Silver Grabs the Spotlight in High-End Jewelry

Fine jewelry appeared in silver at the June edition of TEFAF, the European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht, the Netherlands, and in July as Boucheron and Buccellati showed their new collections in Paris.

Then in October, at PAD London, as the Pavilion of Art and Design fair is commonly known, the gallerist Elisabetta Cipriani exhibited a flexible necklace, called Vortice II, by the British jewelry artist John Moore. The creation, priced at 25,000 pounds ($29,550), used slithers of silver connected by a rubber band.

The precious metal has been making a strong comeback in recent years, with unexpected appearances in fine and high jewelry collections as well as art jewelry creations. And industry observers say it is likely to figure on holiday gift lists.

“Some clients prefer the color, whilst others are attracted to the price point,” Alyse Chirumbole, director of fine jewelry and watches at the online retailer Threads Styling, wrote in an email. “Silver is an edgier, more modern way to wear jewelry — especially for younger clients.”

There have been periods in history when silver was considered more precious than gold. But after white gold and platinum became popular for jewelry in the early 20th century, silver became less desirable.

According to Carol Woolton, a contributing editor at British Vogue and founder of the podcast “If Jewels Could Talk,” opinions began to change in the 1960s and 1970s with the work of female designers such as Vivianna Torun Bülow-Hübe for Georg Jensen and Elsa Peretti for Tiffany & Company. “Peretti’s jewelry emphasized the pure lines of silver, making it irresistibly touchable with a sensuous quality that looks dazzlingly modern today,” Ms. Woolton wrote in an email.

Such pieces are fine jewelry, the category that encompasses well-made designs in precious metals. But when it came to high jewelry — the extravagant, gem-heavy pieces that often are handmade one-of-a-kind creations — the turning point for silver likely was the 2016 Dior à Versailles collection, designed by Victoire de Castellane, creative director of Dior Joaillerie.

“I imagined a Versailles by night where jewels sparkle in the light of candles,” Ms. de Castellane wrote in an email, referring to the 18th-century period where the royal retreat was the cultural and political center of France. “The use of silver, the only white metal at the time (platinum and white gold are modern metals), and the traditional technique of doubling (blackened silver lined with rose gold) were a nod to the court jewelry.”

Consider the collection’s Salon d’Apollon cuff: The textured black ribbon with a floating side bow, both made of oxidized silver, provided a striking background to the 2.6-carat radiant-cut yellow diamond at the center of a celestial-inspired burst of white and yellow diamonds.

Since then, silver has appeared in high and fine jewelry collections more often. Yet it still is not commonplace, even though its price in early November of less than $20 per ounce was a sharp contrast with gold, which was about $1,650 per ounce.

Such a difference certainly does give silver a particular appeal for newer businesses like the British brand Kirstie LeMarque, founded in 2017 by two friends, which creates star- and moon-shaped pendants inspired by the Georgian era of the early 1700s through the 1830s. Several of its pieces, such as the Diamond Crescent Moon & Spinning Star Necklace ($660), are sterling silver, oxidized to achieve different shades, then pavéd with diamonds.

Silver always has had an appeal for the Parisian jeweler Amélie Huynh, who spent her teenage years combing flea markets for jewels and eight years working at Chaumet on Place Vendôme. In 2018, she decided to introduce her own brand, Statement, which mixes silver and diamonds in Art Deco-inspired designs.

But using silver in jewelry is not easy, Ms. Huynh wrote in an email. The pure metal is soft — the reason it often is alloyed with other metals, such as copper to create sterling silver, which is harder — and setting gems into it can be a long and difficult process, especially when creating a pavé effect in which the surface is covered with myriad small gems.

Even though Ms. Huynh uses sterling silver, the sharp edges of Statement’s geometric designs increased the challenge of setting the stones, she wrote. For example, the Ring MyWay, Statement’s best-selling design (5,200 euros or $5,380), features four concentric octagons in rhodium-plated sterling silver and pavéd with 161 brilliant-cut diamonds, the work of skilled silversmiths in Bangkok and Hong Kong.

Statement’s silver pieces are 30 percent to 40 percent less expensive than their equivalent in gold, Ms. Huynh wrote, but working with silver involves higher labor costs. “Regardless of all the difficulties, I’m convinced that silver has its legitimate place in the fine jewelry industry,” she wrote.

Financial constraints initially drew the Lebanese designer Gaëlle Khouri to silver, but she said that she soon realized that the metal’s aesthetics lent depth to her earrings depicting octopuses and scorpions set with sapphires and diamonds. “Silver created mystery and reflects the energy and range of emotions in the pieces,” Ms. Khouri said in a recent video interview.

Yet, echoing Ms. Huynh’s observations, Ms. Khouri said silver’s softness was a challenge when the components of her pieces were soldered together and set with colored gems.

Although clients and retailers disdained silver when she began sales in 2011, things have changed. “I think today many clients look at jewelry as a piece of art rather than simply a financial investment,” she said.

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