Not to mention the pig dressed in lace-trimmed gray silk, the panda in pearls, or the frog sporting a tan suit plus crimson necktie. They’re all part of designer, artist, and educator Rémy Rotenier‘s latest fine jewelry collection, his first in some time, and it’s a series of diamond-set unisex brooches. Entitled Rémanimals, the pieces blend Rotenier’s superlative flair for freehand drawing with state-of-the-art lapidary carving. They also connect to a fashion moment that’s putting brooches, particularly men wearing brooches, at the center of many conversations every time they appear on the red carpet and beyond.
Like so much of the most whimsical jewelry we’ve seen lately, the inspiration for the collection came to Rotenier during the COVID-19 lockdown, which he spent at his home in Albuquerque, N.M., with his husband and Boston terrier.
“While I have always loved incorporating animals into jewelry in my own work and for other high-end jewelers, this was a time when I think many of us spent a lot of time at home with our animals, and I think for a lot of people there were moments of discovery with the animals, how grounding they were, how incredible they were,” says Rotenier, who was born in France and trained on the Place Vendôme in Paris early in his 39-year jewelry career. He adds that he “really wanted to design something that celebrated animals because they had kept us in one piece” during that difficult period of isolation and uncertainty.
The design of the Rémanimals borrows from a classic style known as the Essex brooch, which was a reverse-carved painted portrait miniature popular during the Victorian era. Rotenier remembers being attracted to Essex brooches when he lived in Paris and would visit the antiques dealers across the street from the Louvre.
In England, Essex brooches were first popularized by the travel enthusiast Thomas Cook, who brought them back from Belgium. The English, legendary for their love of horses and dogs, were soon calling them Essex brooches, after artist William Essex, who specialized in enamel miniatures and was a favorite of Queen Victoria.
Rotenier’s version of the brooches begin with a drawing of the creature in question (examples below). The designer has painted fine art miniatures at various points in his career for decades and is considered a master artist when it comes to jewelry rendering techniques. In fact, next week at AGTA GemFair, he will be hosting an MJSA-sponsored seminar to present a step-by-step guide to drawing pearls.
The images of the animals are then reverse-carved into rock crystal cabochons and then reverse-painted in oil. This work is performed by a skilled lapidary artist from Germany that Rotenier connected with one year at the Tucson Gem Show.
“She covers the cabochons on the bottom with a plaque of mother-of-pearl, and it’s beautiful because once you look at the image from the top, you get the iridescence of the mother-of-pearl with the loupe-like like effect from the cabochon crystal,” says Rotenier. “That’s when it becomes a real jewel that you set in gold.”
The painted rock crystal portraits are then framed in sterling silver set with diamonds and finished with 22k gold bezels. Everything is made in the United States.
“I wanted the brooch itself to be more geometric and more modern than those prized possessions from the Victorian era,” says Rotenier, “so that at first glance, you know you are not looking at your great-grandmother’s brooch, but more of a revival of something that that had so much charm. And we had to make it relevant for today’s tastes.”
Each Rémanimal is $5,800 and custom designs start at $6,400. “The client becomes a part of the design process, just like any well-run custom design session except it involves your best animal,” says Rotenier. He is currently working on quite a few custom orders, including one starring a cat named Miso who will be styled in the client’s wife’s favorite Gucci dress. #Rarrw!
Top: Designer Rémy Rotenier immortalized his beloved Boston terrier, Zuzu, in this portrait. “I wanted to dress him like I dress because he’s my dog—the pink shirt, the Air France–blue jacket,” says the designer. “And he has a hotter pink tie, which I really liked. He’s turning his head to look at you. And that’s typical of the way he looks. I love when he first looks at you after you call him. That’s what I tried to capture.”
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