Maverick makers: our favourite independent jewels of 2016

With no big marketing budgets or flashy presentations, we choose the best jewels of 2016 from small independent brands from around the world. 

Ming Jewellery Australian opal Dragonfly ring in 18 carat yellow gold

We love having the opportunity to look back at our year in jewels as it gives us the perfect excuse to highlight treasures that deserve a second mention. Working closely with Claire and the editorial team, here is our selection of the best jewels from smaller independent brands that make their mark thanks to standout design and great craftsmanship. So, here’s to all you one-man bands out there (ok, some of you have a few extra pairs of hands) that rely solely on your creative wits to make our world a brighter place. 

Fibonacci gold ring with coloured gemstones
Armoura's spiky Fibonacci ring in yellow gold, reverse set with multi-coloured gemstones (€11,000).

Earlier this year we commissioned Rachael Taylor, a regular contributor, to write a story on Irish jewellers. In it she captured the vibrant Irish jewellery scene and the works of Stuart McGrath, founder of Armoura.

Barely a year ago, Armoura hit our radar with a resounding ping. The Fibonacci ring bristles with colour and life, with its gemstones set upside down to create the dazzlingly contemporary and somewhat dangerous-looking jewel.

Follow Your Arrow multicolor gemstone earrings
Daniela Villegas Follow Your Arrow earrings with tourmaline, emerald and multi-coloured sapphires ($10,500).

We have long been fans of Mexican-born Daniela Villegas’ work. Where I would turn to the can of bug spray, Daniela turns exotic creepy crawlies into fascinating jewels.

Finding beauty in the unexpected, I am tempted to say that Daniela Villegas is the Frida Kahlo of jewels. The Follow your Arrow earrings are free of bug-life yet thanks to their asymmetry and unusual colour combinations capture Daniela’s quirky worldview.

Damali peridot and diamond pendant necklace
Lily Gabriella’s one-of-a-kind Damali jewels capture the mystic beauty of arabesque forms, here in a rose gold pendant set with peridots and diamonds (£24,000).

I admire Lily Gabriella’s thorough approach to design. She takes a simple form – think her Spira or Infinitas jewels – and works them over and over again to create variations on edgy yet sophisticated jewels with a minimalist rigour. And then out of the blue arrives the Damali collection of ornate and opulent earrings and pendants inspired by her travels to the Middle East. Each Damali jewel is a one-off, and they capture the beauty of Muslim architecture in rich gems, textures and beautifully worked gold.

Legends of Africa Gemfields emerald choker
This Legends of Africa necklace (POA) from Bond Street’s VANLELES descends deep into the décolletage. Created in collaboration with Gemfields, it is bedecked in 29.82 carats of emeralds from Zambia – a mix of smooth cabochons, round brilliants and pear shapes.

Vania Leles, founder of VanLeles, is not only one of the few women jewellers on Bond Street, she is the only African one I know of, so that makes her doubly original.

This spectacular Legends of Africa necklace was created in honour of Dido Elizabeth Belle and Sarah Forbes Bonetta, two black women about whom Vania tells us: “in remarkable twists of fate, (they) entered into the British royalty”. Perhaps an echo of Vania’s own entry into the aristocracy of Bond Street.

Sri Yantra choker with triangular cut coloured gemstones
London-based Noor Fares reinterprets the Flower of Life in this Sri Yantra choker made of grey gold set with diamonds and coloured gemstones (£13,150).

I can’t tell you how much more I understand a jewel if I have met its creator. And to meet Noor Fares is to know her jewels. Refined, softly spoken and very individual describes both the maker and her jewels.

Noor’s Akasha Sri Yantra collection looks to the ancient Sanskrit symbol of the Flower of Life, a symbol used in meditation. See, don't you feel calmer already?

It is no secret that Claire Roberts, our Managing Editor, has a serious case of Nikositis. She cannot get enough Nikos Koulis onto our website.

Emerald and diamond lariat necklace
This white gold lariat necklace by Nikos Koulis sets emerald-cut diamonds, white diamonds and emeralds in a black enamel frame (€63,500).

Since this Greek jewellery designer first entered our world some five years ago, we have been constantly in awe of his uber-chic and supremely sleek jewels. The Oui emerald and diamond lariat is Claire’s choice – of course – and it also happens to have picked up the Couture Design Award 2016 for best in Haute Couture jewels. 

Based in her bijou boutique in Notting Hill, Ming Lampson is geographically the closest jeweller to us. You can tell Ming is a gemmologist as well as a bench jeweller by the quality of the stones she uses and her highly original designs. Made one by one, these treasures, like the Dragonfly ring below, are usually made to order and each has a story to tell. 

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