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Diamonds in the rough: The best 'natural' jewellery

Sometimes it's not perfection you want, says Avril Groom, but fine jewellery for your capsule collection designed as if hewn from the earth by nature itself.

It is not just creatures under the sea that inspire modern jewellery. Some designers create pieces with a more ancient, darker twist, as if they have been unearthed after centuries on the seabed, their shapes often raw nuggets seemingly encrusted with golden barnacles, with worn-looking gems as if the tides have rolled sand over them for decades.

It's a particular and subtle look, more to be found in the work of young, individual designers than the big names, for it takes youthful confidence and a sense of humour to choose a piece that looks worn and ancient. You'll find it among designers who show at Rock Vault, London Fashion Week's fine jewellery area, or the start-up names showing as Bright Young Gems at the International Jewellery London show.

One originator of the style is British designer Ruth Tomlinson, whose rings and earrings made from encrustations of tiny matt-gold spheres deeply inset with rough diamonds or sapphires, look as if they have emerged from a long lost-at-sea treasure chest. She says her inspiration comes from “unconventional beauty which fuels my creativity, whether in rare materials or my curiosity in nature. I am intrigued by historical jewels and ephemeral natural cycles from birth to decay”.

Imogen Belfield takes a bolder, more geological approach. “My latest fine gems exude a ‘Jurassic’ aesthetic, going back to the organic, historical and archaeological themes of my signature style”, she says, “while the Ultra Violet cocktail ring shimmers blue hues, due to special heating techniques applied to black rhodium plating.” Another core piece is her Ferero knuckle ring in rose gold, encrusted with white diamonds and rubies.

Jacqueline Cullen’s chosen material is the jet (carbonised wood) found in the sea-cliffs around Whitby, Yorkshire, to which she adds inspiration from “dramatic acts of nature, a placid sky ripped open by a slash of lightning, a cliff edge left jagged from erosion”. Interruptions inform her aesthetic, breaking up a bold, fluid form with fractures and crevices that release a cascade of textured gold, diamonds or, in her latest pieces, geometric panels of black diamonds with a Bauhaus inspiration. 

Ornella Iannuzzi dives deep for two collections – Abyss and Les Précieuses Corallines – inspired, she says, “by deep seawater landscapes, with coral reefs, rifts, underwater volcanoes and caves. The materials chosen are also related directly to the sea such as pearls, coral or opals, the only gemstone that contains water”.

Mirri Damer is one of many individual jewellers showing at the Goldsmiths’ Fair – a great source of one-off and commissioned pieces – and her delicately detailed work is much inspired by walking the Cornish beaches near her home. Susi Hines, another Goldsmiths exhibitor, uses oxidised silver and etched gold to create earrings that look like sea worn shells. 

The major brands that focus on this sunken-treasure style are those working with sea-created pearls – perhaps the soft, irregular lines of Baroque pearls are reminiscent of water-worn pebbles. Mikimoto adds other irregular gems, including tanzanites and opals, to create high design works of great rarity and beauty, while Autore is, as founder Rosario Autore points out, “inspired by the home of the pearl itself – the ocean”.

“Our South Sea pearls are cultivated in some of the world’s most remote and pristine waters, places of great natural beauty, abundant with exotic sea life, exquisite colour, shape and texture,” Autore continues. From shapes inspired by brain coral, encrusted with tiny tsavorites and sapphires, to Baroque pearls embedded in diamond pavéd nuggets, no one expresses it, or does it, better.

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