March 2008

Rediscovered by high-end designers, the other white metal trends up

With the ever-rising price of gold, slowing luxury sales and trend-conscious customers to contend with, what’s a couture designer to do? Many, it seems, are turning to silver, bringing the other white metal into the high-end fold as never before. New collections from a range of designers—big names and boutiques alike—position silver as a fresh alternative to more expensive (and some might say more staid) metal choices.

“The price of gold is quick approaching the $1,000 mark with no signs of leveling off, so designers are being challenged to create pieces that are accessible in price while retaining their elegance,” says Sharon Buntain, CEO of Links of London, a company practically synonymous with top-shelf silver jewelry (founded on English sterling, Links does 70 percent of its Americas business and 85 percent of its U.K. business in silver). “Secondly, we have had a very strong fashion trend toward yellow gold for several years now, and perhaps our eyes are ready for a cooler look.”

Kinship gemstone rings by Links of London

Cool indeed. Malleable literally and figuratively, silver lends itself to hand finishes, intricate detailing and just about any gemstone. And while silver heavyweights like Links, David Yurman and John Hardy work with the metal as they would any other precious material—“We treat silver with as much reverence as gold in the design process,” says Buntain—there’s no doubt silver’s gentler price points can have a freeing affect: Customers are more likely to buy and designers are more likely to experiment.

Silver Ice diamond earrings by David Yurman Enamel Bulan cuffs by John Hardy

“I enjoy designing large, ‘over the top’ pieces without having to be restrained due to weight and price issues. Silver allows me to do that,” says Michael Spirito, whose Exhibitionist line and same-named shop on the Lower East Side of Manhattan cater to a customer base of what he calls “fashion-forward individualists”—drawn to his silver pieces by their “street cred” mix of religious symbols, big gems and rock-star glamour. “The look of silver also influences my designs. I love the black and white contrast silver has and the different effect it has on each wearer.”

Multi-gemstone necklace from Exhibitionist by Michael Spirito

Color themes

Heading into the warmer months, designers are once again thinking in terms of color, using silver to give gemstones, enamel work and multi-metal pieces added pop. “Spring-summer 2008 is going to be extremely rich in color—bold, sometimes even aggressive color—and combining silver’s neutral tones with colored stones is really sophisticated and at the same time wearable for all occasions,” says Agostino Magni, president of Rebecca, an Italian brand known for bronze and steel that has recently gone upmarket by adding silver jewelry to its collections. Just launched in the United States, the pieces are loaded with semiprecious gemstones bursting from chain-link and jewel-bead pendants, geometric bracelets and oversized cocktail rings. Gemstone rings are a big part of Links of London’s spring collection as well; the Amitié line of rings—after the French word for friendship and designed to signify a special bond, romantic or otherwise—pairs oval-shaped center stones including rhodolite, tanzanite, aquamarine and green amethyst with simple, elegant bands that accentuate silver’s polished sheen. A second new line for spring, Wisteria, offers a bi-metal look, offsetting silver with gold in a cascading leaf motif.

Color is put to delicate affect in another new silver line to the U.S. market, from Zelda Wong. Also working with a botanical theme—drawn from the gardens of what she calls “lively, beautiful but sadly short” English summers—Wong, a Macau native and English transplant, punctuates her hand-sculpted flower jewelry with gemstones like ruby, citrine and amethyst. “I find customers love the contrast that a splash of color, such as a red ruby, brings to the delicate luster of my botanical silver pieces,” she says. Bali-based John Hardy adds bright enamels to the spring mix of gemstones and silver; circular patterns of greens and blues evoke the moon and star orbits in the brand’s new Bulan (Bali for “moon”) collection.

Sugar Bloom bracelet by Zelda Wong

Old-world charm

charm Besides enamel work, John Hardy is among the many designers using traditional techniques and motifs—textured finishes, religious symbols, antique detailing—to tap into silver’s old-world sensibility. The brand’s handcrafted pieces are made by traditional Balinese silversmithing and often borrow from Indonesia’s ancient art patterns, like the Javanese coffee flower theme of the Kawung collection. At David Yurman, another classic pattern, the quatrefoil, is the centerpiece of the Silver Ice collection. A common decorative element of Gothic architecture, the clover-esque shape repeats throughout the pavé diamond and silver pieces.

Monarch diamond earrings by Leslie Greene

Leslie Greene uses intricate scrollwork and filigree to give her silver an antique feel. Known primarily for her work in 18-karat yellow gold, Greene describes her brand-new silver line as “feminine and fashionable” and partly brought about by the climbing price of gold. “I realized that [gold prices] were going to be a problem,” she says, “and I also felt that the marketplace didn’t have a [silver] line in my styling.” Michael Spirito takes a different old-world-meets-new approach to silver, reinterpreting religious and mythical symbols—most often the elements of the crucifix but also “Day of the Dead” skulls and Indian-inspired gem talismans—for the Exhibitionist line. “I love the challenge and excitement of working with natural materials—taking something raw from the earth and creating something so detailed and luxurious,” says Spirito. “Using modern techniques alongside ancient ones makes jewelry an artistic gift and a creative outlet I feel very blessed to have.”