Jewelry's Independent Women

This year marks Solange Azagury-Partridges 25th anniversary as a designer. Known for her colorful gems and playful, conceptual approach, the London jeweler celebrated the occasion with the Everything collection, which she describes as a little bit more of everything Ive ever done.From spinning diamond cogs and fantastical creatures to rings that tell a story in precious stones and colored enamel, Ms. Azagury-Partridges jewelry is not mere decoration but wearable art that provokes thought, and frequently a smile.The former Boucheron creative director is a veteran among a growing group of independent female designers who have turned their passion for jewelry into successful businesses, creating the heirlooms of tomorrow.Unlike their male counterparts who until recently dominated the independent market, these female jewelers have the advantage of understanding from personal experience what women want to wear.Lisa Hubbard, chairman of North and South America for Sothebys international jewelry division, says that their progress coincides with more female jewelry buyers than ever before. Given that more and more women today have independent means and are vying for jewelry for themselves, it makes sense that women would successfully design jewels that other women want to wear, she said.Ms. Azagury-Partridge, after being burnt in the past by investment partnerships gone awry, is determined to develop her business on her own terms. I want to get as small as I can, and I want to work in my own way. With independence comes freedom, she said.Aside from her exuberantly decorated Mayfair flagship store, which the designer and friend Tom Dixon describes as a magic kingdom, she has just two other stores now, one in New York and one in Paris. She has closed several other stores and is looking for alternative ways to expand, without the expense of new stores.In October, she released her second collaboration with Amazons British website. The e-commerce giant is offering an exclusive sterling silver and lacquered version of her signature Hotlips ring design for 69 pounds, or about $104. The original gold and enamel version, first designed in 2005, and which sells for more than $2,300, is one of the jewelers best sellers.The designer said the Amazon version, available in six colors, is selling well and may soon appear on Amazons American site. The seasonal changes demanded by online jewelry sales are at odds with the long lead time needed for her precious jewelry collection, so the rings sales are a way for me to do wholesaling and to make my jewelry available to a much wider audience, she said.Carolina Bucci is another jewelry designer experimenting with ways to expand her business. Fifteen years after starting her self-named 18-karat gold collection, the jeweler, who was raised in Italy and is based in London, is planning to introduce Caro, a silver jewelry brand, in the latter half of 2016.Catering to a younger, fashion-focused customer, it will have seasonal collections and is expected to sell for prices between $150 and $2,500. (Her fine jewelry ranges from $950 to $100,000).Caro, which uses Ms. Buccis nickname, will have the same spirit as her original brand but will be built on a different business model. I dont want more than four or five Carolina Bucci stores, as I want to retain that sense of exclusivity, but Caro is a brand I envisage having lots of different stores and retailers, she said.Wearability will remain the key issue, though. Born into a family of Florentine jewelers, Ms. Bucci says she was never allowed to wear costume jewelry growing up, and found that the fine jewelry she could wear was too traditional for her tastes. I wanted to make fine jewelry that was true to my family heritage, yet also fun and relevant to my own life, she said.For her, designing jewelry is a personal endeavor. Unlike the elaborate jewels she remembers her mother wearing when she was a child, her concept is to create easy but luxury pieces that can be worn all day, whether dealing with work, children or an evening out. Our lives are so different these days, she said.A turning point for the designer came when she opened her own store in the Belgravia area of London in 2007. Until that point Id never actually met my clients really, she said. The business definitely grew after opening the store.The store allowed her to display her entire range, and she became inspired by the women who came in and became loyal customers who are now evolving with me, she said.Irene Neuwirth agrees that opening her own store on Melrose Place in Los Angeles last year has been pivotal to her companys development. Our business has increased everywhere because of the store. Its an incredible branding tool, she said.Having been among Barney New Yorks top-selling jewelry designers since introducing her colorful, feminine collection in 2003, Ms. Neuwirth says it is her relationships with the store owners who sell her jewels, and with the female customers who collect them, that has fueled her success.Ive built my business by building amazing friendships, she said. I feel thats a very specific way women have of doing business, which, in the personal world of jewelry, gives them an advantage.Ms. Neuwirths clients frequently buy a piece after seeing the designer wearing it. Acting as a billboard for ones own jewelry is not something so easily achieved by a male designer, and Suzanne Syz believes that female designers also have the advantage of understanding what feels good.We know what fits. I wear my designs to see if theyre comfortable. Weve all had jewelry in the past that was too heavy, the Swiss designer said.Ms. Syzs colorful, one-of-a-kind haute jewelry is frequently inspired by art and marries fine craftsmanship with whimsy. Her tiny atelier in Geneva only produces around 25 pieces a year, and in New York last month, she announced her first watch.Called Her Ben, this limited-edition, bejeweled mystery watch was inspired by Big Ben in London, and took two years to complete. The watch has two faces, both realized in diamonds and a choice of rose or white gold or black titanium. Time literally stands still on the outside cover face, while the one inside is the real watch. The inscription opposite reminds the wearer: You may delay, but time will not.Ms. Syz says her select clients, primarily in Europe and the United States, many of whom are art collectors like herself, find traditional jewelry too staid and appreciate her mix of haute jewelry and tongue-in-cheek style.Cindy Chao also approaches jewelry as art, and the wonders of nature are her chief inspiration. She carves her miniature sculptures in wax, then has them realized in gold, titanium and precious stones at her workshops in Geneva, Paris and Lyon, France. She produces only 12 to 20 pieces a year.Her Black Label Masterpiece No. II Fish brooch took three years to complete. It is a large, glowing emerald representing the cheek of a puffer fish, and the surface is covered with more than 5,000 diamonds and sapphires. (Some pieces from the collection sell for $10 million.)The Taiwanese designer says her business now is roughly 65 percent in Asia, 20 percent in the Middle East and 15 percent in the United States and Europe. She opened a luxurious Hong Kong showroom this past spring, and is transferring her headquarters there from Taipei in an effort to establish herself in an international finance center with a more promising customer base.Despite the continued downturn in the Chinese economy, which has led many international luxury brands to close stores in the city, she believes serious jewelry collectors passing through Hong Kong are always looking for something unique. There is still great demand from the real collectors if they see investment value, she said.For Ms. Chao, the first Taiwanese jeweler to have her work become part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institutions National Museum of Natural History, growing her business is important but should not come at the expense of creating the perfect jewel: Product is key. Scale doesnt matter.I sometimes ask myself: Is this a business? Is this art? Is it for myself? Ms. Chao said. I need to focus on making the best jewelry I can, on surprising people and making them see how jewelry can be art.THE DESIGNERSSOLANGE AZAGURY-PARTRIDGELondonSolange Azagury-Partridge was working at a 20th century antique dealer in London when, disappointed by the engagement ring choices available, she designed her own. The resulting ring was so admired by friends and acquaintances that she introduced her own brand in 1990. In 2002 she was selected by Tom Ford to become creative director at Boucheron in Paris, an experience she describes as like attending the Oxbridge of jewelry design. Known for her jewelrys combination of color, sensuality and wit, she is in discussions with a London museum to curate a 2017 exhibition that will raise jewelrys profile as a serious art form.CAROLINA BUCCILondonIn 1885, Carolina Buccis great-grandfather opened a store repairing pocket watches in Florence. The family business evolved to become a manufacturer of fine gold jewelry, and now its workshops produce all of Ms. Buccis collections. Mixing traditional techniques with modern designs such as her signature woven-gold and silk thread friendship bracelets, the designer spends her time in London, Italy and New York, where her mother was born and where she started her business. With celebrity clients such as Victoria Beckham and Gwyneth Paltrow, she has developed an international following for luxurious jewels that are distinctive yet easy to layer with other pieces.CINDY CHAOHong KongCindy Chao grew up in Taiwan surrounded by creativity, the daughter of a sculptor and granddaughter of a famous architect. She launched Cindy Chao The Art Jewel in 2004 and has always approached her jewelry as miniature 3-D sculptures with minuscule detailing and a sense of light and balance. With a less-is-more philosophy of production, she only creates one of her signature butterflies every year and they have quickly become collectors items. The Ballerina Butterfly brooch, designed with Sarah Jessica Parker, was sold at Sothebys in October 2014 for $1.2 million, with $300,000 of the proceeds benefiting the New York City Ballet.IRENE NEUWIRTHLos AngelesIrene Neuwirths bold, luxurious statement pieces in a rainbow of gems including opal, turquoise and tourmaline are a red carpet favorite, worn by the likes of Reese Witherspoon, Naomi Watts and Lena Dunham. Known for the interior design of her home in the Venice section and her store at Melrose Place in Los Angeles, she has been approached to become a lifestyle brand but is determined to focus on jewelry. I want to be a household name, and to have my jewelry passed down from generation to generation, said Ms. Neuwirth, who won the 2014 CFDA Swarovski Award for Accessory Design. As her boyfriend, the Lego Movie director Phil Lord, decamping to London in 2016 for his next project, Ms. Neuwirth said she is looking forward to an opportunity to grow her international profile.SUZANNE SYZGenevaSuzanne Syz started creating her own pieces after finding traditional haute jewelry too outdated for her tastes. An avid modern art collector, her work was influenced by her friends Andy Warhol and Jean Michel Basquiat, whom she met while living in New York in the 1980s. Now based in Geneva, her perfectionist approach to her creations meant it took five years to complete her first collection and she continues to produce a very limited number of pieces. Her latest creation and first watch, Her Ben, took two years to complete and, unusually for a jewelry watch (they are normally quartz-powered), it has a mechanical movement from by Vaucher, one of haute horlogeries finest manufacturers.

Jewelry's Independent Women 1

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