What surprises people most when they meet British designer-jeweller Lauren Adriana, 30, is her age. Her unmistakable pieces – in which line, colour and texture are expertly balanced with gem light and lustre – look too confidently conceived and crafted to have been created by such a young spirit. Jewellery, after all, requires a confluence of talents that can take decades to hone, including design, construction, goldsmithing, gemology and the ability to appreciate the emotional resonance of a piece. Yet, Adriana says: “Where jewellery is concerned, I’m old before my time. I’ve been studying gems and jewels all my life.” Bluntly she adds: “I have no other interest.”
LAUREN ADRIANA IN LONDON. PHOTOGRAPH BY JULIAN BROAD.
Her short biography is ample confirmation. At age five, Adriana asked to be taken to London’s Natural History Museum every weekend to see gems and minerals, and she saved her pocket money to buy little polished pebbles in the museum shop. At twelve, she was buying cut gemstones in London’s New Age markets and painstakingly cataloguing and labelling her specimens. Having developed a talent for drawing and painting, it was a natural progression for her to combine art and jewellery. By fifteen, she had found a book on Verdura and was using it to teach herself how to paint gouache designs – the “paint-ups” that have become a Lauren Adriana signature.
ALSO IN GOLD AND BLACKENED-SILVER, THE TORUS EARRINGS FEATURE TANZANITE, SPINEL AND CHALCEDONY. COURTESY OF LAUREN ADRIANA.
It is unusual for an individual jeweller to paint detailed designs in the manner of the great heritage jewel houses. But for Adriana, it has always been part of her process. “Paint-ups capture the spirit of the jewel,” she says, “and working on them allows me to have a quiet moment with [each piece], and then to be able to communicate the concept fully.” By the time Adriana started her degree course in jewellery design at Central Saint Martins in London (she graduated in 2007), she was already self-taught, well-practised and entrenched in her design path.
“My visual language was pretty far advanced, and a distinctive style was beginning to emerge,” she says. That style is now fully fleshed out: Non-referential, neither rooted in naturalism nor classicism, it is decidedly abstract, with a purity of form and a harmony of rhythm and proportion that comes, she says, from “trained instinct.” “I believe a jewel has to be forward-looking, building on what’s gone before, but not relying on motifs or narratives from the past,” she explains. “My aim is to create a jewel that reaches beyond the time you’re in.”
Despite her resolutely far-sighted approach, Adriana revels in jewellery history. “You have to know what came before to do something new,” she explains. She is a fervent admirer of mid-1920s avant-garde artist-jewellers such as Jean Després and Raymond Templier, as well as of Suzanne Belperron and René Boivin, whose pieces she first came across when she was sixteen and met antique jewellery dealer Peter Edwards at the Olympia antiques fair. There, Adriana remembers discovering pieces unlike anything she’d seen before, including charismatic 1960s and 1970s creations by Andrew Grima. Seeing her enthusiasm, Edwards invited her to his shop, the first of regular weekly visits that lasted some fourteen years. Adriana was able to handle jewels as well as see how they were made and worn. “These jewels were not worn just as adornments,” Adriana explains. “They said something about the wearer: that she was leading a truly aesthetic life.” Recalling this time, she says: “I try to do the same with my jewels, to find my own voice and vision.”
Today, because Adriana personally manages every stage of the process – from sourcing gems to making maquettes and technical drawings to watching over her artisans like a hawk – the finished product looks exactly like the painted design. “The final jewel is very pure,” she says, “totally true to my original vision.” Though not the only ones, colour and texture are prime components of that vision, her passion for out-of-the-ordinary hues evident in her search for unusual gemstones such as sunset-orange spinel or vivid red zircon. That passion finds gorgeous illustration in her Torus earrings, a brilliant exercise in purple centred on tanzanite and surrounded by carved Namibian chalcedony and lilac spinel. To give her jewels their remarkable combinations of textures, Adriana experiments with the contrasted effects of sheen and shade and translucency and opacity. For instance, she points out, adding Paraiba tourmaline, sapphire, turquoise and diamond brought out the dramatic flashes of a large black opal set in a ring.
Finally, as all distinguished jewellers do, Adriana makes sure her pieces work perfectly on the body: Earrings sit close to the face, framing the features; a pair of Stellar cuffs interact perfectly with the movement of the wrist. But unlike most of her contemporaries, this designer faces a substantial challenge, as the imposing scale of her jewels – particularly her spectacular earrings in square, circle, or fan shapes – renders achieving the ultimate ergonomics particularly difficult. Yet Adriana pulls it off, a testament to her talent and her spirited audacity.
THE GOLD SLINKY RING HAS DIAMOND AND SAPPHIRE. COURTESY OF LAUREN ADRIANA.
Adriana’s adventurousness also strikes Rebecca Selva, the creative director of Fred Leighton, who sells her jewels in New York. “Adriana thinks big: in colour, shape, size, proportions,” Selva notes. “She’s part of a wonderful energy that’s revitalising the jewellery world.” And indeed, this designer-jeweller’s ability to balance architectural severity and absolute lusciousness brings fresh sophistication to preciousness – witness her square patinated-copper earrings plumped up into velvety cushions, or the bombé dome of her Slinky ring, whose shimmering diamond-edged slices are set over pavé emeralds. Along with their combination of disciplined abstraction and dreamy opulence, Adriana’s jewels marry the unexpected – unusual gemstones and colours; massive, unequivocal shapes – with an indefinable chord of familiarity, the result of the designer’s deep scholarship. Her Palm earrings are a prime example: Their spiky fronds of patinated bronze, fanning out from tourmaline, green sapphire and diamond, have the pull of an ancient objet trouvé, something Adriana says is just what she aims for. “The jewel has to resonate with you. It should look completely new but remind you of the past,” she says. “That is the magic of a great jewel.” Clearly, Adriana is a bit of a magician herself.
Vivienne Becker is a jewellery historian and contributing editor for the Financial Times’s How to Spend It.
Lead Image: Adriana’s blackened-gold and bronze Palm earrings are set with tourmaline, green sapphire and diamond. Courtesy of Lauren Adriana.