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Titanium artistry

14 June 2018

By Olivia Quiniquini   


Butterfly brooch/pendant in titanium and 18-karat gold with diamonds, sapphires and garnets by May Jewelry

Cate Blanchett wears orchid-themed titanium earrings by Chopard at the Cannes International Film Festival 2018

(antoniobarrosfr / Shutterstock.com)

Intertwining Love earrings with two pieces of rosewood encircled by spiralling titanium roots adorned with rubies and sapphires respectively, by Wallace Chan

Secret watch with titanium and gold accents embellished with opals and green garnets by May Jewelry

The Dragonfly brooch in titanium with icy and green jadeite and adorned with multi-coloured sapphires, diamonds and spinels by Anita So Fine Jewellery

 

While the precious metal triumvirate of platinum, gold and silver has long ruled the fine jewellery scene, titanium is coming into its own as a fresh and contemporary alternative. Jewellery brands and designers are increasingly recognising the metal’s suitability for artistic pieces given its lighter weight and high durability.

The use of titanium is commonplace in modern technology. It is particularly sought after in the aerospace, marine and industrial sectors for its durability, low density and corrosion resistance. In recent years, the metal has been making its presence felt in high and fine jewellery circles as a revolutionary alternative to its more famous counterparts.

Chopard is among the luxury design houses that have been gravitating towards titanium. At the recent Cannes International Film Festival 2018, Cate Blanchett was the epitome of elegance wearing a pair of titanium earrings by Chopard. Featuring yellow sapphires, tsavorites and garnets, the orchid-themed earrings were just one of the titanium pieces in the brand’s 2018 Red Carpet Collection. Top jewellery designers Glenn Spiro, Michelle Ong and Cindy Chao have also produced wondrous creations in the metal.

Wallace Chan

One of the trailblazers in the field is renowned jeweller Wallace Chan. The jewellery artist spent eight years researching and studying the use of titanium for structural support in jewellery before mastering the technique.

According to Chan, his fascination for the metal began in the early 2000s when he started seeking new vehicles for greater creative expression. “When I discovered the scientific and medical accomplishments of titanium, I spent eight years communicating with this material. Titanium is colourful and firm yet light. Its bio-friendly nature fascinated me, and its stubborn character made me even more curious about it,” he revealed.

In addition, titanium is strong and hypoallergenic. As its weight is just one-fifth of that of gold, using it to set gemstones in jewellery results in pieces that are light and comfortable to wear. The use and visibility of the metal between stones can also be minimised. Given that titanium is extremely challenging to work with, Chan rightfully cites his proficiency in the metal as one of the top five innovations in his illustrious career. His first sculptural yet wearable art creations in titanium made their debut at Baselworld 2007.

To Chan, titanium is the “metal of space” that, once mastered, allows one to redefine the codes of design in jewellery making and unleashes limitless possibilities for creativity. “Titanium is a free and flexible material. It can be made as small as nearly invisible jewellery clasps and as big as sculptures that rise up several metres. Titanium plays a constantly changing role and reflects the beauty of the space: Hidden potentials in the mystery,” he remarked.

May Jewelry

Titanium indeed accommodates greater design artistry, noted Mayumi Tomioka of Japan’s May Jewelry, who launched her first jewellery line in the metal this year. The company, established in 1997, has built a sterling reputation on its bespoke coloured gemstone jewellery in platinum or 18-karat gold. Tomioka however sees titanium as the way forward, calling it the perfect response to market clamour for special one-of-a-kind, design-led pieces.

“Many consumers now favour design over price and materials. They want unique jewellery that has character and soul. Titanium enables us to cater to their needs. Its physical characteristics allow us to produce bigger and more artistic designs while the skill and techniques required to produce such items make the pieces more enigmatic and enchanting to the market,” she said.

Titanium also affords a wider range of colour combinations than gold and natural gemstones, Tomioka continued. According to the designer, her factory can produce the metal in a wide range of colours and shapes.

Largely nature-inspired, her titanium line comprises handmade brooches and pendants in the shape of butterflies, dragonflies, leaves and flowers that are adorned with diamonds and coloured gemstones. She has also developed secret watches in titanium with coloured gemstone accents.

Tomioka intends to continue expanding her line in the metal. “The initial response has been extremely positive. Demand for titanium jewellery is bound to grow as more consumers veer towards artistic designs in non-traditional materials,” she disclosed.

Anita So Fine Jewellery

Also looking to make inroads in the titanium jewellery space is Hong Kong-based Anita So. The award-winning designer who specialises in jade jewellery and timepieces unveiled her first titanium piece, The Dragonfly brooch, last year. More variations of the design have been introduced since.

At the March Hong Kong Fair, So took the wraps off of her first titanium collection – a range of Laughing Buddha pendants, a popular Chinese symbol of good fortune and happiness. Each pendant features a top-grade jadeite Laughing Buddha sculpture against a Bodhi leaf made of titanium and embellished with diamonds, multi-coloured sapphires and 18-karat gold. The Laughing Buddha pendants come in a variety of titanium, jadeite and natural gemstone colours.

“As titanium cannot be soldered, special techniques are required to fashion it into jewellery. This warrants extensive training, meticulous attention to detail and superior skills, all of which we have achieved after much research. Each jewellery piece needs to be made by hand. We’ve set up a dedicated team in our workshop to work on this line,” So remarked.

Since titanium is not a traditional precious metal, the market still largely balks at the high prices such jewellery pieces command, she continued. “Titanium jewellery tends to attract consumers that seek fresh, trendy and contemporary designs. They are familiar with gems and jewellery and eschew mass-produced items. They appreciate the effort that goes into manufacturing titanium jewellery and are willing to pay a premium for this,” So added.