René Lalique made her do it. And I think that's a good thing and we should all give him a warm thank you for having inspired Ornella to follow a career in jewelry. But more on that later on.
Ornella is my last studio visit in London and I get to her place ahead of time. I’m really looking forward to it cause I’m a big admirer of her work. I’m not the only one that thinks this as she has just won 2 awards (the equivalent of the Oscars in the UK jewelry world) with two beautiful pieces: a tanzanite necklace and a pearl ring. And lucky for me, she just got them back from an exhibition at the Goldsmith’s Center.
As we walk into Ornella’s studio she tells me that unfortunately she will have to move out of this space by the summer. This is March which means she has approximately 3 to 4 more months in this place. The building where she currently is based is going to be demolished to give place to some condos or office buildings. It is a shame to hear this as we’re in the heart of the Hatton Gardens (aka London’s jewelry district). And it’s kind of sad because I immediately like her studio: there’s a big window that lets the light come in and 2 (very clean) benches, one for metal and another of for wax. (According to Ornella who is half kidding, the wax one is where she loses herself in creation and the metal one is where the problems begin.) I’m so concentrated in the details of the bench that I barely see Ornella’s baby: a microscope that prevents her from going blind when working on her meticulous jewelry details. And yes, it’s one of those micro-pave microscopes that you die of envy. Her boyfriend is a stone setter and suggested the upgrade.
One might assume (as I did) that Ornella is Italian because of her name. But it’s even more interesting than that, she has an Italian name but is French born (from the alluring Alps region) and London based. She moved to Paris shortly after finishing her studies in Art and landed a job at Van Cleef and Arpels, where she had the pleasure to go to work everyday at their offices in the beautiful Place Vendôme. While there she developed an interest into jewelry making and after some reflection decided to take a sabbatical for a Master’s degree at Central Saint Martins in London. Her degree opened new opportunities and she found herself delaying her trip back to Paris. An enquiry letter from Van Cleef asking about her plans to go back was the tipping point and she decided to stay in London and start her namesake brand. And that was a really good thing otherwise I wouldn’t be here marveling at her studio and jewelry. If you're not impressed by now, let me just add that thanks to her boyfriend she's learning Russian as well, like she wasn't busy enough.
We go through Ornella's jewelry and my eyes widen up as she brings the jewelry boxes out. The necklace that won one of the awards is just too pretty to describe. The process was meticulous and Ornella tells me it took her several months of work to arrive at the final piece. It is like no other piece of jewelry out there. "The Exceptionelle Tanzanite" necklace is 45 cts of natural Tanzanite crystal set in 18k white gold with 29 brilliant cut diamonds. It is mounted on cubic-cut hematites chain and the locker is made of 18kw gold with a sapphire, which is screwed to unlock both parts of the system. The main function of the locker is to remove the pendant from the chain so that the it can displayed as a small sculpture. There is a whole collection around this theme where Ornella was inspired by the geology and mineralogy of each specimen. She plays with textures and colors and tries to continue the artwork that mother Nature started billions of years ago.
(Be sure to check her blog post about the behind the scenes process of creating the pendant out of wax: http://ornella-iannuzzi.com/blogs/news/98159110-behind-the-scene )
The other masterpiece is "The Uprising" pearl ring, from the Abyss collection that is inspired by the deep sea where underwater volcanic eruptions sculpt the landscape amongst rocks and coral trees. This 18K rose gold ring has a gorgeous pearl in the center and it features 1ct of arabian pearls and diamonds. It's such a precious art piece, it is carved to perfection and at each turn of the ring you find a new beautiful detail.
But these are far from the only pieces that Ornella has created up to now. She keeps unveiling more treasures from her jewelry boxes. She now shows me some pieces with gorgeous Opals. She wasn't that much into them until one of Ornella’s gem dealers enticed her with opals from the Wello Valley in Ethiopia. One thing let to another and before she knew it she was on a plane to the Ethiopian opal mines on the Abyssinian valley for a memorable trip. This journey inspired the "Lucy in Wonderland" collection and she created gorgeous pieces with some amazing opals.
Again, both of us had to run and our conversation was cut short. We left her studio together and we still had some laughs on the street before parting ways.
And where does René Lalique comes from? Well, his designs were the trigger for Ornella’s interest in jewelry design in her early beginnings during her Art studies. My guess is that now, she has become an inspiration for all of us.
How did you become a jewelry designer?
“René Lalique’s fault!”
What’s the first thing you do when you get to the studio?
What do you like the most about your studio?
“It feels like home: warm and bright”
Pick 3 objects in your studio that make it yours:
“My copper experiments from RCA, my minerals all over the place & the poster of my mountains in France”
What’s your favorite spot in the studio?
“My bench for carving wax”
Any studio rituals?
“Always cleaning, tidying up…”
What do you love and hate doing at the bench?
“Love carving wax <3 <3 <3
What makes you procrastinate?
Any pets in the space?
“A poster of my cat diamond who passed away”
What is currently inspiring you?
What piece of jewelry do you always wear?
“My pendant rock cage from “Rock it” with Wello opal inside + the matching earrings”
Currently obsessed with which gemstone/metal?
“Always been obsessed with opals! Also emerald crystals. And I love rose and yellow gold.”
Piece of jewelry you’re most proud of?
“The uprising” ring and my new pendant “L’exceptionelle Tanzanite”
What’s your dream jewelry piece?
“A piece that would be a sculpture first like my “Tree of eternity” neck piece but in gold and opals…”
Worst piece of jewelry you had to create?
“In terms of technical challenges, my pendant “L’exceptionelle Tanzanite”. Really took a lot of time and patience!”
What’s the longest period of time you spent at the studio and why?
“16h non stop with just 20m breaks for lunch, to finish a piece for the Goldsmiths’ Craft and Design Council Awards”
The best thing a client ever told you?
“I never liked jewellery before seeing your work.”
What’s on your desk right now?
“This paper… and my computer! J “
“My newly bought microscope!!!”
If you weren’t a jewelry designer/jeweler?
“A gem dealer!”