ARTICLE DE PRESSE – Journal The Wall Street Journal Europe – 28 avril 2001

By Tomaso Eridani
Forget Mass-Produced Baubles, an Artisan Can Create a Piece That’s Unique

Stoned love : Jewelry Made to Order

Lots of people nowadays sport Cartiers and Bulgaris – at least they did until the markets started sliding – but how many wear jewelry made just for them ? If you’re disappointed or simply bored with what the various high-end accessory makers are offering then it might be worth dropping into a jewelry workshop for that next special occasion.

Turning to an artisan offers you a more personal approach and gives you a one-off personalized object – sometimes even that piece in the jewelers’ windows of Paris’s Place Vendome or Milan’s Via Montenapoleone at a much lower price.

The desire, especially among the young and affluent, to add a personal touch to clothes and accessories has finally hit con-temporary, custom-designed jewelry. « It was strange to see such a fashion-conscious and design-aware public spend so much on haute-couture but neglect jew-elry, » says Prof. Norman Cherry, head of the British School of Jewelry in Birming-ham.

Uncovering Rarities

For those determined to seek out something unique, one of the first obstacles to overcome is finding an artisan since they tend to be tucked away far removed from the megabuck advertising and marketing campaigns of their industry rivals. A good bet for a first glance at samples of artisans’ work is trade fairs, exhibitions and galleries but the preferred method of publicity remains word-of-mouth.

« Custom-made jewelry has a strong sentimental value which is why diffidence in the artisan is the first obstacle – once there is familiarity all is simpler and that is why word-of-mouth is the best, » says Pierre Marie Bernard who, after working in various ateliers around Place Vendome, now creates jewelry exclusively for private clients from above his boutique in Paris.

An expert artisan will first listen carefully to your ideas before starting work on a design that seeks to match the personality and physique of the person who’ll wear the piece.
« In the consultation, I will understand the person and what the jewelry piece will represent for them, » says Collette Waudby from her studio in the « jewelry quarter » of Birmingham. She also closely studies skin tone, eye color and hair length so as to best suggest what stone color and necklace length is appropriate.

« We unify a client’s taste with technical details, » says Danilo Guffanti, in his small workshop in a backstreet behind Milan’s cathedral where he practices the trade passed onto him by his grandfather and father. « We are the tailors of the jewelry world. »
Clients come in with ideas taken from ads and books or with a stone in their possession that they want a piece built around. Artisans also can find themselves aiding clueless husbands with suggestions for their wives.

Weaving Desire and Design

« However, I always make clear that I will weave my design into any idea a client brings me, » says Marie Lechat who has been working individually in her Brussels workshop for over 10 years. « I especially enjoy the relationship with the maker, » says Annette Naudin, a 31-year- old arts consultant from Birming-ham. « You create a relationship with the person, giving you the chance of testing things out, talking pieces through with them and seeing their new collections. » « And the pieces are so much more interesting and innovative and unusual. They have a sense of something unique and the craftsmanship is excellent, » she says. « I’ve enjoyed seeing items and having them modified by artisans to meet my tastes – making me feel part of the creative process.

« Ms. Naudin has had pieces made for herself and also commissioned items for relatives. « They’ve really appreciated that it’s a special, individual gift. » « There’s also an element of showing off- of wearing something different and adjusted for myself, » she says, adding that handmade items are not expensive considering the work put into them. Once the design has been worked out a good artisan then offers sound guidance on the materials to be used. Mr. Bernard has a consultant specialized in gemology come to his laboratory once a week to help his clients choose their stones. Mr. Guffanti explains how a client can determine the shade of gold by asking for more copper to be mixed in for a redder gold or more silver for a yellower gold. « Diamonds and platinum have become particularly popular, » says Ms. Waudby. « Though when they hear the latter’s price they often opt for white gold ! » Confirming a trend that emerged from one of the world’s largest jewelry fairs in Vicenza, Italy, last January, artisans say tastes have shifted to bright gemstones, high-carat gold and platinum and heavy, striking designs. « Personally, I like to interpret classic materials into new forms and new ideas, » says Ms. Lechat who specializes in fine gold and silver wire, which she finds the most flexible. She likes setting diamonds in these materials to best catch the light.

A gold ring with 12 diamons and two rubies by Pierre-Marie Bernard

Silver Replica

The next phase in designing a piece of jewelry consists in the artisan producing a preparatory drawing and a model replica in clay or wax so as to a give the client a clear idea of the piece and to arrange a fitting. For a particularly expensive piece Ms. Waudby will even make a silver replica. Once approved, the artisan begins, only calling in the client if the design evolves during the process or if the client has specifically asked to be con-sulted.
Timing can take from two weeks to a month or more, depending on the intricacy of the craftsmanship, and so artisans warn of not leaving decisions until the last minute as happens so often for special occasions. Prices are difficult to pin down as the materials and the work required vary so greatly. Mr. Bernard indicates that a basic ring will cost around €1,000 while on average his clients spend €2,300 on their choices.

Some artisans also offer a more attentive assistance and the chance of making alterations, such as widening a ring for a fattened finger, that often come in handy during a piece’s lifespan. Artisans are also handy for repairs or modifying objects – such as removing a stone from one object and setting it into a specially created one or turning that earring, whose other half has disappeared somewhere under the sofa, into a ring or brooch.
Despite the increased interest in handcrafted jewelry, one area of the market remains tradition-bound – jewelry for men.

« At most I get the odd request for a bracelet but there are few new ideas and we’re still limited to cuff-links and tie-stops, » says Mr. Guffanti, pointing to a book with a photo of a Van Cleef & Arpels cuff link from the 1950s that a client wants a revised reproduction of.
But some men appreciate an artisan’s touch. « Artisans give me the opportunity to create pieces that I want and especially at a lower cost, » says Michele Gandini, a sales executive in Milan, who orders pieces both for himself and as presents. « I have cuff-links made for myself since artisans’ work is of a much higher quality with greater care and attention in the manufac-ture. »

Mr. Gandini also cites the possibility of personalizing gifts and the quality of the pieces.
« You don’t need to be an expert to see the difference when a piece is hand-crafted: »

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