By Maria Doulton
For a trade show that stands out for its focus on jewelry design, the Design Awards at the Couture Show Las Vegas are a very big deal. The awards are a distillation of all that the show celebrates and what makes the event such a success. Each year, after a week of retailers, jewelers and journalists coming together, the highlight is the awards ceremony held in one of the Wynn hotel’s vast ballrooms. This year I had the honor of being amongst the five to judge the awards; my fellow judges being editor Marion Fasel, jewelry designer Irene Neuwirth, and retailers Lou Guarino and Paul Schneider.
Sifting through the first round of more than 100 contenders in 12 different categories involved two days of pacing, notebook in hand, in front of the display cabinets stretching as far as the eye could see. The finalists - decided upon without consultation between the judges - were assembled on velvet trays for an early morning judging meeting. The entries came from jewelers around the world, and the range of styles and techniques showed an inspiring diversity and just how creative this industry is.
With a large urn of coffee and dozens of finalists to assess, the judges examined, tried on, and argued the merits of their chosen winners. After two hours of deliberation, we had made up our minds, and the winners’ list was kept closely guarded until the ceremony that evening, presided over by Gannon Brousseau, director of the New York-based Couture organization.
Design is at the heart of the show and the judges were looking for strong, original and interesting jewels. For me, the most exciting and hotly contested prize was for Color Gemstones both Below and Above $20,000 - the former won by London-based Tomasz Donocik for his futuristic Electric Night earrings cascading with colored gemstones. In the more precious category, the award went to Etho Maria’s glamorous blue topaz and sapphire cuff.
In the Diamonds Below $20,000 category, Reho fine jewelry was the clear winner with its delicate yet high-impact choker with long fringes of diamond-dusted chains. Offering a strong look for under $20,000 convinced the judges that this was a case of both good design and judicious use of materials.
Plevé of Belgium took the prize for a diamond jewel over $20,000, thanks to both the new way in which the jeweler had set diamonds into cement as well as its sleek design. The judges were bowled over by how the small baguette diamonds appeared to float randomly on the surface of the cuff, entirely free from any metal mounts and totally smooth to the touch.
Nikos Koulis, one of the most admired independent Greek designers of recent years, walked away with the Bridal Award for his edgy Art Deco-inspired diamond, enamel and emerald engagement ring that, for the first time, brings black back to the bridal offering.
Los Angeles jeweler of the moment Spinelli Kilcollin won both the Best in Gold category as well as Debuting at Couture for his linked rings, which can be worn stacked or spanning digits. After the awards ceremony, the long-haired jeweler proudly showed me his crystal trophy, which he had stowed in his man-bag slung across his chest.
The Haute Couture category had the judges in a quandary with so many strong contenders and the need to select a jewel worthy of a red carpet moment. The award was handed to Hearts on Fire for its high-impact diamond necklace that embraced a sizeable diamond in flame-shaped gold ribbons.
Orchid leaves dipped in lacquer and transformed into earrings won Silvia Furmanovich the prize for Innovation. This Brazilian designer with a passion for mixing materials - both high and low or new and old - to create exotic looks convinced the judges that her technique best fitted this category.
Australia’s Autore won the pearl prize for the Orchid Orange Blossom cuff with its lifelike details of Australia’s national flower, from which emerge three perfect South Sea pearls.
Christian Tse’s innovative Dandelion pompom-shaped fine jewelry ring with its detachable seedlings assured the judges that he presented the most exciting use of platinum. Known for its strength and weight, the lightness and grace of Tse’s work showed platinum in a new light.
Majoral took home the prize for the Best Silver Jewel with its light-as-air necklace strung with clusters of silver cones, which is both easy to wear yet makes a strong statement.
So, with another year of the Couture Show Las Vegas over, jewelers from around the world are preparing for 2016, and hopefully once again reminding us of just how creative and resourceful jewelers can be.
Read about organic jewellery
The Peoples’ Choice Award went to this original diamond hand bracelet by Yeprem, a favorite with stars including Madonna and Rihanna.
Hearts on Fire bagged itself a Couture Design Award in the Best in Haute Couture category for this striking diamond necklace in rose gold.
Plevé Diamonds took home the Couture Design Award for Best in Diamonds Above $20,000 for this sparkling bangle in rose gold.
Reho’s open diamond necklace won the Best in Diamonds Below $20,000 Couture Design Award.
Majoral’s sculptural necklace took first place in the Best in Silver category at the Couture Design Awards 2015.
Spinelli Kilcollin was the only designer to take home two Couture Design Awards on the night - Best in Gold and Debuting at Couture - for the Nexus ring, composed of five linked rings that can be stacked on a single finger or worn across the digits.
Winner in the Best in Pearls category was Autore and its one-of-a-kind Orange Blossom bracelet from the new Orchid collection.
Etho Maria bangle in rose gold set with blue topaz cabochons and sapphires, winner of the Couture Design Award 2015 in the Color Gemstones Above $20,000 category.
Christian Tse’s life-like Dandelion ring was the recipient of the Couture Design Award in the Best in Platinum category.