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June 18, 2024

Winner Spotlight: COUTURE Design Awards 2024

T
he 2024 COUTURE Design Awards were illustrative of how our designers and brands continue to push the envelope on innovation and creativity. Knowing that a unique panel of judges will be contemplating the minute details of every single entry, and that the accolades that accompany winning or being a finalist in each category are pronounced, our designers are continually inspired to submit their best, most current work into the competition.

And while the nuances of their discourse shall remain private, we want to once again break down each of the winner and finalist designs to highlight why and how the judges reached their verdict.

We implemented the juried formula for selecting the finalists and winners in each category back in 2012. Prior to that, it was all people’s choice, which meant that the winning pieces sometimes seemed to have been based on popularity or campaigning. By making the competition anonymous and bringing in a unique panel which includes two retailers, two members of the press and one designer, the merits of each and every entry can be considered through the lens of diverse, critical perspectives.

I am privileged to be one of very few members of the COUTURE team who are allowed access to the room in which the judging takes place on Saturday morning, when each of the highest ranking pieces, based on the judges’ independent preliminary scoring, are brought in to be discussed. And while the nuances of their discourse shall remain private, we want to once again break down each of the winner and finalist designs to highlight why and how the judges reached their verdict.

This year’s panel included Alexandra Lippin of Elyse Walker, Amy Lane of Bergdorf Goodman, jewelry curator and journalist, Archana Thani, Tracey Ellison of The Diamonds Girl, and designer Marco Bicego. Sometimes it takes a while for the panel to hit their stride, but this group seemed to fall into a rhythm almost immediately, and while there were differences of opinions to be sure, an accord was always quickly achieved after whomever felt strongest about their choice explained their reasoning.

 

Best in Below $10,000 Retail:

This is only the second year following the introduction of this category, and we couldn’t be more thrilled with the number of submissions it has received. While several of the submissions were discussed, it came down to a gold choker from ASHAHA, a colorful pendant from L’Atelier Nawbar, and a chunky link bracelet from CAPOLAVORO. The judges were impressed at how substantive all three pieces were within the price point, noting the quality of the craftmanship and of the materials incorporated into the design. The ASHAHA necklace ultimately won the day, with all of the judges remarking on the elegant simplicity of the design and noting how wearable the piece was, with one stating, “This is just a really beautiful, gold necklace that I could wear every day.”

Image courtesy of ASHAHA

As it turns out, those were qualities the brand intended to be noticed. “The Ashaha Shiraz choker stands out for its exceptional technical craftsmanship, which combines aesthetics with functionality to create a piece that is both beautiful and practical,” Cindy Khalifa explained from Paris. She went on to tell us about the innovative features of the design, which include adjustable fit, lightweight construction, ergonomic design, quick and easy closure, flexible structure, versatile wearability, adaptive style and timeless appeal. “In essence, the Ashaha Shiraz choker’s technical brilliance lies in its combination of comfort, ease of use, and striking design, making it a perfect accessory for modern women who value both beauty and practicality in their jewelry.”

Image courtesy of Vanessa Fernandez

Best in Bridal:

This year’s Best in Bridal category was more competitive than it’s been in past years. It seems as if our designers and brands are increasingly leaning into bridal jewelry, whether with engagement rings or day-of bridal pieces. The three finalists this year all happened to be unique twists on classic engagement ring styles from Vanessa Fernandez Studio, Gumuchian and Jade Trau.

The judges were enamored with each of these rings, noting they would be beautiful worn as an engagement ring or as a fabulous, right hand ring. Jade’s oval diamond appears to be floating in a frame of 18k gold, showcasing her well-honed acumen with diamonds, and Gumuchian’s interpretation of a Toi et Moi ring (which happened to come straight off of the recently married finger of Myriam Gumuchian’s daughter, Romy!) featured a white and a yellow diamond of the exceptional quality for which the brand is known, yet it was debuting designer, Vanessa Fernandez, who took home the prize. The judges remarked on the uniqueness of the diamond’s setting and noted the bespoke quality of the piece, once again adeptly identifying, without knowing the designer, why the piece was worthy of top honors.

 

Image courtesy of Vanessa Fernandez Studio

When asked what makes her piece special, Vanessa told us, “I would say what makes this piece special is that it’s completely handcrafted. The piece is sculptural and, although it may appear simple in construction, it was actually very complex to fabricate. It’s composed of two tapering wires which twist on to one another, so the entire piece is twisting and tapering simultaneously without any breaks or solder joints; the only element that is soldered are the prongs which are cut to a claw. The taper is also flattened on its exterior but rounded in the crevice.”

Vanessa told us that the diamond itself, a unique and rare, 4.01ct very shallow and “spread-y” antique-inspired cut, was also incredibly special, explaining, “I specifically sourced this diamond and designed this ring for entering into the COUTURE Design Awards. It was the first piece I made in this collection and I’m so happy I followed my gut and pushed the design to include an angled setting, which crosses the finger beautifully. The sides curve and swoop around the finger to create a romantic, bold yet feminine sculptural piece.”

Best in Colored Gemstones Below $40,000 Retail:

Our colored gemstone categories are always incredibly competitive, and the discussions around this year’s Best in Colored Gemstones Above and Below $40,000 were a reflection of that intensity. When reviewing pieces in the Best in Colored Gemstones Below $40,000 retail category, the judges were impressed by the intricacy of the design showcased in the earrings by Ananya and enticed ty the detailed work of Alexander Laut’s strawberry pendant, but ultimately, it was the elegant showcase of color in RENNA’s Ombré aquamarine and citrine necklace that won the judges’ hearts. They loved the thoughtful use of color in the piece and admired the contrast of the soft hues of the stones and the bold, 18k yellow gold chain, qualities of the piece of which the designer herself was particularly proud.

Image courtesy of RENNA

“I always design what I want to wear—pieces that are magical and whimsical and a bit unexpected,” Renna Brown-Taher said of her winning piece. “For me, the choice of stones was critical; I wanted a piece that was soft and subtle. I love meditative, soft colors. For this necklace, I landed on an ombré of aquamarines and citrines to echo a dreamy sunrise.  The unsung hero of this piece though is the hefty yet flexible chain which is the perfect counterbalance to the delicate fringe.”

Judge Marco Bicego examining RENNA's submission piece

Best in Colored Gemstones Above $40,000 Retail:

Best in Colored Gemstones Above $40,000 Retail is always one of the most difficult for our judges to narrow down. While we put restraints on the minimum amount a piece must cost, the sky is the limit in terms of how expensive the submissions can be, meaning our judges have to consider some extremely rare, exceptionally beautiful gemstones. And the quality of the materials used is just one of the criteria our judges take into account; they’re also looking at the craftsmanship of each piece, it’s wearability, uniqueness and the singular perspective inherent in its design. These are all reasons the three finalists, TABAYER, B.P. de Silva and Chantecler Capri, made it into the room, and yet there is another more esoteric factor that helped the judges reached their final decisions. Within each category, the judges are aware that they are establishing what the category represents in the given year, based on their specific input.

 

Image courtesy of TABAYER

The modified, emerald-cut, unheated yellow sapphire in B.P. de Silva’s piece was unquestionably breathtaking, and the exquisitely crafted combination of titanium, 18k gold with diamonds, pink sapphires, purple sapphires and enamel in Chantecler Capri’s spectacular collar necklace was astounding. Yet, in the judges’ estimation, TABAYER’s use of red jasper in combination with sapphire and diamond pavé in fairmined gold in their Oera choker was the more profound representation of a Best of Colored Gemstone category.

“The Oera Edition 04 Choker is the standout piece of this collection,” noted the brand’s founder, Nigora Tokhtabayeva. “It embodies our design ethos, emphasizing sculptural and elemental forms through complex and technical craftsmanship. The red jasper stones are hand-carved to perfectly fit the necklace’s curvature, and each sapphire and diamond pavé is meticulously selected for its exquisite quality.”

Best in Editors’ Choice:

Unlike our primary categories, Editors’ Choice is selected by attending media, who cast their votes after viewing the pieces on display in the Design Awards hallway. It’s always interesting to see how the writers, editors and influencers weigh in because it’s generally across the board when it comes to 1st and 2nd place, which makes sense given that they represent a vast array of publications and outlets conveying very unique points of view. However, despite their differences, there is usually consensus on the one design that takes home the win.

Image courtesy of Silvia Furmanovich

This year, an equal number of votes went to LUVOR for the stunning, diamond and emerald sautoir that was designed to portray leaves changing color from green to yellow in the autumn, and newcomer ROUVENAT’s Bolt Tourmaline Imperiale necklace from the brand’s High Jewelry collection, which was created from one of 3,000 gauches by Leon Rouvenat, who was designing back in the 1850’s. Ultimately, our influential media selected the work of the inimitable designer Silvia Furmanovich, a pair of singular earrings featuring clusters of miniature flowers carefully spun in pink, violet and lilac horse mane by Chilean artisans using centuries-old weaving techniques.

“The prize-winning earrings embody a unique blend of traditional craftsmanship and innovative design,” Silvia explained. “The earrings are crafted using horse mane, which is meticulously woven by an exceptional community of artisans in Chile. Their ancestral weaving techniques bring an extraordinary level of detail and artistry to the piece, highlighting the beauty and versatility of natural materials. The design is a celebration of cultural heritage and collaboration. Working with the Chilean artisans allowed me to honor their rich craftsmanship traditions and create something that transcends cultural boundaries. This collaboration underscores my commitment to fostering craftsmanship and preserving artisanal skills from around the world. I am incredibly honored and grateful to COUTURE, which has provided an incredible platform for us to show our work to the world.”

Best in Diamonds Below $40,000 Retail:

While we continually celebrate the willingness of our designers and brands to work with interesting and unexpected materials (see Silvia Furmanovich’s winning piece in the Editors’ Choice Award above!), diamonds remain a staple for of the vast majority of collections showcased at COUTURE. When it comes to establishing what to submit into our Design Awards each year, many of our designers lean on diamonds to demonstrate their breadth of talent and creativity to the community, making our two diamond categories a breathtaking display of ingenuity.

Image courtesy of ONDYN

In the Best in Diamonds Below $40,000 category, our judges were particularly enamored with the submissions by DEMEGLIO and Studio Renn, specifically for their avant-garde use of diamonds. DEMEGLIO combined diamonds set in 18k white gold with matte black ceramic in a necklace that is both chic and wearable, while Studio Renn’s Seed Leaf Inside Out earrings feature inverted diamonds set without prongs to create reflections on the inside panel of the earrings. And yet, the judges thought that ONDYN’s Grand Fringe cuff with its undulating rows of bezel set articulated white diamonds was an especially interesting interpretation of a classic diamond staple; they loved the movement of the piece and how it felt on the wrist, admiring the ingenuity and thoughtfulness of the design.

“We are incredibly grateful for this recognition and award that celebrates not just a piece of jewelry, but the artistry and emotion behind it, the passion and dedication that goes into each creation,” explained ONDYN designer, Tara Maria Famiglietti. “This piece is so special to me for its ability to create a mesmerizing dance of light and movement, showcasing the brilliance of each diamond. It’s sophisticated with a touch of daring, like a flame of diamonds on the wrist.”

Diamonds Above $40,000 Retail:

The submissions to this year’s Diamonds Above $40,000 Retail category ran the gamut, from a sprinkling of diamonds to “more is more” statements. Interestingly, the judges selected pieces from each of these categories as finalists. The Chicago earrings submitted by Busatti 1947 were deceptively light, their intricate pattern of alternate trapezoid diamonds set in grey titanium with a matte finish were the perfect balance between understatement and sophisticated sparkle. YEPREM’s majestic headpiece was a true reflection of the brand’s commitment to excellence, its intricate craftsmanship and design befitting royalty. Ultimately, the judges were blown away by the masterpiece submitted by Gismondi 1754, remarking on the intricacy of the design and the exquisite quality of the diamonds incorporated into the piece.

Image courtesy of GISMONDI 1754

Entitled Fenice, which is Italian for Phoenix, the one-of-a-kind necklace was inspired by both the type of palm called Phoenix and the mythological bird that is reborn from its own ashes. On the brand’s Instagram account, they pay homage to Hyperion Lab, the group’s factory who fabricated the piece, noting, “Fenice took over 500 hours and several months to make from sketch to wax mold, cast and hand setting each stone…The plumage or branches surrounding the neck that descend across and down the decolletage represent both the feathers and the flowing palm leaves where she created her nest. The neck is fashioned with two strands of diamonds, one round and one pear shapes fastening the necklace. Cascading from the center stone is an intentionally disarranged pattern of 38 ‘feathers’ or ‘branches’ placed at varying lengths and in different directions; some straight, some curved, some stationary, some with movement.”

Best in Gold:

As noted by Rebecca Butler, Professional Jeweler’s editor who presented the award for Best in Gold this year, “Gold’s malleability coupled with the hold it’s had on the human psyche for thousands of years make it an irresistible medium for creative expression.” There was a lot of back and forth among the judges before they whittled their selection down to the top three picks, and further discussions trying to place their selections into first, second and third.

Hargreaves Stockholm took full advantage of the metal’s flexibility in the creation of their Enchanted Golden Book, which indeed enchanted our judges! The piece elegantly unfurls to adorn the wrist, telling the magical story of the nomad, and when the story ends, the hand engraved and diamond encrusted pages fold back up to create a magical pendant, just waiting for the next reader. Similarly, the judges were impressed with the detail and precision debuting COUTURE designer Pamela Zamore applied to the creation of her Flow bangle. While they couldn’t have known that she designed its fluid form to echo the soft lines of the body, the judges all commented on how solid yet graceful the piece felt on the wrist and admired the contrast of its polished ridges and sandblasted channels.

Image courtesy of Rainbow K

The designers behind the winning piece, Kelly Souied and Kelia Toedano of Rainbow K, think of jewelry as the “ultimate” accessory, and that was evident in their submission this year. A variation of their Ball collection, balls of 18k gold elegantly drift around the neck, disks of diamonds accentuating their high polished shine, “We dreamed of it,” enthused the French designers. “Winning the award is a consecration for us, an achievement. It is a huge pride. Participating in this event adds a lot of charm to this extraordinary adventure that is COUTURE.”

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