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In February, Sotheby’s London held a Masters of Design exhibition displaying hundreds of jewellery drawings from a European private collection. The illustrations traced six decades of the best of 20th-century jewellery design and the impact of major artistic movements and socio-economic and political changes. These drawings in paint and gouache lay the foundation for the birth of a jewel, serving as references to which the jeweler will turn for technical and aesthetic guidance and use in discussions with a client.
We look at three brands whose drawings confirm the vibrancy of their design studios in which creativity remains anonymous.
As pointed out in the book Piaget: Watchmaker and Jeweler Since 1874 by Florence Muller, spontaneity is essential. Jean-Claude Gueit, who contributed for more than 40 years to Piaget’s creative growth, compares the birth of an idea to a gunshot to the head, and always has his sketchbook within arm’s reach.
Valerie Nowak, Piaget’s international communication director, explains the house’s conﬁdentiality regarding its designers. “Our creativity and creations are among the precious treasures we possess. Therefore, each design is numbered, patented and stored in a protected area. The visibility of jewellery designers is understandable and required when young designers launch their own labels and seek to assert a differentiating style. Piaget already possesses a recognisable style and the prowess of our designers lies in perpetuating this heritage with a modern touch. When a client makes a purchase, she is buying Piaget’s know-how and the art de vivre (art of living)."
Conscious in recent years of the importance of its roots, Piaget established its Brand Equity and Patrimony Department in 2013 with a secure, temperature- and humidity-controlled archive facility in Plan-les-Ouates, Geneva. Allowing historical documents found at different sites to be gathered together under one roof, it facilitates research and sharing between departments. Drawings stored here provide an essential source of information on the foundation of Piaget’s stylistic codes and serve as inspiration for its designers, who regularly consult them.
2. Van Cleef & Arpels
In a studio off Place Vendome in Paris, Van Cleef & Arpels’ more than 12 in-house designers show oﬀ their skills. Many have studied at traditional design schools or specialised jewellery design institutions, a few at art schools. The maison selects its designers based on three criteria. The ﬁrst is the ability to draw, as all designers must be able to draw by hand and paint in gouache – a rare skill today because many design schools now teach only computer-assisted illustration. Second is imagination and creativity, judged by how well a candidate translates a brief, idea or theme into designs rooted in the house’s tradition without being reproductions of past pieces.
Lastly is the ability to understand constraints, based on the knowledge of crafting techniques, how stones or metals will react, and what is comfortable for the wearer.
On why Van Cleef & Arpels’ jewellery illustrators remain largely anonymous, its CEO and president Nicolas Bos says, “Design is usually the starting point of the creative process, so of course designers are a key component and very important, but they are not the only ones. It’s a team, and that team evolves all the time. Design is not the only creative activity – it’s one component of a wider creative process that includes stone selection and technical developments. This is what we call collective creation, with a lot of back and forth interaction."
Cartier’s 12 in-house designers are chosen for their artistic acumen, qualifications in applied art and experience in the production process.
Creative director Jacqueline Karachi says, “I have been a Cartier designer for many years. Now my role is to transmit my knowledge and expertise to the new generation of designers. The subtlety of our art is acquired through experience, so the transmission of knowledge and expertise is essential and the learning period is long. I accompany them every day in their creations to help them to excel and reach perfection over time. The designers are involved in every step of the process, from the drawing to the production of the piece. This is what makes Cartier different and unique."
Pierre Rainero, Cartier’s image, style and heritage director, explains the secrecy surrounding the identities of its illustrators. “What makes our creations valuable to our clients is the Cartier signature and it is linked to a synergy of talents in all the processes of the making. The drawing and the designer are very important but they are not the only ones. You also have all the jewellers and the people in charge of stones. Everybody goes in the same direction in the search for excellence, so it would be wrong to sign one name. Cartier gathers the sum of all these talents in the creation of every piece."