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The Swiss jewellery industry


The superb craftsmanship, technical innovation and sophisticated designs that have made Switzerland’s watchmakers world-famous are also propelling its fine-jewellery names into the limelight, as Clare Coulson explains

Clare Coulson ,

Switzerland has long been celebrated for its supremely well-crafted and technically brilliant watches, but it’s also becoming known for equally desirable fine jewellery, too. This fact is all the more impressive when you consider how fiercely competitive the sector is, with designer labels from Chanel to Louis Vuitton increasing their presence and others, including Versace, Bottega Veneta and Hermès, entering the arena for the first time. Fortunately the Swiss have an impressive heritage of their own on which to build.

Sparkling through time
Of all the Swiss fine-jewellery brands, none has as fascinating a history as Chopard. Founded in 1860 by Louis-Ulysse Chopard, the house originally produced timepieces. It wasn’t until watchmaker and jeweller Karl Scheufele bought the company in 1963 that it really started to have a presence in the jewellery world.

A further boost came when Karl’s daughter Caroline Scheufele joined the company; one of her first designs – a gem-set clown –not only became a mascot of the company but also helped make the Happy Diamonds collection such a success. More recently Chopard has become world renowned for its high profile on the red carpet at glamorous events such as the Oscars or the Cannes Film Festival, of which the company became the official partner in 1998.

New era
Chopard has become known for its trend-setting pieces, from shoulder-grazing diamond-drop statement earrings to opulent collars laden with incredible stones, but also for its most recent debut: a collection of sustainable fine jewels, created in collaboration with Livia Firth’s Eco-Age and Green Carpet Challenge. As a result of this new initiative, Chopard has forged a partnership with the Alliance for Responsible Mining, an organisation that works to repair environments damaged by gold mining and helps small-scale miners sell their metal through a fair-trade programme.

Bright sparks
Geneva-based de Grisogono is also celebrated for its extravagant creations, though it’s a relative newcomer, having been founded a mere 20 years ago by black-diamond specialist Fawaz Gruosi. With its vibrantly coloured, high-impact and often unashamedly lavish creations – blocks of yellow diamonds glistening in a sea of emeralds, for instance – de Grisogono has revolutionised the fine-jewellery world, producing pieces with the frivolity of a fashion item.

The label’s particular knack has been to take both classic designs and irreverent emblems, and render them in the most extravagant (and expensive) gemstones; at Cannes earlier this year Sharon Stone wore a stunning collar of diamonds and emeralds, with a diamond-encrusted hippo hanging from her wrist, and Naomi Campbell has been spotted sporting drop earrings consisting of spheres encrusted with pink diamonds.

Black beauty
Gruosi first made his name with far less exuberant pieces: a 1996 collection based entirely on black diamonds. His passion for the rare and unusual gem was ignited by the 195-carat Black Orlov, which was once the possession of Princess Nadejda Petrovna of Russia. ‘The stone had not been popular due to the precise cutting technique required to transform it into a jewel,’ explains Gruosi of his favourite stones. ‘But the black diamond has no equal when it comes to dramatic impact and it has a fascinating history.’

Technical innovation
De Grisogono isn’t the only Swiss jeweller with a trend-setting approach. Also based in Geneva, family-run Boghossian has been creating bespoke pieces for more than a century. Five years ago, it launched its Bogh-Art line of jewellery, a colourful, boundary-pushing collection featuring incredible craftsmanship, exquisite settings and innovative materials, such as carbon fibre, alongside unusual techniques such as encrustation – originally used in the Egypt of the Pharaohs – whereby stones are cut and shaped and then set into another.

The technique is used to breathtaking effect in the current collection in a cocktail ring with a diamond set into a cabochon white opal on an encrusted diamond band.

Zurich’s Vainard takes a similarly arty approach with its art deco inspired graphic settings, which combine faceted or smooth black acrylic glass in bold geometric forms with white gold and diamonds. Vainard’s inspiration may be historical but, as with most of its fellow Swiss jewellery makers, what it produces is most definitely modern.

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