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These two women, Solange Azagury-Partridge and Victoire de Castellane, who are creating the most fanciful luxury jewellery in the world today, couldn’t be more different. Victiore de Castellane, an aristocratic socialite who has been a muse to King Karl and creator of costume jewellery at Chanel, now resides at the house of Dior as the fine-jewellery designer. Solange Azagury-Partridge is a low-key Brit who caught the discerning eye of Tom Ford and was promptly hired to jazz up Boucheron, the 150-year-old luxury jeweler. Their designs-in big-girl gems such as emeralds, rubies, diamonds and sapphires-have thrown down the gauntlet to Sinatra-era jewellers who work the trophy-wife circuit.
Luxury goods companies like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Escada, Versace and Vera Wang understand that women want their baubles and they want them now. With marketing campaigns such as the “right-hand ring”promotion from De Beers, it has become a woman’s rite of passage to get herself the real thing. And, fittingly, these two strong-willed women are leading the way, creating bold, generous, playful pieces for unfettered, independent women.
Solange Azagury-Partridge, the 42-year-old creative director of the house of Boucheron, has no formal training as a jewellery designer and admits to never being with the “in”fashion group. Yet, today, she oversees all of the visuals for Boucheron’s collections, advertising campaigns and in-store displays, and helped collaborate on the creation of Trouble, their latest fragrance. “Historically, the jewellery business has been controlled by men, even though it’s women who are wearing it!”says Azagury-Partridge, shaking her dark hair against the pigeon’s blood ruby earrings dangling from her lobes. “There has been a trophy aspect, a ‘she’s my woman’ type of thing. Now, women are doing it for themselves. Today, it’s jewellery for pleasure,”she says. Never a fan of tiny, discreet, pieces (“If it’s going to be invisible, what’s the point? Don’t wear jewellery.”) Azagury-Partridge admits that her pieces demand a certain bravura that comes from not being concerned with how others perceive you but how wearing the pieces makes you feel.When she couldn’t find the engagement ring she liked, Azagury-Partridge designed her own: an uncut diamond set in a simple gold band. So many people commented on it that she began making designs for friends. “Every metalsmith I went to said, ‘You can’t set an uncut stone.’ But I’m as stubborn as a mule. Finally I would give them such a headache, they would try it,”she says. “I found the uncut stones to be more subtle and personal. These pieces were not for showing off; they were mysterious and they excited people’s curiosities. It’s the difference between a Playboy centerfold versus a beautiful woman who is draped a bit.”
It was only after her first child was born that Azagury-Partridge decided to take the plunge to open up her own boutique in London. “I rustled together a few pennies,”she recalls, “and I started worrying about how much we would lose if we didn’t sell anything. But it really took off,”And, now that the Boucheron vault is at her disposal, is she still rustling pennies? “Oh my God, now I’m really hungry! It’s awful because all of those gorgeous stones have whetted my appetite for enormous possibilities,”she says, laughing and opening her hands wide, a perfect emerald (her favourite gem) looking like a big green eye on her finger.
Photography courtesy of Solange Azagury-PartridgeVictoire de Castellane remembers designing her first piece of jewellery-a pair of earrings-from one of her grandmother’s bracelets. Then, at age 12, she made herself a big gold ring from her religious medals. Whereas Azagury-Partridge worked in an art gallery and as a French tutor and shop clerk in a costume jewellery store before taking the plunge into fine jewellery, de Castellane-whose grandmother, Sylvia Hennessy (of Hennessy cognac), hobnobbed with jewellery hounds such as Woolworth’s heiress Barbara Hutton-comes by her love of luxurious jewels naturally.
“My mother’s taste is rather classis, but my grandmother always matched her jewels with her clothes. She was very elegant, very imperia and she always wore high jewelry,” adds de Castellane.
Each of de Castellane’s collections tells a story. The first, Milly-La-Forêt, was inspired by Mr. Dior’s garden. Upon seeing one of the pieces, a multi-carat amethyst, a loyal couture client was reported to having said, “Sensual, feminine and generous-a woman designing for women!”Where Azagury-Partridge’s pieces have a dark and mysterious quality to them, de Castellane often works with delicate colour palettes of diamonds, morganites, tourmalines and yellow nd pink sapphires, which exude a dreamy fairy-tale quality. The names of her collections (La Fiancée du Vampire, La Favorite du Harem, Gourmette de Dior and Le Bestiaire Fantastique) invite one to come and play. The latter collection, which launched this spring, contains dragons, jellyfish, salamanders, chimeras and snakes set with diamonds, pearls, sapphires and de Castellane’s favourite stone, opals. “This stone is very weird; it’s as if there were a genie in it!”she says.
When she gave birth to her fourth child and first daughter a year ago, de Castellane was inspired to create the tiniest ring in the world. “She was so little and fragile that I created this ring called Mimioui,”she says. For the grown-ups, however, there are the iconic Incroyables rings, which de Castellane confesses are “completely a part of my personality.”Because, despite the pixie haircut and the gamine clothes, de Castellane, like all great artists, is an egoist. “Women must assume my designs. I design just for me.”
Photography courtesy of Victoire de Castellane