“Through their luminous beauty and sheer artistry, the pieces tell a mystical story of geological legacy and ultimately address the mystery of life.”
Asking a jeweller what their favourite gemstone is feels akin to asking a mother to name her favourite child. Not to mention that the jeweller in question is renowned designer Francesca Amfitheatrof, the first-ever artistic director of watches and jewellery at Louis Vuitton, who has also dreamed up creations for the likes of Alessi, Asprey, Chanel and Tiffany & Co.
Amfitheatrof makes no qualms, though, about playing favourites with the first pieces in her latest collection of high jewellery. “Emeralds are my personal favourite, and to have a suite of no-oil Colombian emeralds of this quality and size is so phenomenal,” she says. “I wanted to start with a bang.”
The lush and incredibly rare untreated emeralds (they’re often oiled to improve their numerous natural inclusions) are just one of the many ultra-scarce and extraordinary gems sourced by Louis Vuitton’s gemologists and incorporated into the house’s largest-ever collection — all of which is painstakingly handmade in Paris, including at Place Vendôme, a jewellery mecca of sorts where many of the world’s oldest houses got their start and still exist today.
Wanting to start with a bang is fitting considering the collection, entitled “Deep Time,” aims to take us on a journey to the birth of the planet. Last spring, when Amfitheatrof presented her fifth high-jewellery collection since joining the house in 2018, she set the scene in one of the places we most associate with ancient life and art: Greece. There, 16 stunning suites of jewels were unveiled last spring in corresponding themes, including “Wave,” “Volcano” and “Rupture,” which explore some of life’s most mysterious questions about the beginning of life and time. Through their luminous beauty and sheer artistry, the pieces tell a mystical story of geological legacy and ultimately address the mystery of life in a way that perhaps only Amfitheatrof knows how: through precious gems and metals that are older than humanity itself.
Having been born in Tokyo and educated in London (including at Central Saint Martins and the Royal College of Art) and having lived in Moscow, New York, Paris and Rome, Amfitheatrof approaches her work with a discerning and global view. This latest story is revealed in two acts, geology and life, which can easily be interpreted as another nod of respect to the natural materials she treasures. “We found these beautiful Mexican opals that came from a river that has been dry for over a hundred years,” says Amfitheatrof when describing the “Rupture” suite of pieces. “Opals often show their fire on the surface, but these have a fabulous fire on the inside, which is revealed the minute they reflect light. We’ll never find those stones again.” The piece also includes zircons, which are billions of years old and predate diamonds.
One of the most mysterious gems (scientists still aren’t exactly sure how they form in nature), opals have been compared to the universe throughout history due to their galaxy-like appearance, which includes kaleidoscopic hues and a phenomenal play of colour. It’s no surprise that a jaw-dropping 43.58-carat Australian opal — the largest gem in the collection — was chosen as the centrepiece for one of Deep Time’s most standout pieces, the “Bones” necklace. The design also happens to feature some of the other most prized gems on the planet, including Paraíba tourmalines, famous for their vibrant turquoise colour and copper-induced glow, and tanzanites, which, unlike many other gemstones, have been found in only one place on earth — a small area at the base of Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro.
Many of the jewels, including the aforementioned “Bones” necklace, can be worn in multiple ways. This is a personal intention of Amfitheatrof, as she believes that it’s more important than ever for modern-day jewellery connoisseurs. “No longer are men buying a piece of jewellery for a woman and then letting it sit in the safe,” she says. “Now, women are more adventurous; they have a bolder attitude, and their jewellery is very personal to them. They really want to wear their pieces and enjoy them as much as possible, beyond just at black-tie dinners or the opera. You should be able to do that. Jewellery is a part of you, and it should be a part of your everyday life, if possible.”
Another transformable piece includes the multi-strand “Fossils” necklace, which can be worn three different ways and features an impeccable 27.83-carat blue sapphire from Sri Lanka (considered one of the best sources for sapphires) and a 5.52-carat LV Monogram Star, one of the house’s unique proprietary diamond cuts. Released just last year, the custom cut is a feat. The impossibly intricate necklace, which required 1,740 hours of work, also stands out for its intriguing mix of patterns in platinum, yellow and white gold — a trademark of sorts of Amfitheatrof, a self-described metal lover who says that mixing various colours is one of her favourite ways to soften the overall appearance of a piece that can otherwise look too hard or unnatural on the body.
It’s those types of personal insights that the designer was determined to give more of in her new book, Francesca Amfitheatrof: Fantastical Jewels — a beautiful documentation of her process and inspiration along with behind-the-scenes looks at her work with Louis Vuitton. It’s an astute gift for any jewellery lover as it’s meant to actually be reflected on and enjoyed rather than just put on display. “I think it’s very intimate, like a messy sketchbook; it’s not filled with glossy images of things that are unattainable,” says Amfitheatrof, who notes that the last thing she wanted to do was produce another decorative coffee-table book.
Tapping into the beauty and reality of human existence feels like the MO of a designer who has worked on everything from everyday objects such as eyeglasses to the ultimate expression of worldly beauty dripping in diamonds and emeralds. When asked who might best wear her latest creations, Amfitheatrof conjures yet another fantasy. “I love the idea of John F. Kennedy not passing away. He and Jackie Kennedy divorce. He marries Marilyn Monroe, and she moves into the White House and becomes First Lady.” Amfitheatrof envisions Monroe choosing the exhilarating “Volcano,” a dramatic high-collar necklace featuring a stunning contrast of cushion-cut mandarin garnets and pink tourmalines. Two gems that are defined as metamorphic, they both have the ability to form in lava — reminding us that rousing beauty can spark from some of life’s most brutal conditions, which is a mystery to some but also a tale as old as time.
This article first appeared in FASHION’s Winter 2024 issue. Find out more here.