Eat Your Heart Out
Three years ago, Christian Hemmerle, the fourth-generation member of Munich’s prestigious Hemmerle family—known among global connoisseurs for its luxurious yet unconventional jewels—stumbled upon a magazine article about salads. “They were really beautiful,” he says.
The story, and the lush photos that accompanied it, reminded Hemmerle of a series of mushroom brooches his father, Stefan Hemmerle, had created and sparked an idea: Why not create a line of vegetable brooches rendered in the materials for which the company is known—copper, silver, and AAA-quality gemstones?
|Of the 12 jewels in Hemmerle’s vegetable collection, including these corn, pumpkin, and cauliflower brooches, only the last remains unsold (at press time).|
In March, at the European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht in the southern Netherlands, Hemmerle unveiled a 12-piece collection featuring one pair of carrot earrings blazing with orange sapphires and 11 brooches—from a red spinel-studded radish to a copper artichoke concealing a heart of purple sapphires—that mimic their real-life counterparts’ curves, dimples, and veins, down to the trademark dents on the red pepper. (Alas, one thing the jewels do not have is produce-aisle pricing: The pieces start at 28,000 euros.)
A pea pod, for example, glistening with four round jade peas, looks good enough to eat, as does a plump eggplant, smothered in purple spinels. “The idea was to have the colors be as authentic as possible,” Hemmerle says.
To further explore the nexus between haute joaillerie and gourmet cuisine, Hemmerle took the unusual step of collaborating with a well-known chef—Britain’s Tamasin Day-Lewis—on a cookbook, Delicious Jewels, published last month by Prestel. In addition to recipes centered on each of the 12 jewels, the book features images of the precious pieces set amidst the earthy tableau of Day-Lewis’ vegetable garden. Although the chef admits she was surprised when Hemmerle approached her last summer, she says fine jewelry and fine food have more in common than most people might think.
“What unites these two worlds is the nature of craftsmanship and striving for perfection,” Day-Lewis wrote in an email, “pared-down elegance where the thing speaks, tastes, and looks like what it is, and you have achieved its essence, its heart.”
Beloved by connoisseurs and ignored—or worse, maligned—by consumers, spinel is a gemstone changeling. Available in a rainbow range of hues that includes metallic gray, cobalt blue, and lavender, the stone also comes in a red variety that is a dead ringer for ruby.
Multicolored spinel earrings in 18k gold with diamonds; price on request; Eclat Jewels, New York City; 212-581-2446; eclatjewels.com
In the industry, spinel, though beautiful and rare, has long had to fend off a “cheap” reputation earned by its synthetic counterpart. The gem’s fortunes, however, are changing. The backing of important designers like New York City jeweler James de Givenchy is one reason for the buzz. The larger reason, however, stems from a blockbuster 2007 discovery of vivid, pinkish-red spinels in the Mahenge district of Tanzania. Coveted by dealers in Switzerland, Thailand, and America, the stones have experienced a drastic uptick in pricing. “I’d never heard of people paying more than $3,000 per carat for spinel, but when Mahenge came out, they started asking $10,000 and even $18,000 per carat,” says gem expert Richard Hughes.
Collectors of spinel—among them, Evan Yurman, whose couture line for the David Yurman brand places lavender and pink stones in regal platinum settings—laud the gem’s brilliance, translucence, and hardness (it is an eight on the Mohs scale).
And despite the runaway prices, acolytes such as Vladyslav Y. Yavorskyy, a dealer in Bangkok, believe the market has a long way to go before it fully reflects the gem’s value. “It’s just the beginning,” says Yavorskyy. “The Chinese will start to hunt the red spinels, and prices will go to $100,000 per carat.”