Louis Vuitton in the sky with diamonds
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
It’s as old as civilisation: the connection of jewels to the heavens, and the belief that planetary forces can govern our fate. While the folklore of the moon’s influence has long been ingrained in popular culture, compelling evidence now exists to show that the lunar cycles do indeed affect our sleep patterns and mental health.
It’s this forever interest in celestial themes that Louis Vuitton is tapping into with its new high-jewellery collection called Stellar Times. Conceived and created by Francesca Amfitheatrof, the house’s artistic director for jewellery and watches, the pieces link stories of the ancient past to the more recent space race, and the results are a starry expedition to the planets – and beyond.
Amfitheatrof says she came up with the idea last year while watching the 50th-anniversary celebrations of the first moon landing, and realising that while exploration had been frozen for a long time, a new spate of private space travel companies – including Elon Musk’s SpaceX – had made it feel “very much of the now”. The whole concept, she felt, was close to the spirit of Louis Vuitton – its sense of exploration, discovery and adventure. “I also realised that the first person to step onto Mars could be a woman,” she says, adding: “Women make the best astronauts.”
Gender politics notwithstanding, Stellar Times fuses art and science, the rational and instinctive, the physical and metaphysical. Amfitheatrof wanted the collection to explore the mysteries of the universe, to conjure a feeling of wonder and awe – as if felt by a child stargazing for the first time. “The effect it has on you, when you try to comprehend the vastness of the cosmos and our place in it – it’s impossible to grasp.” In her characteristic method-acting-type process, Amfitheatrof studied the solar system, the colours of gases and how the Milky Way acts as a nursery for newborn stars. She also researched how sailors once navigated by starlight and how precious metals were born from galactic explosions. She also listened, entranced, to Brian Cox for hours.
Colour and light are the guiding stars of the collection, with different gemstones used to represent seven different themes: ruby for Astre Rouge, the red planet; sapphire and emerald for Planète Bleue, Earth; heavenly light-green-blue indicolite tourmaline for Apogée; or a hazy, melting watercolour-toned constellation of coloured spinels for Interstellaire. Amfitheatrof says it was about “painting with gemstones”, adding that she was fascinated by their geological origins, and how they act as Earth’s building blocks. “Holding diamonds and opals is the closest you can be to the Big Bang,” she says.
These colours were then transformed into sculptural jewels – 90 pieces in total – which are graphic, sleek and contemporary yet infused with the majesty of the planets. Sapphires, representing Lune Bleue, the blue moon, are cradled in diamond-set crescent motifs for earrings; otherworldly black opals, representing Céleste, are enhanced with emeralds and sapphires in a ring; while radiant yellow sapphires and burnt-orange spessartite garnets, capturing the sun for Soleils, are tiled with diamonds into a towering cocktail ring.
To create the effect of cosmic luminosity, the collection plays with cuts of diamonds, making extensive use of baguettes to generate the impression of dynamic movement. The Lune Bleue collar, for example, balances a streamlined silhouette with curvaceous volume, achieved by layers of baguettes stacked around a central sapphire, like a sunlit cloud drifting around the neck. The diamond-set structures of sumptuously bombé-shaped rings, topped with single stones of arresting colour, are traced in fine geometric lines that also cunningly incorporate the LV initials. The necklaces, in particular, demonstrate a modernity and fluidity that departs dramatically from the usual stiff formality of high-jewellery centrepieces; the Planète Bleu necklace is a strikingly simple band of baguette diamonds centred on a single emerald, from which streams a tapered, cosmic trail of baguettes ending in a drop-shaped sapphire to nestle in the décolleté. The design, says Amfitheatrof, is intended to capture the equilibrium on Earth between water and vegetation, while the elongated baguettes shimmer like moonlight on water. Amfitheatrof worked closely with the house’s atelier to ensure the pieces retained some movement. “My aim was to lighten the jewellery, so that it becomes part of the body, with movement, fluidity. To create magic.”
Amfitheatrof has also incorporated the exclusive LV diamonds, custom-cut in the shape of the maison’s flower and star monograms: a little scintillating star perched on the edge of Planète Bleue emerald earrings. This Vuitton jewellery signature, and the whole collection, points to the company’s big push onto the upper echelons of high jewellery – the innermost sanctum of the diamond world – highlighted by the house’s high-profile acquisition this year of the 1758 carat Sewelô diamond, the second-largest rough-gem diamond in the world.
Amfitheatrof thrives on the balance between taking jewellery and gems seriously yet simultaneously debunking the po-facedness of high-jewellery itself. “This is an exciting moment for Louis Vuitton jewellery,” she says. “There’s a lot of energy coming from the house, a different rhythm. We can push tradition out of the way because the brand has a cheekiness that gives us freedom to be bolder, more graphic, ensure jewellery has a connection to fashion and femininity. We’re very keen for jewellery to progress; it’s no longer about status. We want jewellery and high jewellery to be worn, enjoyed, to reach out and speak to women.” As with the Stellar Times collection, she wants her pieces to reach for the stars.