LONDON — “There was a big controversy in my family when we joined the fashion industry in the Eighties. There was the question of whether we are becoming a competitor to our clients,” said Nadja Swarovski during the launch event here for a new book called “Brilliant,” which included an exhibition of Atelier Swarovski pieces and a panel talk with jewelers Stephen Webster and Pippa Small at Mayfair’s Phillips gallery.
“Brilliant” marks the 10-year anniversary of the Atelier Swarovski designer jewelry collaborations and takes a look at its most noteworthy partners including Hubert de Givenchy, who wrote a piece for the book before his death last week. It also examines the science behind the making of crystals and spotlights some of the most innovative pieces that it created along the way.
She said she founded Atelier Swarovski to fuse the company’s involvement in fashion with its business as a crystal supplier. Ten years on, the division has worked with Givenchy, Viktor & Rolf, Jean Paul Gaultier, Mary Katrantzou, Christopher Kane and Peter Pilotto, as well as developing its own in-house range.
Swarovski is also looking to the future and working toward broadening the range to include handbags and sunglasses — they have already launched at Bergdorf Goodman — and incorporating other materials into the crystals. She is also making her first foray into the world of fine jewelry with man-made gems.
“The project came about because we were trying to dress celebrities for the red carpet. They wanted to take the crystal bags, but not the [crystal] jewelry,” said Swarovski. Spurred by the celebrities’ choices, she decided to enter the world of fine jewelry, but in a conscious way that would appeal to the next generation of luxury consumers.
The diamonds — which have the same physical and chemical composition as mined ones — are grown in a lab in California and are certified by the Gemological Institute of America. Swarovski has so far used them in high jewelry pieces worn at the Oscars on the red carpet. The pieces also incorporate crystals and man-made emeralds.
Stephen Webster will be among the first jewelers to collaborate with Swarovski on a collection featuring fabricated diamonds and gems like emeralds and rubies.
“It’s a product for the new generation of jewelry consumers. I tested it with a small survey in my kitchen — my wife wasn’t interested — but my daughters, who are aged 26 and 18, were all over it,” said Webster, adding that by having Swarovski stand behind this new jewelry movement, it’s likely to have more reach.
“It needs Swarovski behind it. It really does, because otherwise it would sit there and it would be very easy to just be dismissed. In some ways, that’s what’s happening with that side of the diamond industry. But if you now have Swarovski behind it, championing it and bringing on designers, you can’t ignore it then. You may or may not like it but you can’t ignore it — that’s the big difference.”
The collection will make its official debut at the Couture Jewelry Show, held in Las Vegas in May.
Webster also spoke of past collaborations with Swarovski, which opened him up to experimenting with new materials as well as new ways of doing business.
“I’m not Laurence Graff, I’m not trying to sell people the largest diamonds in the world. I incorporate them into my work because they involve glamour and you can’t talk about jewelry without glamour,” he added. “I took on my first project with Swarovski, called Fashion Rocks, because it felt glamorous. I picked a chandelier component that I would have never picked in my other life as a fine jeweler, it was a big rock ‘n’ roll piece of jewelry, it was inexpensive, retailers responded well to it and it gave the brand a more democratic appeal.”
The British jeweler has been putting a lot of focus on sustainability and technological innovation. This week, he debuted a new project called “The Last Straw” — a handcrafted silver straw — to draw awareness to the fact that the U.K. uses 8.5 billion straws every year, which are among the top 10 items found in beach cleanups and take more than 200 years to break down.
He has also been rethinking the relationship between technology and jewelry: “I’ve seen crystals that blew my mind; touch crystals which light up when you touch them, or others that incorporate metal elements, which are so small they are not detectable by the human eye and can store information or add a Bluetooth element to your device,” he said of his recent trip to Swarovski’s Austria headquarters, alongside Will.i.am.
He also plans to work with a group of tech developers in Finland specialized in gathering data of your “life biorhythm” to create wearable jewelry that incorporates the data, including wedding bands. “It’s much more complex than a FitBit and the ideal place to gather this data is around your finger. Since devices became wearable, there have been conversations between jewelers and the people creating wearables. I couldn’t see what was the point, to be honest, it was like two worlds that weren’t worth colliding but when there are elements of preciousness, then it’s worth for the worlds to collide.”
Jeweler Pippa Small, who sat alongside Webster at the panel and who has also partnered with Atelier Swarovski in the past, said she’s equally excited about the concept of man-made diamonds: “All of us who work with gems are concerned about mining and this could be a solution. It’s turning jewelry into an empowering tool rather than an exploitative one, which it has been throughout history.”