British jewellery designer Ornella Iannuzzi started out at Van Cleef & Arpels before branching out on her own, creating writhing, natualistic jewels that are designed to be admired. She has amassed numerous awards for her work, including two golds at the 2015 Goldsmiths' Craft & Design Council Awards and, most recently, Jewellery Designer of the Year at the UK Jewellery Awards. With her unique organic aesthetic, incorporating sustainably sourced materials and mineral compounds, and discerning eye for unusual gems, including baroque pearls and Wello opals, if you aren't familar with Ornella's jewels yet, you should be.
Ornella, describe your style of jewellery design and what makes it different.
I have an innovative and sculptural approach to high-end jewellery. My one-off Fine Art jewels, which are what I'm really about, are wearable sculptures - miniature landscapes with a story behind them. Each piece has an incredible amount of detail and combines unusual materials, unusual settings, unusual gemstones and unusual shapes. I work around the gems, which is very different from the traditional way of setting stones. The combination of colour, texture and materials - there is a whole thinking process behind it. Not one detail is left to chance. My jewellery is very distinctive - people recognise it instantly as mine. It has a strong, avant-garde, high-fashion feel to it, but I like to think it is also elegant and sophisticated.
What does your studio look like?
I'm a clean freak! Everything is super organised - I can't work surrounded by mess. I have my own studio near Hatton Garden in London, which is divided up into an office and workshop. I am surrounded by things I love, with minerals and plants everywhere. I collected minerals as a child and absolutely love all gemstones in their natural form, with their crystal-like shapes. I also have a very good sound system. When I am sat working on my computer, I prefer silence, but when I'm in the workshop I always have music playing in the background. On the walls are pictures of the mountains I can see from my house in France (Ornella was born in the Alps) and pictures of my dear cat Diamond, who looked just like a little lion.
How are your jewels made?
I make each of my fine art jewels by hand in my studio. I work just like a sculptor using the lost wax casting technique. After carving my jewels by hand in wax, I cast them in metal. For my Rock It! prêt-à-porter collection, created in collaboration with Capet Joaillier, production is in both France and the UK.
Which is your favourite gemstone?
My favourite gems are opals, but I also love pearls and emeralds - my birthstone. I only use diamonds to add a touch of light to my jewels, unless they are rough diamonds with an amazing shape. I love all precious stones when they are in their natural, uncut state. I particularly like Wello opals from Ethiopia because I think they are magical. I visited in 2010 to source some rough opals and fell in love with Wellos, which I started cutting and polishing as soon as I returned home. I used them first in my Lucy in Wonderland collection and they were the gemstone that really got me noticed. The difference with Wello opals is that, unlike black opals from Lightning Ridge or white opals from Coober Pedy in Australia, they display the whole spectrum of base colours - chocolate brown, fire, white, blue - which makes them totally unique.
What is your most cherished piece of jewellery?
I made a pair of earrings called "Would you like a drop of Tej, Madam?" for my Lucy in Wonderland collection and decided to keep them because I loved them too much. Teg is a fabulous Ethiopian wine made of honey, and the fire opals in the earrings are exactly the same colour as the wine. When I wear them it always reminds me of my trips to Ethiopia. I also have a ring named "L'Exceptionnelle Emeraude" that I couldn't bear to part with. I put so much work into that ring - it's my baby. The rough emerald crystal is just incredible.
Which piece of jewellery sums up your style best?
My rings are my strongest pieces - they are the jewels I love to make the most. A ring is something that you can constantly see; it's always there in view, waiting to be admired. My rings are true small-scale sculptures for the finger.
Which designer do you admire most?
Kevin Coates. His work is phenomenal. I see fine jewellery as art, and a piece from Kevin Coates is a jaw-dropping work of art. The way he carves his own precious stones is amazing, and each of his jewels has a fascinating story behind it. I can stand in front of a piece of his fine jewellery for hours and not get bored.
What could you not live without?
Sunshine! Of course I don't see a lot of it in Britain, but London is an amazing place to be when you are in the creative industry - if you ignore the weather.