The ultimate accessory: when jewellers turn handbag designers

A new trend for jewellers stamping their style on a completely new type of accessory has resulted in some of the most swoon-worthy handbags of the season.

Silvia Furmanovich red wood marquetry clutch bags

When Cactus de Cartier launched last year, it came as a complete surprise. An entire jewellery collection inspired by the prickly succulent? It was a daring direction for Cartier, but it went down a storm here at the Jewellery Editor and, judging by the second wave of Cactus de Cartier launched this summer, it has been a hit with customers too.  

Among the new jewels are affordable rings, pendants and earrings that have been downsized from the originals without losing any of their spiky appeal. But the pieces that most caught my eye are not jewels at all but handbags. Starting at £105,000, they take expensive designer handbags to a whole new level, but what fabulous creations they are: part jewel, part bag, wholly desirable. 

On the most luxurious of the two designs, the crocodile skin has been covered in a layer of 24-carat gold dust. The clasp, depicting a cactus in full bloom, is crafted from emerald beads and diamonds topped with orange carnelian “flowers”. Even the shoulder chain is made from 18-carat gold.

Before I fell for Cartier’s latest offerings, I had already been planning on writing about a clutch of other bejewelled bags I saw at the Couture Show in Las Vegas. Many of the big jewellery houses already sell handbags – Bulgari’s gorgeous Serpenti designs immediately spring to mind – but I’m loving the new trend for independent jewellery designers stamping their style on a completely new type of accessory.

Born in Bombay and based in New York, Coomi Bhasin’s creations range from jewellery to sculptures and are a fascinating mix of the precious and the ancient, the spiritual and the cultural. Among her new launches for spring 2017 were a handful of handbags that got lots of attention at the Couture Show.

Luminosity alligator purse with gold and diamond cuff
Practical and beautiful, Coomi's black alligator leather clutch bag features a gold and diamond half-cuff that you can slot your hand through to hold it in place ($80,000). 

The bags, which originally launched at Neiman Marcus and Saks as trunk show merchandise, were a tremendous success and will now be carried in Neiman Marcus’ Precious Jewels salons as well as in Saks Fifth Avenue.

On the front of one patent alligator purse, Coomi has placed a half-cuff in 20-carat gold, set with rose-cut diamonds, which you slot your hand through to hold it in place – an important consideration when you are carrying such a jewel of a bag. 

“I originally designed textiles in the 70s and early 80s and have always had a passion for working with both fabrics and skins,” says Coomi of her new bags. “I decided to combine that with my passion for jewellery for this special collection.”

Following suit, Brazilian designer Silvia Furmanovich, whose extraordinary wood marquetry jewels were among the most innovative, and beautiful, of 2016, dumbfounded me once again at the Couture Show with an exquisite range of wood marquetry clutch bags.

Continuing her collaboration with a team of craftsmen that she befriended in the Amazon rainforest in the north of Brazil, the one-of-a-kind bags, made from indigenous wood, are designed by Furmanovich and made by the artisans who specialise in this painstaking technique. 

Blue wood marquetry feather clutch
Designed by Silvia Furmanovich and crafted by Brazilian artisans, wood marquetry has been used to create the feather pattern on this one-of-a-kind clutch bag (£5,472). 

The craftsmanship, which involves cutting and piecing together tiny slivers of wood by hand to create a picture or pattern, is mind-blowingly detailed. On one clutch, a parrot with a diamond for an eye perches on a branch, surrounded by leaves displaying every tiny vein. On another, more graphic, design, feathers have been layered to create the lifelike plumage of a tropical bird. The clasp on each bag is set with two faceted blue topaz.

Ending on a fun note, Jane Taylor has just launched a collaborative collection of bags with Paige Gamble, founder of the eponymous luxury leather goods label based in NYC. Among Taylor’s signature pieces are her stacking bangles set with rows of grey pearls, cabochon opals, baguette diamonds, faceted blue topaz… the list goes on and on.

Handmade in the Garment District of New York, the PG x Jane Taylor Jewelry collection includes clutches, totes and bucket bags in luxurious Italian pebbled leather, digitally printed with Taylor’s stacks. It’s gem heaven, but on a handbag – what’s not to love?

PG x Jane Taylor Jewelry Pastel Stack tote bag
Jane Taylor has collaborated with Paige Gamble on a fun collection of handbags featuring her signature stacking bangles, which have been digitally printed on to the Italian leather ($515). 

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