Natural selection: the evolving nature of floral jewel design

Alice Cicolini Sotheby's
‘Summer Snow’ gem-set ring, by Alice Cicolini
(Image credit: Alice Cicolini)

This week, gem-encrusted flowers are blooming in real time at Sotheby’s New York, as the auction house opens its doors to ‘In Bloom’, a selling exhibition of 75 jewellery pieces. The show, which considers the development of floral fashion in jewels from the 19th-century to today, is the result of collaboration between the contributing director of jewellery at British Vogue, Carol Woolton, and Frank Everett of Sotheby’s.

It presents a heady mix of contemporary and vintage: ‘A great design always looks modern – it never dates, which is the eternal challenge of jewellery designers,' Woolton says. ‘We’ve chosen vintage pieces which have retained their fresh look. Mixed in with the modern pieces, you get a real sense of the changing nature of fashions in flowers.'

Contemporary designers, including Alice Cicolini and Emannuel Tarpin, add something of a subversive edge to the typically delicate idea of florals. Tarpin’s ring catches a bud on the brink of blossoming, offering a tantalising glimpse of the yellow diamonds and sapphires inside. Alice Cicolini’s gem-set ‘Summer Snow’ ring explodes in a riot of colour, gleefully confusing carved chrysoprase, tourmaline, rhodochrosite and carnelian. 

 ‘Both designers have something new to say,' says Woolton, a jewellery historian and author of a leading book on the subject: ‘Floral Jewels: From the World's Leading Designers’.  ‘They are expanding the range of ‘precious’ materials they use, yet these supremely contemporary floral pieces shout spring to me.'

‘Ensuring no flora was omitted was a tricky task,' explains Frank Everett, sales director of Sotheby’s Luxury Division. ‘We did it piece by piece, which was challenging as we wanted to represent all periods and the greatest jewellery houses, as well as a variety of flowers.

The natural vibrancy of nature is represented in various ways: Tarpin’s ring stem of patinated bronze adds a surprising fragility, while the delicate marquetry and coloured wood of Silvia Furmanovich’s magnolia blossom earclips bring a touch of realism. Shaun Leane, meanwhile, brings the ghostly moth orchid to life in fresh, white enamel, which sets off rare green diamonds to brilliant effect. 

Emmanuel Tarpin Sotheby's

‘Globeflower' ring in gold, bronze, sapphire and diamond, by Emmanuel Tarpin

(Image credit: Emmanuel Tarpin)

Oscar Heyman Sotheby's

Diamond and enamel orchid brooch, by Oscar Heyman & Brothers

(Image credit: Oscar Heyman & Brothers)

Shaun Leane Sotheby's

Diamond, tsavorite garnet and enamel orchid earrings by Shaun Leane

(Image credit: Shaun Leane)

Silvia Furmanovich Sotheby's

Wood, diamond, ruby and tourmaline earclips, by Silvia Furmanovich

(Image credit: Silvia Furmanovich)


Sotheby’s ‘In Bloom’ is on view at Sotheby’s in New York from 3-24 May 2019. For more information, visit the Sotheby’s website


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Hannah Silver is the Art, Culture, Watches & Jewellery Editor of Wallpaper*. Since joining in 2019, she has overseen offbeat design trends and in-depth profiles, and written extensively across the worlds of culture and luxury. She enjoys meeting artists and designers, viewing exhibitions and conducting interviews on her frequent travels.