When your last name is de Givenchy, there’s a level of pressure: pressure to build something truly timeless and chic. So, like his uncle, the couturier, before him, James de Givenchy built a house. His, a house of jewelry.
Known for his one-of-a-kind sculptural pieces made out of unique materials—recycled AK47s, for instance—de Givenchy’s designs are inspired first and foremost by the client for whom he is designing.
Taffin, The Jewelry of James de Givenchy ($150; amazon.com), published by Rizzoli, celebrates the designer’s work, beautifully laying out more than 300 pieces, with contributions from Tobias Meyer, Hamilton South, Hubert de Givenchy, and Timothy Pope.
Here, we speak to the jeweler on the eve of the book’s launch.
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You certainly come from quite a fashion dynasty. How has that influenced your work?
It has given me the structure of what couture is supposed to be, which is what we do at this level with jewelry—completely custom.
You are known for using unique materials in your designs like recycled AK47s. What makes you drawn to these types of materials?
I think it’s curiosity. It’s experimental. In certain cases, like AK47, you’re working with something that has history. It’s an object that you’re recycling or refurbishing, or giving a different life. And that on its own is a strong message. I find that steel is probably one of the most novel metals you can think of. It’s really is at the base and source of our civilization. And yet it is so common, we have taken it for granted. So if we can put it in its place and mix it with diamonds, I think this is a wonderful contrast. But I think it’s the curiosity of the jeweler in me to try to see how we can make this gel with diamonds and gold. I would like not to do things just for the hell of doing something different and find a reason. Steel, at the end of the day, has this wonderful color that you can play with and it’s also a very light material in comparison to gold or platinum. So it allows us to do different things.
If you were to guide someone who is looking to seriously invest in a piece of jewelry, what would your rules be?
If you’re going to see a designer and you’re looking at what he has made, I would literally ask him what he likes the most. And keep in mind that when you deal with jewelry, it has to be something you will wear—something that needs to have a purpose. Fall in love with a piece. There is no middle ground.
Jewelry, I think, out of any accessory is such an emotional thing for a woman to own.
I agree. It’s really so much about emotion. I was hoping that on the pages [of the book], the pieces would convey an emotion. It’s not just this cold, flat thing.
What is the one piece of jewelry every woman should own?
I never really think of it this way because every woman is different. I couldn’t give such a blank idea. I wouldn’t really know what would be the most important thing, because for everybody it’s a very different thing, and at every age it’s a very different thing. Brooches can be extremely important for certain clients of mine and they only collect those. And sometimes it’s that one ring, a cocktail ring, but it’s also a ring that they live with all the time and that becomes an extension of their personality.