The Most Jaw-Dropping New Jewellery Of 2020
Classic designs, modern combinations and lots and lots of emeralds.
While Boucheron most aptly captured the mood of the season in its wildly imaginative high-jewellery collection that used everything from algorithms to NASA-employed materials to evoke the escapist and fleeting quality of nature, other jewellers turned out several jaw-dropping creations that would be at home in any museum-worthy collection. Emeralds largely set the tone for the year, while onyx, turquoise and pearls were favoured as accents to heavy-weight stones. Here are some of the most jaw-dropping pieces to make their way out of the world’s top jewellery ateliers in 2020.
Cartier delivered several pieces that would make anyone drop their silver spoon right onto the floor at a swank soirée. And while there may not be too many occasions at the moment to trot them out for all to see, time will, no doubt, prove them to be a worthy investment. Case in point: A mouth-watering high-jewellery timepiece in yellow gold accented with two large octagonal aquamarines totalling 12.71 carats, flanked by 20.58 carats of two octagonal blue tourmalines surrounded by ribbed coral on one side and brilliant-cut diamonds with flecks of onyx on the other. The dial of the quartz movement is also encrusted in pave diamonds with an onyx marker for 12 o’clock, but no one will be checking the hour when it finally makes its debut on a wrist.
Thanks to the unusual contrast in materials, this piece looks unlike any other high-jewellery watch on the market—and despite what looks like a watermelon motif, its design is actually rooted in Cartier themes that date back to the 1930s. These themes bore fruit during the reign of lauded creative director Jeanne Toussaint. Not only was she known for blending unusual materials and colours, but she was also known for taking Louis Cartier’s panthère theme, which debuted on a watch in 1914, and turning into a 3D brooch for the Duchess of Windsor in 1948. Interestingly, it was also during the Great Depression era when Cartier began to use semi-precious gemstones like aquamarines for the first time. They were, of course, more economical, but the fact that they were offered in a larger variety of geometric cuts also lent to the architectural look of Art Deco jewellery that was en vogue through the ’20s and ’30s. The new Panthère Tropicale is a stunning reinterpretation of the house’s greatest decades of design.
But the Maison didn’t forgo precious gems. Cartier found five rare matching sapphires totalling 39 carats to adorn its diamond Sinopé necklace, which mimics the flow of water. Peeking through on the top is a glimpse of the lapis lazuli that lines the interior. The necklace has been carefully articulated for movement on the neck so that its waves move easily along the skin. It is part of a suite that also features a matching necklace and earrings.
Exercising its knack for extraordinary gems and colour combinations, another standout was the Tovel necklace set in platinum with two pear-shaped cabochon-cut rubellites totalling 32.51 carats, one 13.37-carat oval-shaped cabochon-cut rubellite, and several smaller cabochon-cut rubellites contrasted with turquoise surrounded by pillars of diamonds. It is part of a set that includes matching earrings and in addition to its striking design thought was also put into its versatility. The large rubellite drops can be removed from both the earrings and the necklace and in the case of the latter, it can be attached to the back of the clasp to hang down the back for a full-on display of gems on both sides.
Playing further into the appeal of Cartier’s roots in the graphics of the Art Deco period, the Opheis necklace has an interplay of geometries in its snaking collar of onyx and baguette- and brilliant-cut diamonds. Taking the French name for Orpheus, the Greek god of music famous for mastering the Lyre, the necklace coils around the neck just like the bottom of the mythological character’s instrument. Set in white gold, the centrepiece of the necklace is its rectangular-shaped Zambian emerald that tools a whopping 53.94 carats and is surrounded by diamonds totalling 5.42 carats.
Orpheus was also known for trying to lure his wife, Eurydice, back from the dead with his music, but these days a giant emerald rock from Cartier might do the trick instead.
Emeralds proved to be among the most exceptional examples in Hong Kong-based jewellery designer Cindy Chao’s collection this season, and with good reason. Chao waited a decade before settling on the perfect setting for a pair of pear-shaped Colombian emeralds, totalling 90-carats, that adorn her stunning green plumule earrings. They come topped off with two briolette-cut brown diamonds weighing 9.6-carats total. The contours are enriched with 456 tsavorites, 7 alexandrites, 547 yellow diamonds and 325 colour-changing garnets to create texture around the feather design. The gems rest on titanium which has been anodized to varying blue-grey and purple-grey tints to highlight the emeralds and add lightness for a weight of just 43 grams for the pair.
A matching brooch decked with 487 fancy-cut emeralds of 172.58 carats was also created to maximize Chao’s treasure trove of the vivid gems. Seventeen of the emeralds are Colombian; the largest, weighing in at 30.06 carats, crowns the piece. Each of the 14 veins of the feather, which are flexible to give movement to the piece, are linked together by a yellow and brown paved diamond stem and adorned along the edges with colour-changing garnets and tsavorites. Also set in titanium, the 15 cm brooch weighs less than 49 grams, which Chao says is less than the weight of two macaroons.
Each piece took around 10,000 hours of work and both are based on Chao’s yellow-diamond Phoenix feather brooch, which sold at Christie’s Magnificent Jewels auction in Hong Kong in May 2017 for HKD 8,700,000, or approximately $1.5 million according to exchange rates at the time. And this pairing far outshines its predecessor.
Green, a colour of renewal and energy, was evidently the go-to this season for the big jewellery houses. At Bulgari, a richly-hued 11.28-carat cushion tourmaline took centre stage in a pink gold ring. It topped off buff-top tourmalines (0.58 carats), turquoise (0.53 carats) and amethysts (1 carat), along with pave-set diamonds (0.58 carats). “This ring is my favourite piece from the collection,” Bulgari creative director, Lucia Silvestri, told Robb Report. “I wanted it for myself. The centre is eleven carats of green tourmaline, I love how that it’s not a green with blue, but rather a green with a hint of yellow, paired with turquoise, amethyst, and rubellite. You can see from afar that it is a Bulgari piece, very modern yet very timeless.”
The Italian house elevated emeralds in a necklace inspired by the Sant’Ivo all Sapienza church, one of Borromini’s baroque masterpieces. Design elements of the church’s exterior apex are reflected in the pearls and unusual sassi-cut of the emeralds. Set in white gold, the necklace has 145.75 carats of 7 tumble emeralds, along with pearls, buff-top emeralds and round brilliant-cut and pave-set diamonds. It took 900 hours for Bulgari’s workshop to adapt each element to the irregular shape of the emeralds. It is part of a suite that includes earrings and a bracelet.
“I really enjoyed creating this collection because Barocko is perfectly imperfect, beautifully vibrant in colour, with an edge of rock and roll,” says Silvestri. “The idea to do a Baroque theme came to us about two or three years ago. Baroque is in our veins. It’s in our DNA.”
The ornate, antique design of the Baroque era seems like a far cry from rock n’ roll, but pieces like this Rocking Tanzanite necklace demonstrates how the house was able to blend the two together for a modern take on the 17th-century style. Onyx and diamonds decorate the chain, while the Akoya South Sea cultured pearls are tipped with white gold studs. Crowning the piece is a knock-your-socks-off 48.77-carat cushion tanzanite.
Chanel also incorporated onyx into its high-jewellery by weaving it in with diamonds in a nod to its perennial inspiration, tweed. The result was an eye-popping graphic collection that proved the house codes translate as seamlessly into Place Vendôme gems as they do on the runway. Each piece is set in white gold, diamonds and onyx. The largest diamond comes on the ring in 6.07 carats. The set also comes with a pair of matching earrings.
Van Cleef & Arpels
Not be outdone, Van Cleef & Arpels presented two extraordinary emerald necklaces fit for a queen. The first, the Merveille d’Emeraudes comes with five pear-shaped Colombian emeralds totalling 70.40 carats hanging from a white gold and diamond setting featuring one pear-shaped DFL type 2A diamond (5.81 carats), two pear-shaped DIF type 2A diamonds (7.18 carats) that opulently hang down the back of the neck.
The emerald pendants detach and can be added to the earrings to replace the diamond drops in case you want the gems dripping from your ears and your neck.
It takes its cues from a necklace that once belonged to Princess Faiza (pictured above). It was acquired in 1947, almost two decades after its creation in 1929, by the Egyptian court’s representative in France for the princess.
Silver screen royalty inspired the new Rubis en Scène bracelet, modelled after a ruby Van Cleef & Arpels version that once belonged to Marlene Dietrich. She was regularly photographed wearing it during her lifetime and it also made an appearance on her wrist in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1950 film Stage Fright. The Jarretière cuff was the only piece of jewellery the actress didn’t sell off to pay her bills before her death in 1992. It was sold later that year at Sotheby’s for $990,000 and remains in a private collection.
But for anyone looking to get their hands on the next best thing, the new creation will be as good as it gets until the Jarretière’s owner decides to sell. It comes with 72 Burmese rubies totalling 84.74 carats and is set in white gold with round, square-shaped and baguette-cut diamonds for a 21st-century femme fatale.
In fashion, it’s pervasive to see low-brow references inspiring high-brow design at astronomical price points, but in high-jewellery, it’s as rare as the jewels themselves. This season, Victoire de Castellane took an ’80s DIY trend and elevated it to create the kind of jewellery you almost never see in the streets. Tie die was the inspiration behind the explosive twists of colour at Dior. The new spin on coloured gemstones and pearls demonstrate why Castellane has been Dior’s rock star since she took on the role as creative director of its fine jewellery division over two decades ago.
Case in point: A pair of asymmetrical yellow gold earrings piled with diamonds, blue and Paraiba-type tourmalines, tsavorite and spessartite garnets, emeralds and pink, blue and yellow sapphires come topped off with an opposing pale pink and sea-green cultured pearls with large tourmalines offering juxtaposition just beneath.
The strongest pieces played to this composition like two rings that also play off their big centrepiece stones. A sea-green pearl appears to nestle into the side of a large sapphire flanked by diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and garnets, while another ring that curves around the finger without completing the circle, is crowned with an orange pearl on the bottom left and a pink pearl on its top right.
It might be based on arty ’80s fad that’s seeing a renaissance, but these pearls look as though they are resting in a mosaic gem-studded representation of the sea’s natural technicolour flora and fauna.
Diamonds are a specialty of Valerie Messika’s family business and oh boy, did she deliver. This collar necklace’s centrepiece is a 17-carat pear-shaped diamond. It appears to float in between crisscrossed lines of baguette and round diamonds meant to capture the up and down musical vibrations of equalisers which oscillate on monitors in recording studios.
Keeping tempo with the necklace, a set of earrings in mismatched sizing feature a zigzag of diamonds, which also take their cues from music, in the pattern of a swinging metronome. A pair diamond of 4 carats quivers at the tip of the XL earring, while a 1.50 carat dangles from the shorter version. Literally, music to the ears.
Harry Winston kept its designs classic but offered a burst of colour in a necklace outfitted with a bouquet of amethysts, sapphires, peridots, rubellite, aquamarines, tsavorites and diamonds, weighing in for a total of 152.40 carats. The wreath of gems also comes with matching earrings in the same configuration of gems, excluding tsavorites, at 7.31 carats. Both pieces are set in 18-carat yellow gold and platinum.
But staying true to its history of creating major diamond showstoppers, a platinum necklace set with 260 diamonds at 92.41 carats took the cake as the premiere heirloom piece.
For those that can’t get enough of the emeralds in this year’s high-jewellery spread, the house offered a few richly hued Cluster creations. The ring, which will likely be the most coveted of the three, is a 4.63-carat solitaire set in yellow gold and platinum and surrounded by 10 diamonds weighing 2.80 carats. But why just have one when you can have a set? A pair of triangular earrings with two emeralds at 2.55 carats will appeal to those looking for just a touch more flair in design, but for those set on weight, the 5.01 carats on a pair of studs with wings of pear-shaped diamonds for a crown are a must.
And for those that prefer old Hollywood style, these diamond earrings that hold a 10.03-carat rose-cut pear-shaped diamond and an 8.02-carat rose-cut pear-shaped diamond at their centre should capture the spotlight. Each giant pear-shaped rock is surrounded in 5 carats of smaller pear-shaped diamonds and .78 carats on minute round diamonds and set in 18-carat white Fairmined certified ethical gold.
While it might seem unusual for Pomellato to come out with its first high-jewelry collection in the midst of a global pandemic, it delivered pieces that felt the most relatable in today’s current environment. Nearly every piece would look as good with a white button-down and jeans as it would with an evening gown, should we ever see the gala circuit remerge one day. One of the most versatile highlights included a pavé-diamond version of its classic chain necklace decked with 3,000 cognac-coloured gems set in pink gold.
Another was a thin pavé-diamond choker necklace backed by rose gold that is only visible on the interior that took 226 hours to create. While there is certainly nothing simple about a neck full of 1,706 diamonds, Pomellato’s design felt both modern and tastefully subdued. “La Gioia di Pomellato truly expresses who we are—our deepest identity—and Pomellato is not an elitist jeweller,” said Sabina Belli, Pomellato CEO, in a press statement. For high-jewellery clients looking for something on the more subtle side, the Italian house has certainly filled a new niche in the market.
But the Milanese Maison didn’t forgo its signature use of semi-precious coloured stones. This Nudo necklace combines nearly the entire rainbow with a myriad of blue topaz, sea green peridot, raspberry tourmaline, lemon quartz, orange garnet, purple amethyst and pink rhodolite. Each strand of stones hangs from gold chains suspended from diamond-encrusted circles. Even in an explosion of hues, Pomellato managed to create high-jewellery that felt thoroughly primed for 2020.