The act of shaping nature's hardest substance has consumed nobles and artisans alike for six centuries. Louis XIV applied his national treasury to capturing his fancy in diamonds. The marquise cut was the Sun King's rendering of the smile of his mistress, the Marquise de Montespan. Every royal hedge and tree was pruned to perfection and every vegetable passing his lips was shaped by the chef's art of tournage into lozenges and ovals.
Sharp blades shaped the language of food and gemstones alike: potatoes cut into ovals with sharp tips that replicated the marquise were called navettes—for 200 years an alternative name for the marquise cut. Meat cut into thick rectangles were pavé, old Norman for cobblestone. Circular cut parboiled vegetables were pillows—the name of the mid-19th century's top fancy shape until it became re-known as the cushion. The dried plum known as the brignolette migrated from the larder to the cutting wheel, while that long, thin staple of French mornings, the baguette, became second nature for the jeweler and designer as well.
I'm thinking of etymology, diamonds, and food as I sit in the Venetian's food court for a quick lunch with Michael Lebowitz, vice president of sales and merchandising for Royal Jewelers, Andover, Massachusetts. Lebowitz is allowing me to go fancy shape shopping with him this afternoon at JCK Vegas. A well-to-do woman and her teenaged daughter take seats opposite us, and at a glance, you can see the period in which she was wed. Her wedding ring is a marquise. Her daughter is early 21st century: Her tennis bracelet is graduated princesses.
Lebowitz smiles at the observation. "Fancy cuts definitely have their eras, but it's not just a question of taste or fad," he says. "It's also technology and market realities. Fancies allow manufacturers to individuate, or brand, by their superior abilities to cut and set. Particularly cut. The buzz, for the last few years, is all about beauty. Jewelry designers, in-house, are learning to design for that cut. I call it tailored jewelry, by which I don't mean fashion, as it applies equally to bridal product."
He continues, "It's a question of fashion-forwardness. Is your piece about the diamond, the metal, or the balance of the two? Will it be the kind of piece a woman finds in her jewelry box five years from now, and wonders, ‘What was I thinking?' Or the kind where a perfectly cut asscher just pops right out at you? Because that piece is the industry's goal now: Adding value to the diamond. Mix in the influence of bling, the increased ability to micro-pavé, and what you're finding, to a degree never seen before, is dyed-in-the-wool diamond cutters and manufacturers shaping jewelry pieces around fancies."
THE PRICE OF PERFECTION
It's a fascinating way of seeing the JCK floor, particularly with the latest Rap list in my back pocket. The first lesson is: forget the princess. "The commonplace, of course," says Chris Bull of Backes & Strauss, Antwerp, "particularly if you listen to Rap, is the strength of the princess. Globally, however, we're finding greater interest in round fancies, the ovals, a bit of a resurgence of the marquise, pears of 3 carats and up as drops. The American market is beginning, more than ever before, to listen to global tastes."
That market view—coupled with "tailored jewelry" and a manifest tendency at this year's Vegas toward jewelry designed around a fancy shape diamond—is echoed at Julius Klein, New York. "What was once traditional is becoming increasingly modern looking," says Saul Fraiman. "Less riviera, more basket-weave. Less emphasis on the main event, more on yellow and pink pavé. If it all sounds very Euro, well, it is, and it may take awhile to catch on here, but it will." It's certainly caught on at Klein. A Vegas case that until last year was 90 percent important loose diamonds, Klein's is now more than half jewelry; by rough approximation, 80 to 90 percent feature fancy shapes.