Trust Hermès to turn the tables on traditional high jewellery design. Its haute joaillerie line – which it refers to as haute bijouterie, no less – was introduced in 2010 and comprises of utterly unconventional jewels that are offered once every two years only (a stark contrast to the bi-annual and annual collections from other houses). Untethered to an antiquated heritage and designed in the spirit of our times, these 21st century pieces thwart conventional expectations of high jewellery with their modernist silhouettes, as well as the atypical use of precious materials.
Driving this aesthetic is the mastermind behind all of Hermès’ jewellery designs, Pierre Hardy. The creative director of shoes at Hermès since 1990 was tasked with the jewellery portfolio in 2001, despite having had no formal training in jewellery design. Nine years later, he launched the maison’s first Haute Bijouterie collection with just one piece of advice from artistic director Pierre Dumas: “do anything you want but don’t do Place Vendôme”, referring to the storied square in Paris that is home to some of the world’s oldest jewellery brands.
“That advice stayed with me. Jewellery has a long history and trends will keep circling back. I try to avoid them and instead, try to find new stories to tell,” says Hardy.
Drawing from the Hermès universe, he explores themes related to equestrian, travel and time, and relies on familiar symbols like harnesses, saddles and chains. Some of his designs are quite literal, like a ring shaped after a horse’s hooves or a diamond-encrusted necklace modelled after a whip. Others, like those from his latest collection Lignes Sensibles, are more abstract.
Introduced in 2020, Lignes Sensibles is inspired by the feminine body, with Hardy turning to both the physical and the metaphysical to guide his designs. Everything about the body – its form, cellular structure, instinctive responses, even the way in which light bounces off a fingernail – spoke to him. “This collection is not about shining bright, and it isn’t designed for store windows or a gallery. On the contrary, it’s a reflection of what a woman needs, loves and feels, and how she wants to express them… Wearing a piece of jewellery is something very intimate. It’s something you put on your body, around your body and that connects deeply with your body. There’s a natural link between the body and jewels that I wanted to explore,” he explains.
Divided into five lines – À l’écoute, Ondes miroirs, Hermès Réseau lumière, Contre la peau and Hermès Faire corps – the 45-piece collection is adorned with some 10,500 gemstones, largely made up of diamonds. Tourmalines and sapphires are also used, as well as an impressive range of ornamental stones not typically found on high jewellery. Some of these are featured prominently as focal stones, such as the three prehnite cabochons (weighing 53.4, 9.8 and 17.5 ct respectively) on the À l’écoute necklace or the impressive (and detachable) 76.4 ct cream moonstone cabochon on the versatile Ondes miroirs necklace.
Everything is at the service of his creative vision: Hardy chose quartz, moonstone, topaz, citrine and cognac diamonds because of their flesh-toned hues, and opted for cabochon cuts because they are smooth and reflect light in a similar way as the eyes, teeth and fingernails.
Articulation and flexibility are also of paramount importance to Hardy, who was once part of a contemporary ballet company. His background in dance taught him the techniques of balance and to be very aware of the human body; it also informs his imaginative creations.
Inspired by wrists, he designed two ergonomically shaped statement cuffs in the Hermès Faire corps line that wrap around the carpal bones for a snug yet comfortable fit. In the À l’écoute hand jewellery, he demonstrates the importance of movement and flexibility. A ring and bracelet combined, it glides over the hand like an invisible glove thanks to its wonderfully articulated structure comprising a diamond-studded chain and hidden hinges that follow the flexing of the wrist.
Perhaps most indicative of his fixation with movement is reflected in the Contre la peau necklace, a breathtaking lacework of diamonds that falls on the neck like a delicate mesh. Comprising 867 diamonds and 2,393 hand assembled elements, this is the most complicated piece in the entire collection. It’s also the only piece of jewellery that went into production without a drawing from Hardy. “I started with some sketches of a silhouette and said that we should have something that’s like second skin”. In the end, a complex network of triangles and pivots was developed. “It’s like inventing a system that would be able to adapt, follow, merge and almost disappear on the skin,” he explains.
“Hermès is not a couture house, it is a house that has always striven to accompany women and men in their daily lives,” says Hardy. The end consumer – the Hermès woman – factors heavily in his creative decisions. He describes as a graceful and confident figure who’s “riding, moving and travelling”.
Hardy’s philosophy for making jewellery easily wearable aligns perfectly with how he views his creations as intermediaries between the self and the outside world. “These jewels did not come from another planet and miraculously appear on your shoulder or neck; I wanted them to look like they belong to you”.
Discover Hermès’s Lignes Sensibles haute bijouterie collection at Liat Towers, Singapore, from now till 22 August.