Why you should mix your precious metals
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
The last time the ’20s roared, Louis Cartier answered the call for change with a design not only for the moment but for the ages. His subversive, Russian-inspired ring – later to become known as Trinity, a house signature – intertwined rose-gold, yellow-gold and platinum bands, and set the tone for a new mode of wearing precious metals.
“It was deliberately modern, adapted to a new way of life where ladies of society didn’t have to change at every moment of the day as they had in the beginning of the 20th century,” explains Pierre Rainero, Cartier’s image, style and heritage director. “The ‘revolution’ was proposing a precious object to wear all day long; there was no gender behind it, so it was embraced by men and women; and it just happened that it was with these three colours.”
The concept, ethos and indeed the evolution of the iconic design adopted by aesthetes from Jean Cocteau to Grace Kelly was built on fluidity. Perhaps no wonder then that, just shy of its 100th birthday, Trinity is the touchstone of a new movement for freedom of expression in jewellery, where the choosing and styling of precious-metal pieces is all about going with the flow.
Classic pieces that combine different coloured precious metals are being seized upon with renewed fervour: Trinity rings were the only jewel that made 1stdibs’s 2021 bestsellers’ round-up, and at online antique and vintage jewellery specialist Omnēque, large, 1970s mixed-metal pieces such as yellow-gold bracelets with platinum links and a bold, two-tone Buccellati loop necklace are providing “fertile inspiration for an everything-goes mood”, says the site’s co-curator, goldsmith and jewellery historian Joanna Hardy.
Meanwhile, from the runways of Stella McCartney, Bottega Veneta and Jil Sander to the most revered global jewellery ateliers, there’s a new generation of designs making a feature of multiple metal shades within a single piece. Pomellato’s sensual rose-gold Iconica collection now includes a breakaway bracelet and earrings with chain links in yellow and white gold as foils for the pink. Chanel counterpoints white gold with its glowing-almond quilted “beige gold” in new interlinked hoop Coco Crush earrings, and with diamonds in Toi et Moi rings. And Graff’s Spiral and Laurence Graff Signature collections put a romantic spin on the golden trio with a profusion of pavé diamonds.
In the case of Spinelli Kilcollin, the downtown-LA label known primarily for its bold and playful but clean-lined “connecting rings” – designed to be stacked or worn across several fingers (by Gwyneth Paltrow and Heidi Klum among others) – the inclusion of contrasting metals for the “links” was as much a practical consideration as an aesthetic one. “It costs a lot of money to start a new label,” Yves Spinelli recalls. “When we were creating our prototypes in 2010 we were making mainly in silver, which people forget is still a precious metal. But it made it difficult for retail buyers to ‘place’ us – are they fine jewellery, are they fashion? So we [he and his artist-wife Dwyer Kilcollin] started using yellow gold for the tiny links. It was a design accent but it was also all the gold we could afford. Suddenly we were seen in a new light, but the contrast also became a signature feature.”
The couple’s brand is now stocked in more than 50 luxury retailers, including Browns and Net-a-Porter. And their designs – which can also be customised or made fully bespoke – play with a palette of gems and custom-mixed precious metals in different gauges.
The dynamic proposition of wearing individual pieces of jewellery in white, rose or yellow gold together on the body, once considered something of a style misstep, has now become the aim, with designers investing their most refined pieces with an air of unpredictability. “It’s only very recently that most people have been comfortable mixing,” Joanna Hardy says. “There’s a sense that ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ aren’t as important as enjoying what’s in your jewellery box.”
“It’s fun,” says Spinelli, “to watch clients who usually favour one shade or another looking at our rings and having this epiphany of stylistic freedom when they realise that if they add something like this to their repertoire, they can wear all their other pieces with it, in any combination.”
It’s this versatility that ultimately gives the mixed‑metal look real staying power, says Hardy. “You can put a Holbein-esque 1850s revival jewel with something really modern, and if the craftsmanship is sound it will look incredible. If you vary sizes and textures, pieces that combine multiple shades of metal are the perfect link to combining the old and the new.”
Cartier’s Rainero observes, for instance, that while shade preference was once “most often motivated by the perception that one colour best fits the tone of the skin”, Cartier’s clients are now buying multiples of classic designs, such as the Juste un Clou bracelet, in different metals to wear together.
“Choosing how you want to mix different pieces and different metals and make your own individual styling feels very now,” says Francesca Amfitheatrof, artistic director of watches and jewellery at Louis Vuitton, whose architectural, unisex LV Volt collection, when worn in multiples, amps up the contrasts between yellow, white and pink gold, sometimes with diamonds, in a multi-layered web of graphic chain links, abstract mesh effects and smooth curves. “This collection is all about self-expression; it’s about providing clients with the freedom to be unique.”
Chaumet concurs, presenting its newest, diamond-studded Bee My Love collection, a range of mix-and-match pieces in rose, yellow and white gold, as “an ode to spontaneity”. The repeating hexagon-motif bangles, rings and pendants seem to slink together like a Tetris honeycomb – equally comfortable in sync as apart. The collection has a mirror-polish finish that reflects all the colours of a room – particularly the shadows – so parts of it can appear radiant at certain angles and black at others.
Jessica McCormack, a long-time devotee of multi-metal jewellery, is also exploring the potential of black, but as a fully-fledged member of the palette. “Using different metals the way I do with diamonds, helps to soften the stone; it almost changes the way it acts. I always feel one of my biggest triumphs is converting a single-metal person into a tri-colour-metal person,” says the London-based designer, whose new Fringe collection joins her signature Gypset and Button Back pieces using “blackened” white gold along with yellow. “You find lots of blackened gold in antique jewellery – but using it now, it automatically makes a piece feel cool and relevant. While it makes the stones pop, it almost downplays the white gold, which makes jewellery feel more casual. That’s what the mixing of metals often does: it makes something really precious feel really easy.”
Model, Shade Akinbobola at Youth. Casting, Keva Legault. Hair, Mayuko Nakae using Digi and Wella products. Make-up, Nicola Brittin at Saint Luke using Nars Cosmetics. Manicure, Sasha Goddard at Saint Luke. Photographer’s assistant, Keir Laird. Digital operator, Joe Hart. Stylist’s assistant, Kris Bergfeldt. Production, Diane Vincent at Saint Luke