Posted on February 26, 2016

International heritage and personal histories are the surprise stand-outs at this year’s Doha Jewellery and Watches Exhibition (DJWE), organised by Qatar Tourism Authority and delivered by Elan Group.

Many exhibitors prove to be collectors for love at least as much as they are jewellers for profit, and dozens of the pieces on show at the 2016 edition boast fascinating backgrounds as well as a breathtaking appearance. “Remarkable happenings are connected with these jewels,” said Mr Ahmed Al-Mullah, Chief Operations Officer of Elan Entertainment. “In parallel with the successful introduction of educational seminars and workshops at DJWE, we are delighted the exhibition is evolving into more than a major luxury event – it is a cultural opportunity and historical tour of the world.”

The King of Italy’s grapes

Italian jeweller Veschetti displays a delicate brooch of silver, gold, diamond and saltwater pearls in the form of a naturalistic bunch of grapes on the vine, which used to belong to the family of Victor Emmanuel II, King of Italy (1820-1878) and first king of a united Italy since the 6th century. “It is a piece of royal jewellery, almost certainly commissioned and created for a lady of the court,” recounts Mr Veschetti. “This style of work is very typical of Mario Buccellati, one of the most important jewellers of that period, though it has remained unsigned. Buccellati also created jewels for the celebrated Italian poet Gabriele d’Annunzio, who was his client and great friend.”

Pearls and diamonds represent the grapes on the brooch, while two naturalistic silvery leaves spring from the top. Lacking white gold, jewellers of the period used silver to give a white colour in precious pieces; but Bucellati also made vine-leaves in yellow gold, examples of which can be found with fellow-Italian jeweller La Piramide.

Out of the abyss

La Piramide displays an intriguing necklace design in which diamond-encrusted gold swirls around 2 large, unusual yellow ‘melo’ pearls.

“I was in Ha Long Bay, in Thailand,” remembers designer Roberto Sciaguato, “diving for a special kind of pearl which comes from a shell called melo melo. Underwater, in a deep place, I found a large, promising shell. When I lifted it, from underneath burst out a manta ray which had been hiding there, and startled me. But I succeeded in taking the shell, inside which I found a large and beautiful yellow pearl. This is how I found the design for this necklace, which shows the pearl in water, half-enclosed by the manta. On the back, engraved words describe shafts of light entering darkness to lighten the soul.”

La Piramide also holds a giant rare pearl from the former collection of the Emperor of Vietnam, and a carved emerald (currently in Italy) commissioned by Emperor Napoleon to portray his beloved.

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The Duke’s dinner

Another imperial green stone has a story to tell at Glenn Spiro. Ian Rose, Managing Director, draws aside the paper protecting a beryl necklace, and a river of green fire flashes into life. It terminates in a luminous pale green crystal the size of a child’s fist. Glenn Spiro bought the beryl (a gemstone related to emerald) as a loose stone from a woman who had it from her mother, who, in turn, had it from hers. As a young woman, that grandmother lived in 1920s Paris, where fashionable society embraced extravagance and hedonism.

“Ladies at that time weren’t wearing one necklace,” said Mr Rose. “Led by Queen Mary in England, high fashion revived the days of the Maharajahs: ladies wore four or five necklaces at once of different lengths, and bracelets right up the arms. It was an era of lavish style.”

One evening, the young lady attended a luxurious dinner gala thrown by an exiled Romanov (the Russian royal house). Very possibly, the host was the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, first cousin of Tsar Nicholas II, assassin of Rasputin and lover of Coco Chanel. At dinner, each lady was given a gift. The young lady who became the grandmother received the 302-carat beryl. Two generations later, Glen Spiro set it on a necklace of yellow and white gold lavishly ornamented with 22 opals (weighing nearly 100 carats), 28 green tourmalines, 278 round paraiba, 276 tsavorites and 3,196 round yellow diamonds – a fittingly opulent tribute to the history of an extraordinary gem.

The astrological amulet

Jaipur-based jewellers Amrapali are also recreating the days of the Maharajahs, with exuberant, colourful masterworks reflecting the traditional motifs of royal Indian culture. One of their signature pieces is a collar of gold, South Sea pearls, and polki diamonds set round with nine enormous gemstones – catseye, yellow sapphire, emerald, blue sapphire, ruby, diamond, pearl, red coral and black hessonite – standing for nine planetary influences. This is the sacred, royal Navratna, or ‘nine gems’ design. Apart from its astrological significance, it bears an amazing story of craftsmanship.

“Except the diamond and pearl, each gem is carved with lotus flowers,” explains Mr Sameer Lilani, head of UK operation. “Each stone has different physical properties, and must be carved using different techniques and tools, but each must look the same. Therefore, for this necklace, the emerald carver went first. The finished emerald was passed to the hard-stone expert, who used it as the model to carve the ruby and the two sapphires. This was then repeated with three more experts for the other stones. Just the carving probably took the team 250 hours. A lot of effort goes into making it all look effortless!”

The exquisitely worked back of the necklace is a riot of floral ornament in brilliant red, green, white and gold mina kari or enamel painting. The enamel protects the gold from the wearer’s skin, and adds a private pleasure to the wearing of the piece – a secret for the owner’s eyes only. “Although not always,” says Mr Lilani. “We have one client who bought a spectacular necklace with a painted back to wear to her daughter’s wedding; she tells us that she has worn it just once facing forward – at the wedding – but a hundred times facing back, because she loves the enamel so much.”

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The forty-year necklace

If forty hours seems a long time to carve one stone, how about forty years to make one necklace?

Robert Wan started out as a farmer of pearls in the South Seas, supplying the jewellery trade. He used to keep the very largest pearls (more than 15mm diameter) in his safe, with the idea that eventually they could be displayed in a Tahiti museum of pearls. One such specimen was a large and beautiful black pearl, very rare, which, in Tahiti, signifies power. Seven years later, Mr Wan found another black pearl of similar size and quality. Twenty years after he started farming pearls, Mr Wan turned to jewellery design, and remembered the black pearls he had found. The idea of a necklace was born – a necklace unlike anything the world had seen before.

To find the other matching pearls has taken twenty more years. The spectacular result is displayed for the first time at DJWE 2016: a choker of twenty-five giant black pearls, begun in Mr Wan’s forties and completed in his eighties. Robert Wan’s son now oversees a pearl farm in Qatar.

The last pink sapphire

Moussaieff has also unveiled a one-off masterpiece of rare stones at DJWE 2016: a colour-changing pink and purple sapphire necklace, containing 151 carats of sapphires, and 53 carats of diamonds. “Natural purple sapphires are very rare – and colour-changing sapphires, which move between pink and purple depending on the light, are even rarer,” said Mrs Moussaieff. “Many people do not even know that they exist.” The necklace gains value because so many rare stones are brought together.

The pink, oval 22-carat central sapphire was obtained when Mrs Moussaieff flew in person to the heat and dust of East Africa to view the rough at the mine. “I bought it then and there,” she said, “and had it cut specially, to contrast with the purple sapphires. The whole is an incredibly rare suite of stones that have come together as a family over many years. You would never know to look at them that it has been such a painstaking search to find all their brothers and sisters.”

The joyful poison ring

Ultimately, what shines out of the jewels on display at DJWE 2016 is the creative passion of the designers for their materials and work. Egyptian jeweller Azzy Fahmy’s head designer, Amina, described how her idea for an ordinary ring transformed when she ‘met’ the stones. “To begin with, I aimed to create a classic ‘Sultan’ ring, with a large stone and signature Azza Fahmy details. I was fascinated by the concept of hidden messages and decided also to engrave a message under the stone – ‘joy’ in beautiful Arabic calligraphy.  I started searching in India for light-colored stones that would let the message show through, and found the most beautiful faceted amethysts.”

But Amina fell in love with the amethysts in an unexpected way. “This is when the concept completely evolved! I imagined the Sultan ring transforming into a magnificent poison ring (a ring with a secret compartment). I worked out a subtle mechanism for the ring to open and reveal the message, and then, to enhance it, I also moved the diamonds to the sides.” Amina’s final words as a designer of fine jewellery speak about the spirit of DJWE as a whole. “As an artist, you're constantly changing and evolving. It’s such a beautiful process to see your designs coming to life, from a sketch to a wonderful masterpiece.”