Some of my favourite Solange Azagury-Patridge creations (from top left clockwise): Shooting Star earrings, Random necklace and Princess ring.
I’ve been a huge fan of Solange Azagury Partridge’s jewellery since I first read about her in Vogue a few years ago. Although her designs are categorised as fine jewellery, they couldn’t be more different to the Cartiers and Van Cleefs thanks to her quirky and offbeat style. When the opportunity to interview her during Paris Fashion Week came up, I jumped at the chance to get to know more about her.
Since then Solange has opened her first store in Hong Kong at IFC Mall. Last week she hosted an opening party complete with rainbow coloured flowers, rainbow cake (rainbows are a source of inspiration for her), and a performance by Parisian band Sing Tank. If you get a chance, visit her new store which is decked out as a lush boudoir complete with velvet walls. Best of all, you can see her unique designs up close.
Below is our interview, as published in the SCMP.
MOST LUXURY jewellers have a signature style or classic piece that is synonymous with their name, such as Cartier’s love bracelet, or Van Cleef & Arpel’s Alhambra.
For renowned British jeweller Solange Azagury-Partridge, it’s her quirky collection of engagement rings that keep women coming back. Popular styles over the years have included the Offering which features an uncut diamond cradled by two boney gold hands instead of prongs, while the Milky Moon consists of a single white pearl in the place of a traditional diamond.
“It’s funny because that’s how I started designing jewellery. I was looking for an engagement ring and there wasn’t a single thing out there I wanted to wear as a young woman – everything was made for old ladies. So I designed something that was relevant to the person I was – it was an uncut diamond set in gold. 25 years ago you couldn’t even buy [an uncut diamond] so that was the point of difference,” she says.
“Even today I am still proud to wear it even although I have designed so many other pieces. You have to buy jewellery for the person you are at that moment.”
Since she opened her first boutique in London’s Westbourne Grove in 1995, Azagury-Partridge has become one of the 21st century’s hottest jewellers thanks to her unusual and iconoclastic designs that reference everything from talismans and pop art to fantasy and ancient mysticism. Kate Moss, Madonna, Sarah Jessica Parker and Rihanna are just a few names that have been recently spotted wearing her designs, while she boasts boutiques in New York, Los Angeles, London, Singapore and now Hong Kong, where she has just landed at IFC Mall in Central.
When we meet in the crowded dining room of Hotel Costes during Paris Fashion Week, it’s obvious that wants her jewellery do the talking. She looks chic in a simple pencil skirt and dark button down shirt, but it’s her best-selling Cup ring featuring an octagonal emerald centre stone surrounded by matching paved emeralds that immediately pops. On her other hand is the Solaris ring, a bold star shape set with asymmetrical lines of diamonds that are cut into rectangles, squares and triangles. Both took countless of hours to make, but that’s part of the fun, she says.
“I drive people crazy with executing my designs. If they can fly to the moon, they can make a piece of jewellery. My theory is anything is possible. The word fashion is so transitory, but if you have a piece of jewellery that stands out, it doesn’t matter what label you are wearing.”
The daughter of Moroccan Jews that fled from Casablanca to London in the 1960s, Azagury-Partridge initially studied languages at university although she says always had a strong sense of aesthetics. This later led to her procuring a part-time job at famous costume jewellers Butler & Wilson before joining decorative arts dealer Gordon Watson where she discovered the masters of 20th century jewellery including Boucheron and Cartier. After she designed her own engagement ring she started making one-offs for friends
“I started with a very minimal budget. Every piece I sold was to make the next one. Eventually I wanted to take it further and use different stones and materials. I could only do silver gilded with gold in those days,” she remembers.
“Because I went from costume jewellery to real jewellery it was a fusion of both. I wanted to make jewellery that I wanted to wear that I felt was relevant to women living today. Jewellery was quite limited at the time.”
Over the next few years she built up a loyal clientele including high profile artists, designers and rockstars. She soon caught the eye of legendary designer Tom Ford, who then brought her into the Gucci Group fold in 2001, as creative director of jewellery house Boucheron.
“I came from the outside, and I always felt like a big of an outsider. Even though I had my brand, I hadn’t trained officially so I felt I did my three years of university at Boucheron. It gave me a lot of confidence in the way I worked. It taught me how to work in a company, and the process was more rigorous and technical. Now I look at the symmetry of a piece – how just one millimetre can change the piece of jewellery. It’s all about balance,” she says.
Once she left Boucheron in 2004 her own brand really took off. Several of her pieces became part of the permanent collection at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, followed by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. She even did a one-off cheap and chic collection for H&M, further propelling her onto the international stage. All the while she kept churning out cool designs which became must-haves for collectors looking for jewels that were unique yet modern.
“I like to use unexpected materials. Colour is very appealing to me so if I can, I choose a stone with an unusual colour. I like transforming things, I like subverting stones. My pieces are also modern vintage in that I reference the past techniques that are very traditional.
“However in the end, what makes it different is the design. A traditional jeweller would never have the centre stone and outside stones in the same colour. For me that’s the fashion aspect, which I like,” she says.
While most traditional jewellers use the stones as the starting point for their designs, Azagury-Partridge creates a shape to enhance the stone. This creative process is obvious in many of her popular collections including the Cosmic which features eclectic rings made from enamel suspended between thin panes of gold so they resemble stained glass windows. The Random line features multi-coloured stones combined haphazardly on necklaces and bracelets that bring to mind a Rubik’s Cube. Her latest, 24:7, is made from gold that is cut like gemstones.
“I wanted to do a collection in all gold that was maybe a bit more accessible. So how do you make gold interesting? I made it faceted so it has an element of gemstones. I have used four shapes – a circle, triangle, square and of course a star which I love,” she explains.
With her jewellery becoming more popular, Azagury-Partridge is now focusing on Asia, which is a relatively new venture for her. That being said the market here is quickly becoming saturated with international jewellery houses and local brands such as Chow Tai Fook on every street corner. This doesn’t seem to bother the designer, who is confident that her designs will win over customers.
“What I think is lacking is a beautiful stone that also needs a beautiful structure. I am aware women buy stones and have it set with their jewellers, but it’s the design element they come to me for. Some of my Chinese customers have brought me their unbelievable stones which I have put in one of my designs and it becomes even more interesting.
“I want my pieces to go beyond their intrinsic value. If I am dealing in commodities I may as well work on the stock exchange. You have to enjoy wearing jewellery at the end. I am totally driven by the need for more, more and more. I can never get enough jewellery.”