By Marie Feliciano
Just like her beloved pearls, luxury jeweller Ella Gafter is a rare gem. Celebrated for her elegant and meticulously crafted jewellery creations, Ella is known for bringing out the full beauty of pearls, rubies, sapphires, emeralds and diamonds with her impeccable artistry, flawless designs and faultless detailing.
The driving force behind the Ella Gafter New York jewellery brand, the artist produces only jewels that are painstakingly handmade in Italy. Her creative talent has repeatedly been recognised in the rar- efied world of haute joaillerie.
In 2001, Ella’s corsage brooch was one of a handful of contemporary pieces that was included in the “Pearls” exhibition at the American Mu- seum of Natural History in New York. The platinum brooch, a stylised flo- ral branch with a butterfly, is set with 10 gem-quality South Sea pearls, 8.38 carats of diamonds, frosted crystals and yellow sapphires. Ella’s signature poetic grace was also showcased in her corsage pin set with six South Sea pearls, platinum ivy leaves with diamonds and a butterfly with a yellow sapphire body. The brooch was one of the stunning pieces presented at the “White Magic” exhibition organised by Paspaley at the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum in New York in 2005.
A perfect foil to Ella’s creative genius is her daughter and business part- ner, Harvard-educated Talila, who manages Ellagem from their Fifth Av- enue salon. Together, the two are launching Ellagem at the International Premier Pavilion of the September Hong Kong Jewellery & Gem Fair – the ideal launchpad for one of New York’s most exciting and prestigious jewellery brands. In an interview with JNA, Ella and Talila talk about pearls, the Ellagem woman and the Asian luxury market.
JNA: What made you decide to take part in the September Hong Kong Jewellery & Gem Fair?
Talila: The September Hong Kong Jewelry & Gem Fair is now recog- nised worldwide as a magnet for the highest-quality exhibitors and visi- tors, and for good reason: the fast-developing Asian markets combined with the millennia-old sophisticated taste in that region attract the finest- quality goods. It is a very exciting prospect to be part of that dynamic.
Set of Golden, Tahitian, Australian pearl and diamond bracelets
526A, 546A, 534A
JNA: Please give us at least a couple of examples of the exciting pearl jewellery pieces that you will be launching at the show.
Ella: My current obsession lies with pearl bracelets. I exploit fully the range of possibilities afforded to my fantasy by different pearl groupings. I have bracelets that illustrate precisely how different shapes and colour- ings not only inspire, but really impose different designs: everyone can see from my bracelet designs that one could not possibly put one set of pearls into another setting and vice versa.The difficulty in creating these pieces lies first of all in matching the pearls in terms of top lustre, skin and homogenous colour. And then, the bracelets have to be flexible to feel luxurious, but they must not be remotely flimsy in feel. They must move on the arm, but not too much. It is all a question of balance.
JNA: Of all the gems in the world, why are you so entranced with pearls? To you, what does the pearl represent?
Ella: I use pearls everywhere not because we are known in the world as “pearl jewellers” but because in my eyes the pearl is the fifth gem and not the least of them. I subscribe to the same aesthetic today, and more so. Moreover, my obsession with pearls has all to do with the fact that I am enamoured both with their natural habitat – the wide South Seas – and with the people who lovingly cultivate them: the Paspaley family from Australia. Their tenacity, discipline, and uncompromising ambition to cultivate the highest-quality untreated pearls in the world, in the most pristine waters of the world, has been a driving inspiration to me, both professionally and personally, for a quarter century now.
Corsage Brooch with16Mm Pearls, Diamonds,Frosted Crystal andYellow Sapphire.
JNA: Could you kindly give us examples of some of your most unforget- table pearl jewellery pieces?
Ella: One of my unforgettable pearl pieces was a large corsage brooch I created for the Paspaley “White Magic” exhibition, which toured many museum venues around the world. This brooch is a sister to the one I had created earlier for the Museum of Natural History Exhibition in New York. The pearls are very large and super lustrous, of course, which cre- ated a problem of balance, and there was a major issue in cutting the frosted crystal which breaks when you so much as look at it. Moreover, the butterfly is set en tremblant, which is a technique very seldom used nowadays.
JNA: In addition to pearl jewellery, you have also launched diamond and coloured gemstone jewellery collections. What are the coloured gems that you love using at the moment?
Ella: As a rule, I love all precious stones when they display the right fire appropriate for their category. And, of course, the combination with dia- monds always enhances the fire. Therefore, I do not so much buy what is in fashion, as what strikes me as possessing a colour and a shine that is of value today and tomorrow and forever. When I see it, I buy it.
Ruby and Diamond Set.
JNA: Please describe the Ellagem woman.
Talila: The Ellagem woman does not seek to impress her surround- ing world with her bank account. Rather, she desires to shine with style, first for her own satisfaction, but also in order to bring beauty, charm and delight into the environment she dwells in. She has an inner desire for beauty that translates into an outer lustre, and what better lustre than that of pearls? With regard to the Ellagem style, it is recognisable from a kilometre. It is a style that is clearly generated by an artistic imperative that prizes harmony and the affirmation of the beautiful and the uplifting above all.
JNA: What defines Ellagem?
Talila: What defines and differentiates Ellagem is that we are a brand growing worldwide attention. The last few years have seen a particularly marked level of attention in the Far East, from, among other publications, Tatler Hong Kong, Elle China, Vogue China, Harper’s Bazaar Vietnam, Solitaire Singapore and Tatler Philippines.
JNA: What are the advantages of having a powerful and driven mother- and-daughter team behind one of the world’s most loved luxury jewellery brand?
Talila: The greatest advantage of this specific team is that the board- room is constituted by – as we like to say it – “you and me and me and you.” Since Ella and I are driven by the same goals, we are, in our deci- sion-making agile, flexible and speedy.
JNA: Talila, what is your dream for Ella Gafter New York in Asia? Within the next few years, do you think we’d be seeing an Ella Gafter boutique in Shanghai, Beijing or Hong Kong?
Talila: We are exploring a very interesting prospect in Hong Kong but for the moment it is top secret.
JNA: Could you kindly share with us your other interests outside of Ella- gem?
Talila: Over the last decade, Ella has developed a property in the Um- bria region of Italy with the same perfectionism she applies to the jew- ellery she creates. Every tree has been planted with an eye to the sur- rounding panorama – I want to say every cherry obeys the same rule – and every tile selected to be in harmony with the natural stone of the region; and then, she cultivates 1,000 olive trees, which yield a very fra- grant extra virgin olive oil.
I dedicated many years to the study of philosophy, in which I hold a PhD. I have used that education as a teacher in a prison in New York City. Lately, I have been devoting all my free time to piano study and practice under the very strict rule of a Russian master.
Set of Australian pearl and diamond bracelets with onyx, mother of pearl and crystals.
bracelets 241A, 514A