“It’s very much about the craftsmanship,” Azagury-Partridge adds. “It’s lovely to see every-thing on a different scale because I’ve always maintained that jewelry, when it’s beautifully made, is sculptural. So to blow these pieces up to the size of what people could consider sculpture is quite an interesting exercise. It’s just a different perception of the same shape.” For easy comparison, the show will also feature the original jewelry inspirations.
Of course, Azagury-Partridge has always managed to evoke a certain arty intrigue in her designs. She pulled the rug out from under fine jewelry when she launched her company in 1990 and created rings with secret compartments (dubbed the Poison series) and movable parts like the rotating spirals of diamonds in her Kinetic collection. She has punched things up with designs based on irreverent sources like Smarties candy. (The resulting bauble really does look like a gobstopper pile of sweets, with enamel instead of a candy shell.) It’s a high-low sensibility that owes much to her unconventional start in jewelrymaking: Azagury-Partridge couldn’t find work as an English-French translator, her initial career choice, and took a job at costume jeweler Butler & Wilson and then another with 20th-century antiques dealer Gordon Watson, where she dealt with pieces from Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels.
“Those two work experiences were my inspiration,” she says. “I fused the craftsmanship and skill of fine jewelry with the exuberance of costume jewelry.” Another example of her maverick attitude: the introduction of a fragrance in 2006, which she cheekily named Stoned. And still one more, from “Unwearable Jewels”: the reversible table with a gemstone constellation on one side and a mother-of-pearl finish on the other. There’s a fringed edge all around so, Azagury-Partridge notes, “you can play and kick it as you’re sitting.”
Without a doubt, there’s something delightful about such furniture pieces. It’s mesmerizing to see the designer’s famous Cosmic Eye ring staring back at you on a grand scale and in the same materials, to boot. (Azagury-Partridge acknowledges that the gem quality of the bigger works may not be as high as it is in the jewelry. “Finding big pieces of ruby is quite unusual,” she explains.) Then there’s the exhibit’s pièce de résistance, a chandelier made from nearly nine pounds of white gold and set with a whopping 200 carats of white diamonds. “It’s a very sensuous shape,” she says of its undulating frame and profusion of hanging chains. “I think it needs a permanent fan blowing on it to make the chains shimmer and shake.”
That bejeweled chandelier has long been in the making, at least conceptually. Azagury-Partridge is quite the chandelier aficionado—she has six in her West London home and three in storage—and first conceived the idea of riffing on a classic earring design seven years ago. “Why not? Why can a chandelier earring not become a chandelier?” she muses. In a turnabout, the designer will use the exhibition as an opportunity to introduce earrings, a pendant and a ring inspired by this chandelier.