a rally that November, he identified Starbucks as an offender and suggested the company was due for some backlash.

“I have one of the most successful Starbucks, in Trump Tower,” he told the crowd. “Maybe we should boycott Starbucks? I don’t know. Seriously, I don’t care. That’s the end of that lease, but who cares?”

When asked why Starbucks, a mammoth global brand, seemed to get ensnared in seasonal controversies so often, Ms. Gould, the spokeswoman, demurred.

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The 1997 Starbucks holiday cup. Credit Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

In an email, she said that each customer’s experience was “intensely personal,” and said the company was “humbled by how passionate customers are about our holiday cups.”

The cup controversy has been less heated this year, though. Mr. Trump has not weighed in on the alleged sexual orientation of the cartoon, and Mr. Feuerstein also appeared to be sitting this one out, according to a post he wrote on Facebook.

He said this year he was focused on “building a friendship and witnessing to a gay black man who works at the Starbucks” he frequents instead of stoking online outrage.

“I’m supposed to be taking him to dinner soon and hopefully sharing the rest of the gospel with him,” he wrote. “There’s your controversy.”

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