As the world’s largest Guggenheim, in Abu Dhabi, moves closer to realization, its architect, Frank Gehry, is engaged in a much smaller design project–creating jewelry for Tiffany & Co. Last month the firm launched two new Gehry collections: “Paper” and “Star.”
“Paper” features earrings, bracelets, and brooches in 18-karat yellow gold that look like crinkled paper. A cuff with rough diamonds set into the folds retails at $14,500. It was inspired by a “little building we did for Sophie Calle in Paris,” Gehry told ARTnews over lunch in Manhattan’s Financial District. “All building materials are hard-edged, and I’ve always wanted to get painterly,” he explained. “If you look at Kandinsky, he went into abstraction, but he kept the painterly edges, right? So that’s sort of a humanistic tendency I think.” Gehry shared his idea with Tiffany’s director of merchandising, Priya Jain, who worked with the company’s craftsmen to achieve the effect.
“Then I wanted to work in concrete,” Gehry said, pointing to a bangle worn by Jain, who showed off the piece to the president of the Guggenheim Foundation, Jennifer Stockman, and to a reporter. Thin, light, and angular, with a smooth finish one might not expect from the pedestrian building material, the bangle was a prototype that won’t be available until next fall.
“I’m having fun and I’m learning stuff,” the 80-year-old Pritzker Prize–winning architect said. “What I like about it is dealing with materials and a level of craftsmanship that you don’t get in architecture.” Among those materials are agate, rhodonite, jade, and palma nera wood. Gehry also volunteered, “I like looking at women.”
One assignment in particular brought an intriguing design challenge together with a chance for him to meet Russian-born tennis star and fashion plate Maria Sharapova. Tiffany has an arrangement with the sometime model to wear its jewelry when she plays in four major tournaments annually. So Sharapova, who was already a fan of his architecture, visited Gehry, who does not play tennis, to discuss a design for earrings. As he described the problem, “They can’t dangle, they have to hang down, and they can’t jiggle a lot. It’s about fluidity.” Gehry came up with a single diamond attached to a curving sliver of sterling silver. The limited-edition “Stria” earrings, which Sharapova wore in three rounds of play at this year’s U.S. Open, retail for $850.
It was Gehry’s idea to design jewelry, and he found a willing partner in Tiffany & Co., with the first pieces debuting in 2006. There are currently well over 100 Gehry designs for Tiffany, mostly women’s jewelry, but there are a few objects in other categories, such as vases, bowls, and handblown Venetian glass paperweights. All this luxury raises the question: Does Gehry make a lot of money from the venture? “It’s not about that,” the architect said. “It all goes into a trust to do some good someday.”