In the realm of high jewellery, there are two kingdoms, one that reveres colour stones from all the most remote corners of the planet, and the land of diamonds: pure, simple and transcendent. The latter is where Narcisa Pheres, the founder of the namesake high and fine jewellery brand, reigns supreme. Half Greek half Romanian designer has carved the name for herself on the tree of history alongside the likes of Elsa Peretti and Claire Choisne with her unmistakably classic pieces with perfect diamonds at their core.
It’s a hot spring afternoon. We meet Narcisa at the Upper Suite, a serene oasis that towers over Hong Kong streets swollen with bustle and vanity. She instantly fills the room with an air of elegance and friendliness, bringing with her a collection of Pheres masterpieces and jokingly (or, perhaps not, this author did not have a chance to find out thankfully) remarks that the hotel is now surrounded by guards with a sole duty to protect the treasures.
How did the idea of creating jewellery come to your mind?
I used to work for a very big trading company in Japan. My job was to attend auctions and buy art. I was in charge of fine art, jewellery, antiques and vintage wine. Best things in life. Art was always something that I loved. I didn’t think until recently, when I started doing jewellery-making myself, that my grandfather (who was not my actual grandfather, but our neighbour who didn’t have grandchildren of his own, but was a family friend) was a watchmaker. I grew up surrounded by watches and beautiful pieces, like clocks and pocket watches. I think somehow that resonated with me.
What inspires you?
I find sources of inspiration everywhere around me. Museums, art pieces, paintings, nature. There is no greater designer in the world than nature. No matter how hard we try, we are just a mere interpretation of what’s out there. I created collections inspired by the Japanese technique of Kintsugi. It is an interesting concept of repairing broken ceramic with molted gold. Once you are broken, you are more beautiful. It’s a very interesting concept, it’s very psychological, isn’t it?
“There is no greater designer in the world than nature”
What was one of the most challenging pieces you have had a chance to work on?
It’s been not one piece, but an entire collection that I created for a private collector quite a while ago. I proposed a theme of climate change. Those were all collector’s items, so I had total freedom over design. I came up with some pieces that looked like melting ice, burning fire and two pieces that looked like coffins. One of them looked like the Ottoman Dagger, inspired by a museum piece in Istanbul. And the other one looked like a Japanese katana. Unfortunately, most of my one-of-a-kind pieces are never seen in press or otherwise. We don’t show them unless the collectors want to do so. From my point of view, the most important person in this whole process is actually the collector, it’s not me the designer. They are the celebrity, the masterpiece of their imagination. My piece is supposed to help them achieve the best of themselves. I’m kind of helping their dream come true. It’s not about me.
Gendered jewellery is, in theory, a sentiment vexatious to fathom. Whatever happened to men, women and others indulging in the thrill of decorating themselves with stones? Even now, in the age of radical acceptance, we rarely see men gracing the red carpet with extravagant high jewellery pieces (except for the occasional Ezra Millers or Billy Porters). “Why does there always have to be a boundary between sexes?” was what Narcisa Pheres asked herself before creating her triumphant Fluidity collection.
I wanted to create something that was speaking to the young generation. I wanted to create an androgynous collection. Why can’t we just have something fluid that both women and men will like?
The name Tools is quite self-explanatory. Actual miniature tools made from gold and diamonds include a hammer, screwdriver, scissors and other perfectly functional pieces. “We had one client who bought the screwdriver piece to use it to tune his watches and sunglasses,” recalls Narcisa. The collection was immediately swept by a collector who wanted to use the tools as they were intended to (even the tiny scissors).
GIA – The Harvard of gemology and jewellery design is where the founder of Pheres Jewellery obtained her qualifications. That, combined with the desire to understand every detail of the creation process from conception to stone-setting, is what propelled the Italian brand to the forefront of the industry. Despite having worked with an exhaustive list of materials, diamonds are what intrigues the designer the most, “I’m a GIA-certified jewellery designer and diamond graduate, so it makes a lot of sense to work with diamonds. When I choose a diamond for myself, I look at so many, 20, 30, 40 stones, exactly same carat weight more or less. All of them are just so different. It’s like looking at 20 people, they will not be alike.”
“It’s mind-blowing to think that the oldest thing that you have in your life is a stone.”
When working with natural stones, one might find themselves in a unique position of having access to the history of the planet itself. After all, minerals have been in the earth for millennia, it’s an artwork created by the universe that transcends anything the humans will ever be able to craft themselves.
It’s mind-blowing to think that the oldest thing that you have in your life is a stone. You know, initially, thousands of years ago, kings would give each other minerals as presents, that would be a supreme gift. It was because it was the closest thing to nature, to earth, to universe.
When talking about diamonds, this author couldn’t help but notice, nay, stare at the Pheres necklace with a stunning yellow diamond as the centrepiece – a subtle homage to the one and only Audrey Hepburn.
It’s a very special diamond. It’s a Fancy Deep Yellow, it’s about 17 carats. Design-wise, we were trying to create something that was elegant and timeless. We wanted something that is somehow geometrically balanced. It makes you think either of Audrey Hepburn or Lady Gaga. In this case, the stone is the star, so we try to keep it very simple, but give it a modern look.
Even something as traditional and rich with history as jewellery-making is not and should not be immune to innovations. The painful history of blood diamond trading, slavery and unsustainable practices is what used to define the industry and must no longer be entertained as the byproducts of operations of respectable jewellery brands. And, with traceability becoming the integral part of the industry and the myths surrounding the alleged sustainability of lab-grown diamonds being debunked rapidly, new strategies for building authentic and sustainable manufacturing practices emerge.
“It’s really important to be able to trace, and I think blockchain is the solution.”
We are living in a time where things are changing. The up-and-coming generation is very much concerned with sustainability and climate change. We should all be. Profit shouldn’t be first for the businesses. It should be a sustainable way of operating that would leave something to the future generations. Of course, profits are important, but the way you do it and the way you build something that helps others is more important. In my case, I only work with stones that come with Kimberly reports. We don’t work with any kinds of conflict diamonds at all. We can trace which mines the diamonds come from. It’s really important to be able to trace, and I think blockchain is the solution. With that, people will be able to trace exactly who mined, cut and polished the particular stone. There will be a big change in our industry and that’s for the best. There won’t be so many frauds happening. We are very much looking at how the future is unfolding and what’s happening out there. You cannot ignore technology.
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This interview contributes to a new media format, where Creatives are in full control of their narratives. By exploring alternatives to narrative journalism, GAHSP starts unconventional conversations, emphasizing values and problems that shape our lives collectively.
Written and Edited by Gennady Oreshkin
Creative Concept by Julia Horvath
Image Courtesy of GAHSP Media