They may not be rare, particularly pricey, or crafted by Mother Nature, but Swarovski crystals still drive Stephen Webster wild with desire. The London-based fine jeweler said he’s always looking for different ways of working with Swarovski because these crystals offer him what precious gem dealers cannot: freedom.
“With Swarovski, you don’t need to hold back — you can let it rip a bit. If you want a big, juicy look, then you say, ‘Let’s go for it.’”
Webster has worked on myriad projects using the crystals, including the jewelry in the 2012 James Bond film “Skyfall” — and the consumer spin-off collection following the film’s release — Christina Aguilera’s retro-style, pearl-encrusted microphone and even debutantes’ tiaras. He’s made necklaces from chandelier components and created men’s and women’s collections for the luxury brand Atelier Swarovski.
Webster, who has a namesake label and is also creative director of British jeweler Garrard, said he walks into Swarovski’s development studio in London “and it’s like going to see everyone in the stone industry all at once. There are masses of product.”
Mary Katrantzou, who works with the crystals each season for her ready-to-wear collection, and who has also designed for Atelier Swarovski, said she knows the “Swarovski dictionary by heart — the colors, sizes and shapes of the crystals. It’s up to us how we use them every season. They give designers access to a playground.”
Shaun Leane knows about Swarovski’s playground firsthand. Fifteen years ago, the fine jeweler began working closely with them on runway pieces for Alexander McQueen. Leane began working with crystals — Swarovski would even cut special ones for him — and would sometimes use rocks from the brand’s genuine gemstones division, which offers sapphires, peridots, amethysts, citrines and black spinels, to name a few.
Leane worked red cabochon crystals into aluminum settings for McQueen’s spring 2000 collection, and covered a headdress in crystal moonstones for fall 2007. For yet another McQueen outing, Leane worked with milliner Philip Treacy on headdresses fashioned from solid silver twigs and eggs that sparkled with blue topaz and smoky quartz pavé from Swarovski’s gemstone division.
His most recent project with Swarovski was creating the debutantes’ tiaras for the 2015 Vienna Opera Ball. Leane’s design had abstract wings and white marquise-cut crystals set in traditional Edwardian style, as if they were floating. Last month, Swarovski requested an encore, and Leane spun the spirit of the tiara into a delicate collection for Atelier Swarovski that is making the rounds of the European fashion trade shows. “They allow you to explore different possibilities, and you can be very innovative with them,” Leane said.
“They’ve all challenged us,” said Nadja Swarovski, head of corporate communications and design services. “We did striped crystals with Viktor & Rolf. Mr. Armani created his own stones called diamond leaves, and we just launched a jewelry collection with Jean Paul Gaultier, in which he designed the stone with a very special green, shimmering coating that looked like a scarab covering. My list of designers who I want to work with is long, so I can’t wait to realize their vision.”
Jewelry design is embedded in the company’s heritage: From the get-go, Daniel Swarovski and his partners supplied couturiers as well as costume jewelers, including the cult American jeweler Trifari. It wasn’t until the Eighties that Swarovski began leveraging the power of its raw materials and creating its own jewels, namely the Daniel Swarovski Paris collection.
“Eventually, we started to compete with our own customers, so we raised the bar for manufacturing costume jewelry, as it was called back then. It increased our demand, it increased their demand — it was an incredible win-win situation,” Nadja Swarovski said. “One thing we are certainly proud of is the quality of our custom jewelry, of our fashion jewelry.”
The company always considered its in-house jewelry to be a fashion accessory. “We are an extension of the fashion wardrobe. Also, we are at a very affordable price point,” Swarovski added. “So even during an economic crisis, we feel an increase in business, as people are not buying diamonds but they can still afford the crystals.”
Beginning with fall 2007, the company went a step further into fashion, launching Atelier Swarovski, which follows the rhythms of fashion collections. Since its launch, more than 50 designers and fashion houses, including Christopher Kane, Karl Lagerfeld, Proenza Schouler, Viktor & Rolf and Zaha Hadid, have created collections for the brand.
“I think the consumer appreciates the jewelry more knowing the creator of the piece, and if she can’t afford the clothes, she’s able to afford a jewelry piece by Viktor & Rolf,” Swarovski said. Design collaborators for fall 2015 include Leane and Paris jeweler Philippe Ferrandis.
The expansion into jewelry has paid some fine dividends. In the Eighties, jewelry accounted for 10 percent of the 2.33 billion euro crystals business, while today it makes up about 75 percent, or about 1.75 billion euros ($1.94 billion).
Swarovski continues to innovate: In 2003, it launched a jewelry retail concept called Cadenzza, a Sephora-style multibrand store for Cadenzza branded jewelry and other labels that use Swarovsi crystals, such as Oscar de la Renta, Roberto Cavalli, Versace and Vittorio Ceccoli.
“We are jewelry experts, it is a commercial exercise, and we didn’t want to overwhelm the market with too many Swarovski [branded]stores,” said Swarovski, adding there are 20 Cadenzza stores worldwide — 16 in Europe, three in China and one in the Middle East. The company also launched Lola & Grace, an in-house young fashion jewelry brand, in 2012.
Markus Langes-Swarovski, head of the company’s loose crystals division, said there is much expansion potential for both of those concepts and that he foresees Cadenzza playing “a strategic role,” in the fashion jewelry business over the course of the next decade. “Next to our role in crystals, which is still tough to [maintain], we have to work a lot to keep ourselves on the forefront, to also play a more vital role in the jewelry market overall.”