This May, the Designer Vivarium is set to return to GemGenève, featuring five international contemporary designers, with four of them being new to the Vivarium, presenting their work at GemGenève for the first time. As usual, the Designer Vivarium is curated by renowned jewellery historian, Vivienne Becker, who meticulously scouts the globe for fresh and creative talent, seeking out independent, under-the-radar designer jewellers, artists, and goldsmiths who have something unique to offer in their jewellery. Becker’s discerning eye seeks out a strong, singular creative vision, intense individuality, and sophistication of craftsmanship.
According to Vivienne Becker, this edition of GemGenève will showcase the immense creative freedom of today’s jewellery world, highlighting the variety, versatility, depth, and breadth of themes, inspirations, and expressions, as well as the ingenuity of materials and craftsmanship. The styles presented will range from dreamy romantic storytelling visions of the natural world, subtly paying homage to the past, to graphic modernism and innovative reinventions of today’s essential technology, all with sustainability in mind.
Oushaba was launched earlier this year as the brainchild of a trio of friends, art lovers, and collectors, including Gillian Carr, who is now Managing Director. They describe their brand as a sustainable art and design house that breathes new life into forgotten materials, and their jewelry as wearable art showcasing artisanal craft skills and techniques. Their founding concept of sustainability and circularity is encompassed in their innovative debut collection, Connection Salvaged. The collection explores the connectivity of today’s technology and its relationship with the precious resources that are its vital components but are discarded as part of technology’s built-in obsolescence.
The jewels are composed of fragments of electronic waste – mobile phone circuit boards, charging cables, USB sticks, and plugs – set in recycled 22-carat gold, 18-carat white gold and silver, and accented with sustainably sourced diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires. The rings, necklaces, earrings, cuffs, and cufflinks, each one-of-a-kind, are made to order as limited editions and have the look of found treasure; objets trouvés; wondrous unearthed antiquities; futuristic fragments of the past.
The name Oushaba comes from the Arabic word for “alloy,” symbolizing a cultural melting pot of ideas and influences. It references the fusion of past, present, and future, modernity and antiquity, technology and age-old hand-craftsmanship, the mix of materials, and global inspirations. The jewels are all hand-crafted by goldsmiths in Sicily, using techniques such as lost-wax casting that have been handed down and refined through generations.
The goldwork, with its brushed and textured surface, has a rich, luscious, hand-hammered finish, showing the hand of the artisan. The pieces are purposefully reminiscent of ancient jewels to contrast with the humble, mundane, modern technological materials and e-waste. This, in turn, is meant to challenge our preconceptions of preciousness. Every jewel is packaged in a bespoke box crafted from sustainable or reclaimed timber and lined with recycled fabric and cork made in collaboration with London-based furniture maker Jan Hendzel Studio. A percentage of the profits from each sale will be donated to a charitable cause.
“One of our driving principles is to see the extraordinary with the ordinary. During the 2020 lockdown, when Oushaba was being envisaged, we relied on technology to keep us connected to our loved ones. There are many beautiful elements found within electronics, including gold, but also jewel-like colours and interesting details of circuitry and electrical components. We wanted to challenge people’s ideas about a material that is considered as waste.”
Born in St. Petersburg but now living and working in Moscow, Elena Okutova studied Artistic Metalworking at Moscow’s State University and established her own brand, together with her mother Irina, in 2009. Her work is deeply rooted in Russian traditions of artistry and craftsmanship, the use of enamels and colored gemstones, as well as in Russian folktales and fables. She thus taps into the Russian ritual of elaborate oral storytelling, often linked to the forces of nature and handed down through generations.
Elena creates both one-of-a-kind bespoke jewels and limited series of designs in different colorways of enamel. Each creation revolves around a complex narrative inspired by medievalism, stories of knights and chivalry, fairy tales, and fantastical mythology, matched by the complexity of technique and intricacy of ornamentation. Each jewel is hand modeled in wax and crafted using multiple processes, including engraving, enameling, and gem-setting.
Alongside Elena’s favorite medieval and Renaissance richness, the storytelling themes are drawn from a wide, eclectic range of sources: Byzantine, Orientalist, and modern European, from Chinese lacquer art to the African savannah, from the poignant beauty of ephemeral, fading nature to twentieth-century architecture and the flamboyant, jewel- and art-adoring personality of Peggy Guggenheim. This May, Elena will showcase her newest creations, including a two-finger peony ring, lusciously modeled and gem-set, and – adding a new reference to her repertoire – a ‘flip’ ring inspired by Murano glass beads.
“Each artist has his or her own style, a cast of impressions about the world. It is very subjective and, as a rule, has roots – it is collected right from early childhood. Then at some period it is compacted, corrected, and overgrown with new details. This vision, and the characteristic construction of objects will show through all the decoration and recall the origin and maker of the memory. I create space for a miracle.” Elena Okutova
Leen Heyne is a Dutch goldsmith and jeweler whose conceptual jewelry is inspired by the natural forces embedded in precious materials. His work is characterized by dynamic, flowing movement suggestive of continual growth and the earth’s electromagnetic energy. He graduated from the Academy for Gold and Silversmithing in Schoonhaven and currently works in his studio in Tilburg, north of Eindhoven.
Heyne’s jewelry is minimal yet sensual, serene yet strong, and elegant yet powerful. He starts with a pre-sanded strip of metal and hand-models, shapes, twists, bends, and loops it to allow the metal to dictate its design. Heyne’s use of manual dexterity turns force and strength into silky fluidity. Once shaped, the ring is left untouched, retaining the integrity, authenticity, and earthiness of the metal. Diamonds are introduced as the metal is shaped, never afterwards, and are held in place, caught in a metallurgic dance of tension, rather than set with claws or prongs.
Although not directly influenced by the natural world, Heyne’s jewelry harnesses the power and complexity of organic forms. His creations stimulate the imagination and evoke images and associations, such as exposed tree roots tangled around a rock, always encapsulating the unstoppable forces of nature and the life force.
At GemGenève, Heyne unveils a series of new creations centered on his experimental work in steel, showcased for the first time. He was drawn to the oxidized darkness of the metal and found that steel allowed him to make smaller, more precise twists and turns, and to taper the metal thread. The hardness of steel enabled and strengthened the tension setting of the stones, creating an animal-like impression.
“I draw my inspiration from the character of the material, paying careful attention to the form it wants to take, following its nature. I consider myself more of a conductor than a designer. I merely guide the material and help to finalise its own shape.” Leen Heyne
Natasha Wightman is set to unveil her first NVW collection at the Designer Vivarium at GemGenève. As a British artist-jeweler, she uses jewelry to narrate fascinating stories that captivate her, especially those of British wildlife, with a particular focus on the mystical raven, wilderness, folklore, and ancient lands. Her work is rooted in a deep commitment to discovering, revitalizing, and conserving traditional craft skills. Highly skilled British craftspeople meticulously handcraft all her work.
For her inaugural collection, she has concentrated on the art of hand-carving aeons-old organic materials, such as jet and wild moorland boxwood, and emotive and exquisitely detailed depictions of her beloved ravens. She reveals how the raven has held a special place in her heart since she was given the opportunity to rear and rewild two of these majestic birds on her land in Sussex. Each of the jewels is a miniature sculptural masterpiece, with refined details of the bird’s feathers and features, mounted into elegant and one-of-a-kind jewels by skilled goldsmiths working with precious metals and gemstones, often antique gems or old-cuts.
At GemGenève, Natasha will unveil her collection, comprising necklaces, including a multi-layered collar brimming with birds in flight, a brooch crafted around an antique enamel flower brooch, and a hair ornament, mounted en tremblant. Each NVW jewel is layered with tales, myths, meanings, and messages intricately interwoven with her choice of materials and their provenance, with age-old hand-skills. The final layer, Natasha explains, comes from the stories of the strong, independent, creative women who wear her jewels.
“The precious moments I spent with these uniquely masterful birds had a profound influence on me and they now form the central expression of my debut collection, their untamable wildness feeding into each finely crafted art piece.” Natasha Wightman
Designer-jeweller Lia Lam launched her brand just over a year ago with four carefully-considered collections: Beam, Lagom, Unity, and Passepartout. Each collection is based on a concept, story, and emotional experience distilled to a pure, powerful form. Now based in London, Lia has lived all around the world and studied law and innovation in the UK and the Netherlands before embarking on a career in the legal tech industry.
She explains how she had long been captivated by jewelry and, for around three years from 2016, taught herself as much as possible. She learned at the bench at the Goldsmiths’ Centre in London, trained in goldsmithing and wax modeling in Rome, and studied jewelry history and savoir faire in Paris.
Lia’s style is resolutely modernist, graphic, and architectural, influenced by Bauhaus, Brutalism, and Modernism. Yet this rigorous minimalism is underpinned by emotional depth and meaning. Lia is on a mission to redefine and contemporize traditional messages of love, commitment, and celebration. A keen dancer, she also infuses her jewels with a rhythmic sense of togetherness and synchronicity and a harmony of partnership. She draws on dance in her details and composition. As she explains, behind the effortless ease and grace of dance lies discipline, dedication, and sharp focus, with each minute movement of the body executed with precision and purpose.
Lia works predominantly in 18-carat gold and diamonds, with some platinum. She revels in the weight and tactility of gold, elevating the metal from a supporting role to a vital, integral element of the design and concept. All the jewels are hand-made in London. The first design in her Beam collection, the 100% ring, has already attracted huge attention. A reinterpretation of the classic Toi et Moi ring, its modern message is “Go all-in on life” and make a 100% commitment to following your dreams – as Lia Lam has done.
“A desire to forge my own path drives everything I do. Every piece in my collection has a reason for being, a message expressed in the simplest and most poetic form. The spirit of my work lies in reducing my concepts to their very essence. Because in that essence is its power.” Lia Lam
GemGenève represents a unique hub where jewellery designers, dealers in precious stones, retailers, collectors, connoisseurs and buyers both professional and private can all gather under the same roof. Over the course of four days, GemGenève offers an opportunity to acquire exceptional pieces and be inspired by a community of specialists in the field of gemmology and jewellery. It’s a laboratory of creativity and innovation, bringing together recognised designers and emerging talents, a world of design, of rare gems, of antique and contemporary jewellery. Created by exhibitors for exhibitors, GemGenève offers a platform for expression and exchange that encompasses passion, expertise and education.
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