The Best in Jewellery, From Chaumet’s Encres Brooch Collection to Bulgari’s Serpenti Viper Necklace
Nature beckons, and it’s inspired the world’s finest jewellery designers and artisans to sculpt some stunning pieces.
BY P.Ramakrishnan  |  February 16, 2023
21 Minute Read

Illustration by Shout

The Big Idea: The Talisman

Video Killed the Radio Star came out in 1979, the advent of something newer, shinier, trendier killing the old. VHS did the same to Betamax, and DVDs to VHS. Netflix bled Blockbuster dry, the iPhone choked Blackberry until it turned blue, Google muted Yahoo, and lab-grown diamonds did… well, what do you know. Almost nothing.

The supposed harbinger of doom caused many an editorial to foretell the end of the diamond monopoly, when lab-grown gemstones would be all the rage and the prices of mined diamonds would falter as centurion designer maisons would fall brick by brick for cheaper (well, less expensive) substitutes that perfectly mimicked nature’s majesty.

Sure, the fads made headlines pre-pandemic, but they didn’t make history. Sales of vintage, coloured, celebrity-owned, and royal jewels reached peak levels at auction; fashion houses known for their sartorial selections raised the stakes by stepping into high jewellery; long-standing European brands opened stores far from their shores; Asian designers broke records as esteemed auction houses saw only the gavel fall, not the prices, demand, or curiosity about precious gems displayed by the toniest brands in the world.

Breaking into unheard-of figures, the De Beers Blue sold for HK$450.9 million (US$57.4 million) at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong. The Juno Diamond, a pear-shaped rock weighing 101.41 carats, sold at US$12.9 million (HK$100.8 million) in New York to an Asian collector (in fact, among the top magnificent jewels auctions held last year, multiple winning bids came from Hong Kong). The talisman of doom went bust while the demand for rare stones and designer jewellery went boom even in the harshest of economic times. Perhaps some saw them as safe investments, with others simply finding beauty in bleak times.

While not as ephemeral as fashion, even jewellery sways—well, budges—to fad and trend. When we first started keeping tabs on the best of the year’s jewellery, spring was certainly in the air and we saw a pattern rising: nature as inspiration. Sure, not the first time, but the key is in the doing. In the first quarter of the pandemic, as news channels noted the return to and the return of nature, seemingly every creative of note saw and took comfort and inspiration. The birds and the bees tantalised the creative brush as flora, fauna, and feathers informed cut, colour, and motif.

And back to the commercial side, while the pandemic sent many a schedule off kilter—premieres and presentations were held off or a bit less lavish—a slew of beautiful pieces did make it to these shores, where they were eagerly awaited by those who didn’t fly private to Paris for a first sighting. And where they spread a little welcome light. As Elizabeth Taylor famously said, “You can’t cry on a diamond’s shoulder, and diamonds won’t keep you warm at night, but they’re sure fun when the sun shines.”


Iwana Necklace

One of the masterpieces from this venerable maison’s latest high jewellery collection, Beautés du Monde, the Iwana Necklace is something to behold. Inspired by the iguana, the platinum piece is set with three hexagonal-shaped cabochon-cut Colombian emeralds totalling 43.45 carats, plus hexagonal and round emeralds, and rose- and brilliant-cut diamonds. The emeralds form the reptile’s “skin,” with triangular facets multiplied to resemble scales. And to make a creation that sits naturally on the skin, Cartier’s master jewellers increased the number of invisible articulations in the links.

The distinctly Parisian jewellery collection debuted in June with an exhibition and gala dinner in Madrid, marking the centennial of the maison’s first jewellery exhibition in the city held at the Ritz.

King Edward VII referred to Cartier as “the jeweller of kings and the king of jewellers.” And a campaign line was born that no agency could better. Cartier has a long history of relationships with royalty, and Beautés du Monde shows that the house continues to create exceptional pieces.

Image courtesy of Cartier.


Toucan Bracelet

Boucheron’s high jewellery Carte Blanche line has always been remarkable for its creativity and ingenuity. Its latest instalment, the Ailleurs collection (which roughly translates to “elsewhere” in French) imagines a world without borders, where nature is as raw and material as it should be. One of the chapters of the line, Femme Feuille (“Leaf Woman”), depicts an untouched rainforest populated by butterflies, snakes, and tropical birds.

One of the key pieces in the collection is the sculptural statement Toucan Bracelet, which came into being courtesy of myriad cutting-edge techniques in its composition. It’s quite literally a toucan’s head, sculpted with rubellites and three blocks of citrine, finished with onyx and titanium for eyes. The unique setting technique of black spinels and white diamonds on the bird’s back, along with the curated stone sizes, creates an effect similar to how water droplets would behave on real feathers. But the artisanry isn’t what you’d call skin-deep (feather-deep?), with creative director Claire Choisne ensuring the bracelet is light and wearable by introducing hollow inclusions into the interior; so despite appearances, it’s a delicate wear on a bold wrist.

Image courtesy of Boucheron.

Van Cleef & Arpels

Atours Mystérieux Transformable Necklace

When it comes to high-jewellery artistry, few can match Van Cleef & Arpels, and there’s no better evidence than the house’s Mystery Set collection, on which we first laid eyes in the summer of 2022. The collection is a tender ode to The Lesotho Legend, a mind-boggling 910-carat rough diamond that the house utilised in full and cut into 67 separate exceptional stones. The biggest one of the range, at a breathtaking 79.35 carats and 57 facets, crowns the Atours Mystérieux Transformable Necklace.

Although the diamond is, indubitably, the star of the piece, its brilliance is enhanced with an impressive curation of visual elements. The body of the necklace is designed with large diamond-encrusted links interspaced with oval-cut rubies, these swirls inspired by the house’s Collerette necklace from 1938 and its diamond necklace created for Queen Nazli of Egypt in 1939, but the piece also evokes the Grand Duchess Vladimir Tiara, adored by and adorning the late Queen Elizabeth II. The girandole bears ribbon-like elements arranged according to the proprietary Mystery Set method, which allows setting stones without prongs or any other visible metal components, emphasising the creation’s lightness and unrivalled vibrancy. The creation also includes an Individual Mystery Set composition that can replace the central diamond, which can be detached and worn on a separate chain.

Image courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels.


Il Giardino di Buccellati Cuff

When Milanese brand Buccellati launched its Il Giardino di Buccellati (“The Garden of Buccellati”) collection, we expected a floral motif long before the page turned. And yet, so many pleasant surprises lay in waiting.

“This topic has always been a source of inspiration for us,” said Andrea Buccellati, president, creative director, and third generation of his family business. “Leaves, flowers, and fruit, but also shells and fish, are recurring subjects in our jewellery and silverware.”

Instead of a literal translation of a garden motif, the brand leaned towards a more Art Deco vibe with the palette of an Impressionist painter, adding geometric lines, symmetry, and the hues and shine of an era gone by. And given that the maison has been around for more than a century (Mario Buccellati opened his first store in 1919), it need only dive into its own rich archive for inspiration. Here, yes, the influence is nature, but it’s the Roaring Twenties vibe we saw and loved on items like the dazzling cuffs.

Said Andrea: “With these gems, it has been quite easy to enhance the chromatic combinations and to create an amazing and evocative garden.” Indeed, experiencing the new collection is like stepping into a hieroglyphic flower garden, with shimmering jewel shapes you’d find in a dazzling kaleidoscope. While certain jewellery brands can be mistaken for others, there’s a look and feel to Buccellati that’s very much its own.

Image courtesy of Buccellati.

Harry Winston

The Winston Legacy Sapphire

Harry Winston founded his eponymous label in New York in 1932, soon thereafter earning the moniker “King of Diamonds.” Nine decades on, there may be many contenders to that title and mantle, yet Winston remains synonymous with high glamour and magnificent—and large—stones. Stones such as this, the Winston Legacy Sapphire.

Harry Winston acquired a magnificent 43.10-carat royal blue Kashmir sapphire back in 2020, a rare velvet-blue stone with a deep colour saturation and impressive size, provenance, and absence of treatment. The house’s legendary designers and craftspeople expertly set the sapphire as the centrepiece of an extraordinary diamond necklace, painstakingly made over a period of two years. A myriad of diamond cuts—round brilliant, square-emerald, pear- and marquise-shaped stones, along with tapered baguettes—elegantly frame and highlight the majestic beauty of the centre stone, creating a classic and timeless pendant necklace.

Image courtesy of Harry Winston.

Anna Hu

Formosa Magpie Brooch

Eight hundred gemstones, two birds, a conch pearl, and a titanium base. Asian jeweller Anna Hu manages to weave magnificent colours and gravity-defying shapes into a one-of-a-kind objet d’art, here in the form of the Formosa Magpie brooch from her La Caprice Art Déco collection, which debuted at the 35th Anniversary Edition of The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht.

The piece masterfully merges Chinese and Western canons of jewellery artistry, inspired by the works of Giuseppe Castiglione, the 18th-century Jesuit missionary and painter at the imperial court of China. An impressive conch pearl “egg”, more than 14 carats in weight, rests in a nest of rose gold wires, while glimmering, almost iridescent, intricately sculpted opals define the heads of the birds. Although the bejewelled creatures are said to be magpies, the vibrant colourways of their heads resemble the reflective, silky, ocean-blue feathers of common grackles. The piece also includes a magnificent pavé of white diamonds that traces the birds’ bodies, and vibrant Paraíba tourmalines that lend the piece an almost fluorescent quality.

Image courtesy of Anna Hu.


The Allure Céleste Necklace

Ninety years ago, so the story goes, Gabrielle Chanel created the world’s first high jewellery collection: “Bijoux de Diamants” premiered back in 1932. “I seek out the motifs that best showcase the brilliance of diamonds,” she said of her desire to cover her customers in dazzling constellations. “The star, the cross, the fall of graduated stones and large sunburst cabochons.”

From the legendary original collection, Patrice Leguéreau, director of Chanel’s Jewelry Creation Studio, has retained the celestial theme, bringing the moon and stars of the firmament to contemporary jewellery in Chanel’s new 1932 collection. The collection includes 81 dazzling creations, of which 15 are transformable, and from that glittering collection, it’s tough to overlook the signature Allure Céleste necklace.

First, the basics: a central 55.55-carat oval sapphire of a deep and intense blue surrounded by white diamonds. And yes, the number is significant: Chanel always presented her collections on the fifth of the month (dresses on the fifth of May) and chose the fifth vial of a perfume sample that became Chanel No. 5, inter alia. Above the sapphire, a singular white-diamond star brooch hovers, with a DFL pear-cut diamond of 8.05 carats suspended below. The piece’s detachable halos can be worn as brooches, and a detachable central line of diamonds can be worn simply as a bracelet (or to allow the necklace to be worn short). And it surely goes without saying, but this is a one-of-a-kind singular sensation, price upon request.

Image courtesy of Chanel.


Encres Brooch

For the first time in its storied 240-year history, Chaumet has dedicated an entire high jewellery collection to the sea. Ondes et Merveilles de Chaumet explores a variety of frontiers to tell the story of the seven seas in all its manifestations, from waves caressing the water’s surface to underwater treasure hunts, ships in port, and the currents of the Gulf Stream.

In the bounty of pendulous necklaces, statement earrings, and shock-and-awe rings, the Encres transformable brooches stand out as something different. Stunning in white, rose, and yellow gold, the anchor brooch is set with a heart-shaped ruby, round sapphires, spessartite garnets, grand feu enamel, and brilliant-cut diamonds. It’s a little dazzler for her—or him. “The unisex brooches of the Encres parure playfully interpret the tattoo symbols associated with sailors,” says the brand.

For the technically savvy, each brooch is composed of successive planes, every element of which is arranged down to the micro level, with each becoming a scene in on which a complete story is relayed. Here, the sea looks as if it might gush out of the brooch once the anchor is dropped. In other pieces, a lighthouse is complemented by the credo L’amour me guide (“Love guides me”), while a two-masted ship is propelled by a tailwind above a banner inscribed L’amour est une aventure (“Love is an adventure”). For a final flourish, each brooch conceals a pendant ring that can be revealed to fit a gold chain, transforming the piece into a unique necklace.

Images courtesy of Chaumet.


Serpenti Viper Necklace

Slithering, shimmering, and sparkling, the iconic Serpenti Viper is an unmistakably epochal high jewellery staple from the house of Bulgari. As hypnotic as it is unequivocal, as timeless as it is modern, the necklace carries eight extraordinary decades of history. The motif first appeared in Bulgari’s line of bracelets and wristwatches designed with the iconic Tubogas technique, long before its use in the brand’s fine and high jewellery today. And the enduring symbol, which has become the emblem of the house’s proud heritage, in its newest iteration signifies the relentless power of transformation.

This specimen captivates with its detailed execution, from the yellow gold scales cut and carved to mimic reptilian skin, to the marquise-cut diamond rattle and the magnificent array that is the viper’s head, studded with pear-cut emeralds for eyes. The crescendo of the symphony is the crown made of marquise-cut diamonds arranged into a lotus-shaped formation. Like most of the Bulgari necklaces from the range, this one, despite its complexity, features a length-adjusting mechanism. Whoever said high jewellery couldn’t be practical?

Image courtesy of Bulgari.

De Beers

The Enchanted Lotus Band

Just this past October, Academy Award-winning actor Lupita Nyong’o was named the first Global Ambassador for De Beers, appearing in the international brand campaign De Beers: Where It Begins, which shows how a rough diamond is transformed into magnificent jewellery.

Decked to the hilt, Nyong’o is seen sporting several pieces from the latest Enchanted Lotus collection, of which our eyes lasered in on the Enchanted Lotus band in diamonds and 18-carat white gold. This exceptional piece features 301 round brilliant diamonds totalling 1.22 carats, encircled by micropavé diamonds and framed with petals of openwork micropavé.

According to the brand, each one is ethically sourced, selected by eye, and meticulously set by its team of experts. And it aids the actor in her advocacy for women and girls around the world, with the partnership supporting De Beers’s Building Forever commitment, which aims to advance women and girls where its diamonds are discovered.

Image courtesy of De Beers.

Cindy Chao The Art Jewel

Caribbean Summer Brooch

Robb Report recently covered the opening of designer Cindy Chao’s store in Taipei—finally, a maison for the one-of-a-kind pieces usually found at auctions, in museums, and in the rarefied atmosphere of the jet-setting Chao’s VIP trunk shows.

The jeweller’s nature-inspired, sculptural, technical marvels (see how some of her pieces move and undulate without risk of breaking) have adorned women of note around the globe, and been spoken of among diamantaires for the exquisite craft and artisanal elements she brings to earrings, necklaces, and rings.

On looking at Chao’s catalogue, you notice that each unique piece hovers on that fine line separating jewellery and art. The piece we (and yes, a few others, given her coverage over the past year) have chosen to exemplify this is the Caribbean Summer Brooch, number VIII from her Black Label Masterpieces collection.

Designed to resemble Caribbean Musa leaves, it’s set at the centre with a 3.80-carat Muzo Colombian emerald, which is circled by 2,000 diamonds, 375 of which are Asscher-cut, along with 1,731 tsavorites for a total of 91.8 carats of gemstones. Exceptional as it is exquisite.

Image courtesy of Cindy Chao The Art Jewel.


Sapphire and Diamond Necklace

Known for the sheer size of its precious stones, Graff has added another eye-catcher to its oeuvre in the form of this sapphire-centred multi-shape diamond necklace, part of the new Graff Tribal Collection.

High jewellery design at Graff always starts with the stone, the house’s artisans working from that centrifugal point. When they obtained an unheated 109-carat Sri Lankan antique sapphire, the designers in this instance found instant inspiration, though at this size, the stone presented a unique set of challenges.

The richly detailed architecture concealed beneath the necklace was created by master craftsman Sam Sherry. Due to the size, there could be no superfluous piece of metal in the design so as to ensure optimal comfort, but the design had to hold the stone securely, minimally, and imperceptibly, as the designers wanted to show a near-invisible mount in the necklace.

The sapphire’s depth also needed to be counterbalanced, which inspired the elegant diamond surround. “We experimented with different diamond shapes and the emerald cut worked perfectly,” says design director Anne-Eva Geffroy. “It creates a step down to the diamond necklace while serving to celebrate this wonderful sapphire.”

Image courtesy of Graff.

Tiffany & Co.

Bird on a Rock

While travelling many years ago, master jeweller Jean Schlumberger encountered an exotic bird and, inspired by its plume, created the first Bird on a Rock brooch in the swinging 60s. Crafted through a special casting process, one that has been used by Tiffany & Co. artisans since 1867, the original model for the bird was handcrafted, with each component assembled using a variety of artisanal techniques. After assembly by the house’s jewellers, the setters would open up the gemstone seats using a pavé setting technique, a process that ensured the highest quality of craft in every piece.

Recently, Tiffany presented the Bird on a Rock brooch collection, bringing the pieces into 2022 with a special bespoke service on the brooch. Weighing from approximately 15 to more than 120 carats, each requested gemstone is sourced through Tiffany’s ethical sourcing process from suppliers around the world. The maison’s artisans then create a custom setting for each one, varying the placement of the bird as needed and providing a precious stone-studded brooch like no other.

The whimsical diamond-plumed, ruby-eyed bird has been known to perch on different rocks such as tourmalines, aquamarines, and most frequently amethysts and citrines. We opted for this gorgeous blue oval aquamarine, as one for the ages.

Image courtesy of Tiffany & Co.


City Lights Rose Brooch

Chopard’s undying love for the art of cinema is palpable in artistic director Caroline Scheufele’s latest Red Carpet collection. The impressive range, which includes 75 staggering pieces of jewellery, is a loving tribute to the silver-screen beginnings of the art form, when bleached-blonde Bette Davis was flirting with debonair Gene Raymond in Ex-Lady, or when Charlie Chaplin’s charm bewitched the world. The latter was precisely the inspiration behind this brooch.

The flower is an entire world in miniature, a vessel for bejewelled artistry bedecked with diamond petals that flutter like a Calder mobile. It serves as a reminder of the rose presented to Chaplin in City Lights, embodying the grace and might of that groundbreaking film. Scheufele crafted this first piece from the Red Carpet Collection to be displayed at the Cannes Film Festival, adding to the already rich Chaplin legend. It features white diamond petals that bloom atop a stem studded with black diamond leaves, representing the black and white images of the silver screen and serving as a tribute to the little flower girl who captured Chaplin’s heart, and he, ours.

Image courtesy of Chopard.


The Yu Yi Flower Moon Necklace 

Unlike the often centuries-old maisons that frequent these pages, Qeelin is but a teenager in the mix. But perhaps, having just turned 18 (the now Hong Kong-based brand was launched in Paris back in 2004 by Dennis Chan and Guillaume Brochard), the house has morphed from the age of innocence to the age of majority.

Qeelin has been prolific of late. To commemorate its coming of age, Chan presented Wulu 18, which paid tribute to its roots and its first gourd-inspired Wulu collection. And the house has gently presented other aspects of Chinese culture to a global audience, letting the world at large discover stories, symbols, and art from ancient folklore and imparting a fresh aesthetic to contemporary jewellery. The iconography is distinct, and so is the sly touch of humour: the Bo Bo collection has featured pandas holding balloons or snowboarding, a jejune spirit but studded with precious stones.

But the piece from the past year that’s stood out to us for its artful simplicity and iconography is the elegant Yu Yi Flower Moon necklace, one of four uniquely designed necklaces (the collection depicts the harmony of sakura, lotus, orchid, and bamboo), made with 18-carat rose gold and intricately arranged pavé-set diamonds and emeralds. In its simplicity and form, the Yu Yi Flower Moon dazzles.

Image courtesy of Qeelin.


Nudo Rivière Necklace 

There’s a youthful, exuberant, and dare-we-say candy-shaped and -hued vibe to the latest Nudo Rivière collection presented by Pomellato. As the name implies, the pieces are based around “nude” stones: bare blocks of colour with minimal settings. This latest series in the Nudo family comprises four necklaces with the sophistication of the clessidra cut: gemstones seamlessly set back to back and circled at the centre by a band of gold, giving rise to its name, which translates to “hourglass” in Italian.

The Nudo Rivière necklace in rose gold with sky-blue and London-blue topaz is our pick of the year from the Milanese brand. A dazzling mix of seven topazes with more than 300 white diamonds sprinkled across the chain, it’s a statement necklace that’s sure to draw the eye. The asymmetric arrangement of the different-sized stones is deliberate, to evoke the vision of drops of colour flowing over skin with the sensual ease of water.

In keeping with Nudo’s philosophy of minimalist elegance, the piece offers an understated way to wear more than 80 carats of precious gemstones and 3.1 carats of white diamonds.

Image courtesy of Pomellato.

Vox Pop: Vickie Sek

I was placed into a local jewellery store as a trainee in Central 45 years ago—that was my first experience with precious stones and artisanship, when my job started. From then to now, that little job has transformed to become my career in jewels.

Over the years, I’ve attended, curated, and participated in many memorable auctions. One that stands out is my first sale in Geneva: I bid for my client on a Fabergé Crystal Egg, which made headlines on CNN. There was the auction from the Collection of HRH Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, as well as Elizabeth Taylor’s collection and the Theresa Po Lau sale. Each was memorable for different reasons.

Apart from celebrity or royal collections, top lots such as the Oppenheimer Blue diamond, the Pink Promise diamonds, and top signed pieces have all been outstanding—I appreciate Kashmir, ruby, jadeite, and old signed pieces. Certain important collections from private collectors have also amazed me.

And of course, at Christie’s we see all the great maisons represented at auction, in vintage pieces from Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Bulgari, Harry Winston, Boghossian, Edmond Chin, Wallace Chan, and several others.

Serious collectors of diamonds look for colour, cut, carat, and carriage. And my advice for those buying high jewellery is simple: the main factor and perhaps the only factor is quality.

By Vickie Sek, Chairman of Jewellery, Christie’s Asia