Jewellery is as old as humankind. As totems of status and style or as beautiful design objects in their own right, the power of gems, and the relationships they have with the people that wear them, has provided fascination throughout history. More than any other article of dress, jewels are the ultimate ‘slow-fashion’ accessory. They can be worn daily. They can be polished, cut, shaped and reset. They have the power to transcend time.
The ephemeral nature of jewellery has been manipulated by jewellers for centuries. A means of updating a piece to suit the changing fashion trends of the day, many of the world’s most famous jewels have been notoriously carved up. In 1911, Queen Mary was famously regaled in an August edition of the Washington Post for her ‘thrifty’ decision to reset several of her royal diamonds. In 2007, just under a century later, former Vogue Editor Anna Wintour was photographed wearing an amethyst necklace that had originally belonged to the monarch. Worn without the matching earrings (or Tiara!) the necklace was accompanied by a short floral dress and looked every inch the modern jewel.
This fashion for reworking royal jewels has not gone away. Last year, hawk-eyed fashion editors noticed that Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, had updated her engagement ring. Removing the stones (two of which came from pieces previously owned by the Princess of Wales) from their original thick gold band, the setting had been replaced with a delicate and much more contemporary jewelled design.
You don’t have to be royal in order to enjoy reworked gems. In fact, as fashion itself has made a conscious effort to become more sustainable, the market for vintage jewels has grown alongside our love for vintage clothing. Now, many contemporary jewellery designers actively embrace ‘upcycling’ in their work.
For Annina Vogel, jewellery is all about recycling. Inspired by the way that jewellery is often considered to be inherently symbolic, as was especially true in the Victorian Era, all Vogel’s pieces use antique charms that she sources herself. Producing a range of highly imaginative designs, including a series of repurposed lockets that incorporate vintage scarves from Hermes, Chanel and Dior, all her pieces are one of a kind. Historic and sentimental, yet modern and unique.
SVNR (pronounced ‘Souvenir’) exclusively uses ‘found, re-used and natural’ materials in each handmaid piece. Rather than costly gemstones or pearls, remnants of ceramic tableware, shells and non-precious stones are used in their unusual designs. Using previously discarded materials the brand aims to ‘call to mind forgotten memories’ and present everyday objects in new ways. Being both sustainable and sentimental, SVNR literally constructs contemporary jewellery from the materials of the past.
Lastly, for ‘cool-girl’ pearl brand Alighieri, sustainability is central to their ethos. Using 100% recycled bronze and entirely traceable stones, all the pieces are locally produced by a small team of London craftsmen. Coined ‘Modern Heirlooms’ each design is deliberately ‘timeless’ and inspired by classic literary references. In light of Covid-19, the brand’s founder, Rosh Mahtani pledged that 20% of online sales would be donated to the Trussell Trust. Sustainable and socially conscious, these ‘insta-worthy’ pearls are designed to be passed on whilst still making a difference in the world today.
So, as we return to normality, perhaps we should consider a new mantra when looking at our overfilled and largely neglected wardrobes? Adorn. Reset. Recycle. Jewellery is the original antidote to fast fashion.
- For more on Rosh Mahtani’s positive social contributions during the global pandemicsee https://www.vogue.co.uk/news/article/alighieri-rosh-mahtani-interview-coronavirus. At the time of publishing, (June 2020), Alighieri had raised over £15,000 for the Trussell Trust.