ince the very first edition of GemGenève, the fair’s founders have given historian and author Vivienne Becker the opportunity to create a showcase called the “Designer Vivarium”.
Her idea was to create the ultimate destination for jewellery lovers and connoisseurs. Her intention was to show the richness of jewellery, its history, its role in different civilisations and today’s art and craftsmanship, and give the subject the depth it deserves.
With her Vivarium, she gives independent designers, new and rising stars, the opportunity to exhibit their work publicly – sometimes for the first time.
- The Designer Vivarium at the GemGenève fair
Europa Star: What kind of up-and-coming creators do you search for?
Vivienne Becker: I look for jewellers or designers that have a strong, singular point of view, and something to say through their jewellery: a message, a strong concept. And also a very well defined visual vocabulary. It must not be at all derivative: I don’t want it to look like anyone else, and also not a bit of this and a bit of that. It must be a singular vision. That’s important. Their work must be innovative, but not new for the sake of being new. And because I’m a historian and love the history of jewellery, I’m particularly drawn to designers who pull the thread through history. I firmly believe you have to understand the past in order to move forward. I look for jewellers who have a great reverence for tradition but who break tradition. I also like innovation in terms of material and technique. I look for a sense of sophistication in craftsmanship. I’m looking for someone who’s taken that to the next level.
“Because I’m a historian and love the history of jewellery, I’m particularly drawn to designers who pull the thread through history.”
- Alexandra Jefford: the Meditation Ring
How do you find them?
I don’t know... I have antennae, I see them, I hear about them. Now I’m lucky, as lots of people write to me: Studio Renn a few years ago, Saurabh Bhola too.
All the designers invited to the Vivarium come from different countries and backgrounds, but do you feel there is a link between them?
Somehow a theme has emerged this year: in November 2021, the work was very innovative and experimental but in 2022, there’s a kind of refined classicism.
- Cora Sheibani: Butterfly earrings and Cactus Head ring
How do you explain that new classicism?
Ideas are in the air. Jewellers are like any good artist or designer; they capture our moment in time. Sometimes it’s unconscious, it’s instinctive. We live in times of uncertainty and people turn to the classics. I think it has something to do with these difficult times. During the last ten years or more, high jewellery has been full of colours, very complicated. I think we are going back to more diamonds and quieter hues. That’s just the normal cycle. These jewellers have all, in their own way, reinvented some element of classicism.
“During the last ten years or more, high jewellery has been full of colours, very complicated. I think we are going back to more diamonds and quieter hues. That’s just the normal cycle.”
- Vivienne Becker
You are a curator of these artists, but also a kind of fairy godmother to them. By inviting them to the Vivarium in GemGenève, you give them the opportunity to exhibit their work publicly, sometimes for the first time. Do you follow them afterwards?
Yes. I’m thrilled that the Designer Vivarium has been a launchpad for some designers. But the reason we renamed it “Vivarium” is because Vivarium jewellery is my new project: it’s a venture. My business partner Diana Cawdell and I will be representing these jewellers. What I really want to do is combine small private sales exhibitions with new ways to educate, with talks and discussions, so that we can set the jewellery in a social, cultural, historical, and fashion context. Jewellery is a complex subject, and I think the more people understand about it, the more empowered they are to buy and enjoy the jewels. We are working on a collaboration with Phillips auction house and their private jewellery sales department.
Because of Covid, we had to do events online. The first one, named “Woman to Woman”, featured all female designers from the 20th and 21st centuries. We had jewellery from Suzanne Belperron, Elsa Peretti and Paloma Picasso, as well as some of my contemporary designers like Alexandra Jefford and Hannah Martin. It was a huge success, the lots sold well. The second one was on “New Modernism”, tracing the Modernist movement from the 1920s to the 2020s, because I feel there is a whole new modern movement that’s going on now.
“Vivarium jewellery is my new project: it’s a venture. My business partner Diana Cawdell and I will be representing these jewellers.”
Why did you create this project for independent designers?
I’ve had this idea for a long time. I wanted to focus on contemporary jewellers and talk about their work, as I felt the designers I met didn’t have the right platform. The big brands have such marketing power! It’s so difficult for individual designers to compete with that and find their voice and their place in the market. It took me a long time to shape it and formulate it. We are looking for different venues. We are planning pop-ups for the designers in London and hopefully in Paris. Vivarium is finally a brand! It was born from GemGenève.
- G. Suen: The Chimera earrings
Do you have the feeling that after globalisation, we live in a time when people and especially creators are going back to their roots?
Definitely. But that’s part of a mega trend. People are more nationalistic, they are taking pride in their roots. It’s a good thing. And of course the other side to that is that, whereas we used to take references from everywhere, now that’s called appropriation. I keep an eye on that.
The craftsmanship of jewellery has barely changed at all. We could assume that we’ve seen it all, but that’s so untrue!
That’s why I’ve done what I’m doing for so many years! These designers keep the jewellery industry alive and dynamic. There are a lot of new techniques now, like 3D modelling. It has changed everything in terms of volume. And there are new materials too: titanium has been around for a while, carbon fibre as well. And have you seen the beautiful Sweet Pea brooch by Saurabh Bhola? He’s using an amazing new ceramic! The brooch is so classical but he used painted ceramic to make it modern. And Oktaaf used artificial intelligence to create their cufflinks. That’s what I mean by capturing the spirit of our time!
“We are planning pop-ups for the designers in London and hopefully in Paris. Vivarium is finally a brand! It was born from GemGenève.”