By Olivia Quiniquini
Russia has, over the centuries, carved a niche for itself in the jewellery world with its artistic and distinctive creations that boast scintillating gems and unparalleled craftsmanship. Jewellers today keep their country’s rich jewellery-making legacy alive through modern adaptations of age-old techniques.
Russia’s love affair with jewellery has yielded some of the most fascinating bejewelled pieces of all time, from the famed Fabergé eggs commissioned by the Russian Imperial Court to the myriad wonders inspired by the country’s vast history, culture and traditions.
Jewellery manufacturers are now out to make their mark in the international market by drawing upon Russia’s endearing heritage of artistry and creative techniques.
Kabarovsky Jewellery House, for one, follows in the footsteps of the jewellery and design greats of the Russian Imperial Court such as Peter Carl Fabergé, Khlebnikov and the House of Bolin. The Kostrama-based jewellery brand and manufacturer focuses particularly on bringing the art of glass enamelling as popularised by Fabergé to a wider and more contemporary audience.
Jewellery with enamel comprises around 75 percent of Kabarovsky’s production, said Export Director Sergey Paskar. All of the company’s pieces are made by hand and adorned with diamonds. Coloured gemstones often feature in its designs.
“Jewellery with glass enamel is a product beloved by many but mastered by only a few. The technique requires plenty of experience and expertise as it is not an exact science. Small, fine pieces of glass are heated in an oven at extremely high temperatures to produce certain colours. There is no specific formula to produce a particular hue so it is a long, drawn-out process to achieve new shades or multi-coloured items consistently,” Paskar remarked. Kabarovsky is one of a handful of jewellery houses in the world today that can continually innovate with colours and designs using this ancient and challenging technique, according to the company official. Unlike regular enamel, which is akin to painting, glass enamel is actually incorporated in the jewellery piece, he continued.
Kabarovsky’s recent Diamond Jeans collection is a testament to its mastery of the technique, Paskar noted. The collection, which bagged a design award last year, consists of 14-karat gold jewellery pieces embellished with blue glass enamel that resembles denim. Wholesale prices start at around US$280 for a simple pendant with diamonds and can go up to over US$1,000 for a pair of earrings with diamonds and sapphires. Rings generally cost from US$400 to US$500 each at wholesale.
Glass enamel also figures prominently in other Kabarovsky collections such as Crosses, The Rose of Tudors, Wonder Winter Forest and Noblewoman.
Kabarovsky however does not limit itself to hot enamel production. In its Lukomorie collection, the brand displays its skill with vitreous enamel, while its ranges of silver jewellery often feature cold enamel accents. The Dance of Butterflies collection, for its part, highlights a “burnt” gold texture that can be further enhanced with glass enamel details.
“Our specialty may be gold jewellery with glass enamel, but we have the capability to produce pieces in various styles and materials using a wide range of techniques. Unlike some companies that may stick to a signature look, Kabarovsky is quite adventurous in its design directions and prides itself on its impeccable craftsmanship,” Paskar remarked.
In operation for some 20 years now, the brand works with several retailers in Russia and Eastern European countries, with many partners opening Kabarovsky mono-brand stores, said Paskar. The company recently started tapping international markets such as the US, Hong Kong and a number of countries in the EU.
“Kabarovsky has one of the biggest assortments of jewellery in Russia. Most of our designs are available in five to six variations each, and we launch seven to eight new collections a year. Our priority at the moment is determining which types of products appeal to the different markets we aim to explore,” he noted.
Paskar cites US$4,000 as a reasonable initial order to carry the brand. The jeweller is however also open to producing client designs and collaborating with retailers and other brands to spread the word of its expertise in glass enamel jewellery.
Over at Arina Jewellery Company of St. Petersburg, the spotlight falls on another famed technique of Russian lapidarists – the craft of stone-cutting plastic. Sergey Isakov, the company’s director of production and supply, describes this as highly similar to gemstone carving using only artisanal tools and methods.
“Our jewellery is designed around coloured gemstones, which we cut in the tradition of the ‘stone-cutting plastic’ technique of top-level Russian masters. The centre gem is then set in 14-karat or 18-karat gold and adorned with diamonds, other coloured gemstones or pearls,” explained Isakov.
Designs are usually derived from nature themes, with the manufacturer seeking to capture the various nuances of flora and fauna in its creations.
Each of the jewellery pieces with carved gemstones is one of a kind and command from US$3,000 to upwards of US$10,000 at retail, Isakov said. Such items account for around 40 percent of the company’s production, he noted. The manufacturer also produces fine gold jewellery with diamonds and coloured gemstones such as tsavorites, citrines, amethysts and sapphires.
“As all of our pieces are made by hand and can be quite expensive, we do not impose minimum orders. New designs are added to our portfolio every month. Clients can choose from our existing selection or provide us with their designs, which we adapt to our particular style and their requirements,” he continued.
Arina Jewellery Company burst onto the scene in 1993 and built a solid following in its domestic market. It is now looking to woo international markets with its artistic jewellery pieces that keep Russian jewellery-making traditions alive, Isakov said.