Credit: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images
A client recently told Solange Azagury-Partridge, the designer of her Fringe ring — a series of diamond-set gold chains that drape across the fingers and move freely — that the ring attracts more attention than anything else she owns.
“It does the flirting for you,” Ms. Azagury-Partridge said. “You can be very buttoned-up, but the ring is dancing away on your hand.”
Movement is an underused and underappreciated quality in jewelry today. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the en tremblant technique, the complex engineering by which diamonds were set on tiny concealed springs to quiver with the wearer’s every move, was widely used, at least in part because gem-cutting techniques at the time could not be relied upon to provide sufficient sparkle under candlelight.
“Everything moved then,” said Marion Fasel, a historian and editor of The Adventurine, a website about jewelry. “It was part of the creation of jewelry at the time.”
The complexity involved in creating a jewel that incorporates movement, whether it be en tremblant or a piece that transforms from a necklace to a brooch to a ring, meant that movement for the most part eventually fell out of favor. Items like the Van Cleef & Arpels transformable zipper necklace or Bulgari’s hinged Serpenti pieces have endured, but over all the fashion has been for a more static, casual look.
Credit: Tom Jamieson for The New York Times
Now, however, a number of contemporary jewelers are finding that the mesmerizing effect achieved by motion is worth the considerable effort required.
The oversize pear‐shaped silhouettes of parallel diamond‐set gold bars, connected by a flexible central spine of concealed hinges, are precisely balanced so they move easily when the wearer does. “The beauty of their movement draws you to them,” he said.
The seemingly effortless Calder mobile‐like effect was, in fact, achieved after many hours of experimentation in the workshop. Mr. Jorge set out to explore all the qualities that affect a diamond’s appearance, like the refractive qualities of the cut, the setting style and, of course, the movement. But he said he hadn’t realized until the piece was completed how striking the result would be. “Any movement in jewelry is complicated to achieve, but it creates an immediate emotional reaction,” he said.
The earrings are named for a disco ball, which, he said, “without movement or light, does nothing.”
They have since become the best‐selling pieces in the collection and have been worn on the red carpet by the Oscar‐nominated actress Saoirse Ronan and Tracee Ellis Ross, star of the TV series “Black‐ish.” Doubtless seeing the earrings sashay down the red carpet with their wearer highlights another reason for renewed appreciation of movement in jewelry, as does the dominance of video in social media.
Mr. Jorge is a Brazilian jewelry designer based in London. “The beauty of their movement draws you to them,” he said of his creations. Credit: Tom Jamieson for The New York Times
The popularity of Instagram, for example, has provided a kind of animated store window for many jewelers. “It demands a Boomerang,” Ms. Fasel said of Mr. Jorge’s collection, referring to the Instagram‐owned app that loops short videos.
Delfina Delettrez has made a short video for her latest collection, called ZIP code, to illustrate how movement is an integral part of its concept. She has long been intrigued by the idea of motion in jewelry, she said, and uses it to playful effect. In one drop earring, for example, a silicon-lined pearl mimics a zipper; the wearer can easily slide it up and down the two parallel gold wires that hold the piece securely in the ear.
“Throughout my work I like to play with the idea of contrasts,” she said. “I’m always incorporating a sense of fun into the designs to create an element of surprise in each piece.”
Jessica McCormack has lightened the seriousness of important diamonds in her new Cable Car collection, resulting from a client’s commissioning a convertible sautoir with 15 two‐carat diamonds. The jeweler’s head craftsman created a spring mechanism inside each collet setting, so the diamonds can slide along the gold rope chain. The piece can be worn as a choker, bolo necklace or wraparound bracelet. “My focus was on creating something that works whether you’re doing the school run, attending a board meeting or dancing on tables,” Ms. McCormack said.
Playfulness also has a role in Ms. Azagury‐Partridge’s kinetic pieces. Her Spinner and Cog rings, bejeweled wheels that turn, appealing to the human habit of playing with one’s jewelry. “They’re like worry beads,” she said.
Her Lucky Number ring took months to perfect in the workshop, so the wearer could turn its digital clock‐style diamond‐baguette bars to create the wearer’s chosen number.
Not only did it need to work mechanically, it had to look and feel good on the hand, too. “Jewelry may be artistry, but you have to consider the human body,” Ms. Azagury‐Partridge said, adding that comfort is paramount in any jewel.
Mr. Jorge echoed the idea, saying jewelry has an intimate and sensual relationship with the body. Of the flexible snake chain in his Fluid collection, he said, “I wanted the pieces to move with you and caress you.”
Anything that does not move freely, Ms. Azagury‐Partridge said, is like a cartoon in which one part of the body arrives seconds after the rest. A piece that fails this test is destined for a lifetime in the jewelry box, she added.
“For something to be comfortable, there has to be a little give,” Ms. Fasel said. She recalled holding the snake necklace that Cartier created in 1968 for María Félix, the Mexican actress. It took a year to perfect the armature that created the serpent’s lifelike movement.
The life that such motion can bring to a piece has kept movement in fashion in animal jewelry. At a Christie’s auction scheduled for Wednesday in Geneva, two hand‐size starfish brooches by René Boivin carry top sales estimates of 100,000 Swiss francs and 120,000 Swiss francs ($100,400 and $120,500).
The life like undulations created by the complex network of hinges beneath their bejeweled surfaces are intrinsic to their charm, said Jean-Marc Lunel, a senior international specialist in Christie’s jewelry department, adding, “Realistic animal jewelry creations that move are the most desirable as it makes them come to life.”
Creatures also abound in Ms. Azagury-Partridge’s Metamorphosis collection from 2013. Created as objets d’art, the bespoke pieces can be disassembled to be worn as multiple pieces of jewelry.
In the Ark of the Covenant, for example, the miniature gold box decorated with multicolored cabochon stones opens to become an outsize cross pendant. “It’s like a toy for a woman,” she said. “It gives you so much pleasure.”
The charm of transformability is apparent in the new Marina B collection, which stays true to the creativity of Marina Bulgari, its founder and a granddaughter of Sotirio Bulgari, founder of the family jewelry brand.
It included a tasseled pendant of ruby and amethyst that can be worn four ways — with or without the swish of its matching tassel.
“A transformable jewel is a lot of extra work,” Ms. Fasel said, “but at the end of the day, it gives the owner more options in ways to wear it. That’s the sign of a great piece of jewelry.”