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Friday, April 1, 2016

Zaha Hadid’s Leaves Landmark Jewelry Line For Georg Jensen Before Untimely Death

The Georg Jensen cuff bracelet designed by Zaha Hadid

The story I was going to write today was to be a bit different then how it now appears. One of the highlights from an otherwise lackluster Baselworld 2016 was the public introduction of a new Georg Jensen jewelry collection designed by the famed architect Zaha Hadid. 

But the narrative changed with the sudden and unexpected death of Ms. Hadid Thursday. The world’s most famous and accomplished woman architect died of a heart attack. She was 65. 

Zaha Hadid Photo courtesy of Georg Jensen

The jewelry collection she designed for Georg Jensen, called the “Georg Jensen X Zaha Hadid The Lamellae Collection,” has the potential to be a landmark moment for the famed Danish silversmith brand. That may still be the case but it also will be likely remembered as Ms. Hadid’s last completed project—even though it is on a much smaller scale than her futuristic curved buildings. 

Georg Jensen ring designed by Zaha Hadid

Ms. Hadid, in a prepared statement, discussed working at a smaller scale and with nature-inspired shapes that are synonymous with the Georg Jensen brand.

“Working with Georg Jensen presented an opportunity to express our ideas in different scales and through different media,” she said. “Our starting point was the Danish house’s design links to nature. There is an inherent integrity within the organic structural logic found in nature and we often look at the coherence of natural systems when we work to create environments. Our challenge was to translate that into something that can be worn; to reinterpret the rich history and tradition of Georg Jensen’s design approach into something new.”

The cuff bracelet worn by the new CEO of Georg Jensen, Eva-Lotta Sjöstedt during Baselworld 2016. Photo by Anthony DeMarco

The jewelry collection of five rings and three cuff bangles were inspired by the Wangjing Soho near Beijing, designed by Ms. Hadid, an approximate 4.2-million square-foot retail and office complex of three curvilinear asymmetric buildings that appear to circle one another and change appearance with the light of the day and the angle they are viewed. The buildings with distinct lines between each floor of windows have been described as appearing like “dancing Chinese fans” and “curved sails.” The architect has reportedly said the buildings were supposed to resemble koi swimming around each other in a pond. 

The full collection in sterling silver plated black rhodium set with black diamonds. Photo by Anthony DeMarco

Georg Jensen was acquired in 2012 by the holding company, Investcorp and David Chu, who serves as creative director and chairman of the brand. His task he told me a year ago was to take the company’s heritage and modernize it for the 21st Century. One of the things he started doing was to develop partnerships with well known designers and artists, which was part of the company’s heritage that somehow it lost. 

As the story goes Chu sat next to Ms. Hadid at dinner in Beijing for the official opening of the Wangjing Soho project in September 2014. They immediately decided then to collaborate on a jewelry line.

Also involved in the project was Meeling Wong, Georg Jensen managing director of Jewelry. Wong said she first met Ms. Hadid in November 2014 at her London headquarters. Wong described the working process as a "true collaboration."

"We worked very closely with her design team, in person, phone and emails. It was a very fluid process and a close partnership. I went to their London studio to show the first prototypes, and met with them several times in person," Wong said. "Zaha trusted that we would execute her designs so that they can be worn."

Crafted in both sterling silver and sterling silver plated black rhodium set with black diamonds, the jewels in the collection feature smooth flowing ribbon-like shapes contrasted with sharp edges. The silver naturally alternates between a polished and matte effect, while the black rhodium set with black diamond pieces have a subtle gleam to the graphic, architectural forms. The signature piece in the collection has to be the lengthy cuff bracelet that wraps the wrist and engages light. 

The public seating area just outside the Georg Jensen exhibition space

This is not just a “starchitect” putting her name on a product. This is a well-thought out contemporary, architecturally influenced collection of jewels that express modern elegance.

Wong described Ms. Hadid's involvement with the project as "total engagement and focus on arriving at a final result that did not compromise or dilute the original design and concept."

For Georg Jensen it is by far the most on-brand jewelry product, and perhaps overall product, it has produced since the new owners began its campaign to rejuvenate the brand. It is an original design with a contemporary motif that moves the brand forward into the modern era. 

The brand must have known it had something special as it pulled out all the stops in presenting the collection in Baselworld. This included creating an installation of the design motif in the exhibition space and seating area just outside the booth. 

“There is continuity in Zaha’s collection—and, indeed, in her work—that reflects the history of our iconic jewelry design celebrating nature’s seemingly simple yet mathematical forms,” Chu said in a prepared statement. “It is a proud continuation of Georg Jensen’s modernist design signature and a century of collaborating with designers whose vision transforms the way we think.”

And, unfortunately, it is also the end of the relationship.

The collection will be available in September.

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