When you think of high jewellery, visions of diamonds and sapphires typically appear, along with rubies and emeralds. These “Fab Four” precious gemstones have been the cornerstones of leading jewellery houses for well over a hundred years, and will certainly continue to take centre stage.

Cartier has created “a dialog between stones” with their Magnitude collection. This Equinoxe necklace features spheres of lapis lazuli surrounding lacework diamonds and yellow sapphires in yellow gold

However, as seen in several haute couture collections that debuted earlier in 2019, there is room in high jewellery for so called “semi-precious” gems in addition to our usual shiny suspects. Some in the jewellery industry find the term itself somewhat outmoded but still useful in differentiating it from the Fab Four group. Designers have no qualms about creatively using such semi-precious stones – they were front and centre in several pieces crafted by jewellery’s biggest players, proving these stones are far from inferior when it comes to fashion.

Uplevelling ornamental stones 

Semi-precious gems are often reserved for fashion jewellery and generally available at a much lower price point than high jewellery. There have been notable exceptions of course, namely during the Art Deco era, known for the dramatic use of contrasting diamonds with the bold colours of black onyx, red coral and green jade in various geometric patterns. These accents were cut as cabochons, panels and plaques, again contributing to the striking juxtaposition of materials.

For many top design houses, the exotic earthiness of these shaped stones draws on a slightly different appeal than the usual spectacle of a facetted gem: in this case, gems are embraced for their typical inclusions, unique textures and saturated hues.

Semi-precious stones working in harmony with precious gems 

Tourmaline ring by GRISOGONO.

High jewellery’s leading designers have managed to elevate these minerals to a higher degree of status through the same level of workmanship and attention to detail you would expect from the world’s most prestigious brands, setting them in a way that brings out their natural beauty. 

Combined with their more precious counterparts, an appealing aesthetic is the desired effect; for example, pairing any matte bead, such as lapis lazuli, with sparkling stones will create a distinct contrast in both colour and texture.

The union of precious and semi-precious gems can be seen in several elite collections, solidifying the acceptance of these types of stones in high fashion.

During the 72nd Cannes Film Festival in May of 2019, Swiss jeweller de GRISOGONO, showcased an haute joaillerie collection, the Art of Technicolour, a tribute to cinema featuring vivid shades and unique cuts. This pink gold ring is set with an oval-cut rubellite, flanked by smooth cylindrical-cut onyx and adorned with rubies.

Louis Vuitton ‘Riders of the knights’ lapis, diamond and emerald bracelet.

Paying homage to Medieval heroines and heroes, Louis Vuitton’s Riders of the Knight collection launched in Paris during Couture Week. This bangle bracelet highlights gold-flecked lapis lazuli with emeralds and diamonds in white gold. 

There will always be a place for precious gems; this expression of creativity and disruption of haute joaillerie traditions is making way for new innovations – a sure sign of the times and a new take on style. 

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