Grey is not the first colour that comes to mind for jewellery. But this quiet shade is gaining popularity with designers seeking more subdued hues as they venture beyond the bright lights of colour gemstones and the perennial appeal of the sparkle of diamonds. The most grown-up and philosophical of colours, grey offers an alternative in tune with our times where contemplation and meditation are ever more highly appreciate. I talk to those designers that are tapping into these quiet qualities.
Usually bursting with a rainbow of eye-popping colour, Pomellato’s Nudo takes a walk on the dark side. Sensitive to the lightest of shifts in mood, Vincenzo Castaldo, Creative Director of the Milanese house, chose obsidian set in grey titanium flanked by black diamonds for a recent version of the house’s iconic Nudo jewels (above). ‘This is a nocturnal and mysterious interpretation of Nudo that evokes an intimate and introspective dimension,’ explains Castaldo. ‘Nudo has always talked to our emotions with its precious gemstone colour palette, but the grey version of Nudo whispers to our inner world… grey is a colour that is perfect in the Milanese metropolitan atmosphere, evoking the nuances of flannel and reminding us of an androgynous taste, let’s say less romantic and more intellectual or meditative.’ The symbolism of obsidian is also intriguing and Castaldo reminds us that ‘obisidian is a naturally occurring volcanic glass thought to offer protection against negativity and encourage the surfacing of secrets and hidden emotions.’
Looking beyond translucent stones, Pomellato also brought us intriguing shades of grey as found in opaque or ornamental stones. The ground-breaking Armonie Minerali collection included several slate-tone creations including a grey banded agate ring (above) and dendritic opal jewels.
From London’s hip Notting Hill, the beauty of the night sky inspires Pippa Small’s Meteor Shower and grey is the colour of choice to capture the poetry of the cosmos. ‘There is a stillness and quiet peace about shades of grey,’ says Small, ‘like the eerie subtle phases of the moon, grey is cool to the touch and hangs symbolically between the harshness of black and white to give us tolerance and understanding. The shades of moonstone, pyrite, hematite and delicate grey diamond glimmer like twilight and glow like midnight stars and are mysterious, flattering and sophisticated colours to wear.’
Tomasz Donocik transports us from his East London workshop to a futuristic cosmic venue with the Dusk Halo jewels from his Stellar Collection. Playing with different degrees of opacity and transparency, Donocik creates a galaxy of grey hematite, howlite - veined like white marble - complemented by baguette and round cut white diamonds. Inspired by the work of the 1970's US minimalist artist, the result is uncannily futuristic yet with an Art Deco air. Beyond the conceptual and aesthetic realms a practical consideration is at play: ‘I chose a monochrome palette of greys and shades of white that doesn’t clash with outfits,’ says Donocik, ‘a lot of my jewellery has a lot of colour. I call these the dusk colours as they are more neutral and therefore more versatile with what you are wearing.’
Jacqueline Cullen works from London’s Cockpit Arts studios and sees another side to the colour. She finds the joyous side of this tone and the Galactica collection (main image) takes us on ‘an intergalactic flight through colliding asteroids, comets tails and neon dust.’ It’s hardly surprising that Cullen is so excited by grey. After 17 years of working exclusively with Whitby Jet, the black fossilised wood that had its heyday as the material of choice for dour Victorian mourning jewellery, grey is whole new world. ‘I had a sample of grey agate and knew I'd found my material as there is an incredible translucent, ethereal and sensual quality to it - a beautiful ombre and subtle banding,’ enthuses Cullen. ‘It is timeless and not subject to fads or trends.’ With her characteristic obsession with details, Cullen sets champagne and blue diamonds directly in the agate.
Beyond grey agate, sapphires, obisidian, hematite, moonstone and howlite what other stones capture the dusky tones of grey? For Azza Fahmy Jewellery the combination of silver with 200 carats of labradorite did the trick in an impressive wrap around necklace (above) that ends in a cascade of silvery tassels. The cool, steely colours create an elegant and harmonious whole.
Manpriya B, who started her jewellery business in India but is now based in London, offers a different take on diamonds revealing a soft grey glow and enigmatic candour not normally associated with the king of gems. The designer uses wafer thin slices that are more commonly used to fabricate polki diamonds that feature largely in traditional Indian jewellery. This way, Manpriya offers a low-key and lightweight way to wear a whole lot of diamond. ‘Most sliced diamonds have some colour, particularly the larger ones I work with,’ says Manpriya. ‘I choose slices with good clarity and colour and the overall effect can be a very beautiful pale to a slightly darker grey… Their irregular shape may be accentuated by an outline of rose-cut diamonds or embedded in black onyx to highlight the delicate grey tones. The beauty is in the imperfection of these wonderful stones.’
Grey is also becoming something of a trend in the bridal market with jewellers such as Polly Wales offering ‘salt and pepper’ diamonds. The raw and imperfect beauty of these misfits is becoming a popular alternative to the flawless bright, white of a traditional solitaire. Add a stacking option and you have a winning combition for today's non-conformist couples.
Beyond mined gems, pearls are another source of velvety grey hues. Queen of contemporary pearl jewels, Melanie Georgacopoulos has dedicated her career to showing us new ways to wear the bounty of the ocean and lakes. Georgacopoulos reports: ‘I think people are moving beyond classic white pearl jewellery and want to invest in more special pieces and colours. It is clear to me that customer's tastes have been evolving and recently we have seen sales of more yellow and grey pearls. I personally like grey pearls because they are even more subtle than the white ones and therefore more mysterious.’ At the very cusp of a pearl revolution, her fearless talent has been recognised by the Japanese jeweller Tasaki who together have created the M/G TASAKI line of pearl jewels.
With its own in-house design director Thakoon Panichgul, Tasaki created the Balance line of jewels that playful contrast the roundness of pearls with rigorously symmetrical gold forms. The designer uses both white and grey pearls bringing avant garde design to this normally staid corner of the jewellery world.
If diamonds represent the excesses of the noughties, and colour gemstones and opals the alternative vibe of the last decade then grey gemstones may well be this era's spiritual connection to a kinder and more caring world. But listen carefully, as they never shout but only whisper.