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Curating luxury for the discerning traveller

Shape Shifters: Luxury Transformational Jewellery

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Lauren Romano discovers why the 20th-century trend for transformable jewels is enjoying a dazzling comeback

Back in the 19th century, double-duty jewellery meant extravagant headpieces worn at high-society balls which could be broken down after the debutantes departed. “Inventive transformable jewellery was designed as a response to ever-changing wardrobe requirements, when designers crafted intricate jewels that could be assembled and disassembled to form multiple pieces,” says Burlington Arcade jeweller, Susannah Lovis.

 Today, opportunities to dust off your diamond tiara are probably rare, but should you find yourself in the market, Lovis has the perfect trinket. “This is an archetypal example of the ingenuity and versatility of structural design from this era,” she says, presenting a spectacular Art Deco platinum and diamond diadem that disassembles into earrings, a bracelet, a brooch, a choker and a necklace.

Pictured right: Van Cleef & Arpels' Antique Zip Transformative Necklace. Photo courtesy of Antoine Delage.

Watches & Jewellery
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Pictured above: Chopard's The Garden of Kalahari collection. Photo courtesy of Chopard.

Lovis admits that she finds the history behind rare antiques, such as the tiara, particularly enticing. Being able to piece together the backstory of these gems causes a buzz for collectors too. “When pieces are of fine quality workmanship and good design, with the bonus of a ‘magic’ signature, they can command a premium,” explains Emily Barber, head of Bonhams UK jewellery department. “Only a finite number of such pieces were made and they offer snapshots of bygone eras.”

A transformable Art Deco diamond tiara last worn by Viscountess Churchill to the coronation of George VI in 1937 sold for £81,250 at Bonhams’ September fine jewellery sale. “If you’re going to spend a significant amount of money on a piece, it is a bonus if it can work as hard for you as it can,” Barber muses.

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Pictured above: The making of Chopard's The Garden of Kalahari collection. Photo courtesy of Chopard.

For many of the jewellery houses that first pioneered the trend around the turn of the 20th century, transformational jewellery has been their bread and butter. Take The Garden of Kalahari collection by Chopard, for example. Made from an ultra-rare 342-carat diamond, the set includes a showstopper of a necklace, which can be worn as a choker, or detached in the centre, adorned with a flower centrepiece and layered with three further pendants, two of which can also be worn attached to earrings.

Then there’s Van Cleef & Arpels’ famous Zip necklace. The design was first suggested by the Duchess of Windsor in 1938, but it took the Van Cleef & Arpels artisans until 1951 to produce – only a few pieces can be made each year. Despite the lengths involved in creating it, Van Cleef & Arpels’ CEO Nicolas Bos insists that it doesn’t necessarily have to be reserved for special occasions. “The maison has always been inspired by the versatility of these types of jewels, which can be adapted to various occasions, formal or informal, for different moments of the day,” he says.

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Pictured above: Citrine oval diamond drop earrings by Kiki McDonough. Photo courtesy of Kiki McDonough

Shape-shifting pieces aren’t just the staple of the haute jewellery houses, though – a new wave of creators is reviving the craft for a more contemporary audience. For modern pieces, look to Kiki McDonough, who deals in diamond hoops that can be customised with colourful drops. “The design inspiration came from my own experiences. I often went straight to an event or dinner from work and I was constantly changing my jewellery,” she says. “It struck me that it would be much easier to have something in your bag that you just whip out and add to whatever you are wearing.”

Some jewellers prefer to breathe new life into existing pieces. Jessica McCormack was inspired to make detachable diamond shells for solitaire rings, after inheriting a family heirloom in need of an update. “It is a wonderful way of adding to historical jewels, respecting their sentimental value and the traditional techniques,” she enthuses. “It’s amazing how many people have a solitaire that they would love to enhance.”

 

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Pictured above: Pieces from the Party Jackets collection from Jessica McCormack. Photos courtesy of Jasper 'Yogi' Gough.

For minimalists, there’s Cloak Watches, a London-based brand that lets you create customisable timepieces by swapping between a variety of components in seconds. Founders Jack Munro and Harri Lewis have spent years developing the mechanism for their sleek, detachable faces, made from natural materials such as bronze, stone and rosewood.

At the current count there are 800 different variations to play with, and the ability to add on new straps and faces makes a Cloak watch an excellent option. Much like all of these adaptable jewels, it is the gift that keeps on giving.

 Pictured below: Cloak Watches collection. Photo courtesy of Cloak Watches

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