By  on May 23, 2005

Designer Raphaele Canot isn't one for fancy finishings.

In her first season as artistic director of De Beers LV, the high-end diamond jewelry joint venture between the South African trading company and LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, she has taken a natural approach and chosen lightness as her theme. The collection is called Radiance.

"I started from the De Beers identity: diamonds. What are they about? Light, radiance, sparkle, happiness, a playful mood," said Canot, who last September joined De Beers LV from Cartier, where she was jewelry creative director. "So I wanted the collection to reflect an inner radiance — a glow — and I wanted the light to blow outward."

Last week, Canot and De Beers LV chief executive officer Guy Leymarie were hosts of a cocktail party at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London to showcase the collection. It's now selling at De Beers LV's flagship at Piccadilly and Bond Street, and will be available at the company's first Manhattan unit, which opens next month at Fifth Avenue and 55th Street.

For the cocktail party, the V&A's Raphael Cartoon Gallery was filled with trees festooned with red apples and dripping with glittering faux jewels. The real stuff, meanwhile, sparkled from behind glass cases. Guests, including Anthony and Antoinette Oppenheimer, Emily Oppenheimer, Rick and Kathy Hilton, Brett Ratner, Cozmo Jenks, Bay Garnett, Gaban O'Keefe, Sophia Swire and Zara Simon, drank pink champagne and nibbled on cocktail sausages, tomato canapés and small coconut shrimp.

Anthony Oppenheimer, a director of De Beers, said his family's company was committed to the jewelry business, despite the usual bumps along the way.

"Bond Street is difficult all around because the dollar is so weak and there are so few U.S. tourists now," he said. "But the stores in Japan are doing very well, and the reason we waited to open in New York was to ensure that everything was fine-tuned, which it is. This business is going to take time to grow. It's about getting in there with all the established brands and hopefully climbing over them."

In the new collection, the diamonds are tension-set and sit like droplets of spring water inside white gold frames. The little pendants link together to form necklaces, dangle like charms from rings and interlock to create a latticework shape for medallions and necklace charms.Key styles are playful and include a flower ring with a clump of flexible petals made from the diamond pendants; rings with diamond-studded discs that can spin around; a necklace featuring spheres, like gumballs, that are studded with diamonds, and showstopping medallions constructed from a flexible latticework of diamond charms.

Canot defied convention and refused to overtreat the white gold. As a result, the tone of the gold is darker and warmer than normal.

"In the Nineties, jewelers started coating the gold to make it look as white as possible. There's no point in hiding the true color of the gold. I think that look is over," she said, laughing, during a recent walk-through of the new collection at the flagship.

Canot also has introduced colored diamonds into the collection in an array of brown, pink, yellow and orange stones for rings, necklaces and earrings.

Prices range from $920, or 500 pounds, for a gold band with a single diamond to over a million pounds, or $1.8 million, for one-off items. The average prices in the collection range from $3,680, or 2,000 pounds, to $9,200, or 5,000 pounds.

Canot said her job couldn't be more different from the one she held at Cartier.

"Cartier is all about history. Here, it's about the future and establishing a brand identity," she said. "At the same time, I think jewelry is something really intimate, and each piece should feel like it's always been a part of a woman's life. So I never, ever want it to look brand-new."

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