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Person to Know: A London Jewellery Designer’s Otherworldly Pieces Come to Life

By Sophie Bew

The jewellery designer Ana Khouri at the Phillips exhibition “Ana Khouri: Jewels as Art.” In the background, a hydrangea and artichoke display that Khouri designed in collaboration with the Parisian florist Louis-Géraud Castor.
 
Carlotta Cardana
The jewellery designer Ana Khouri at the Phillips exhibition “Ana Khouri: Jewels as Art.” In the background, a hydrangea and artichoke display that Khouri designed in collaboration with the Parisian florist Louis-Géraud Castor.

As London Fashion Week came to a close earlier this month, the New York-based, Brazilian-born jewellery designer Ana Khouri was, by contrast, facing an increasingly busy schedule. Only six years after founding her eponymous label, renowned for its avant-garde high jewellery — architectural diamond ear cuffs, sculpted gold rings that entwine around the fingers — she was preparing to launch two new projects in London. The first was the exhibition “Ana Khouri: Jewels as Art” at the Phillips auction house, a showcase of 63 one-of-a-kind creations; to celebrate, she hosted a party that outshone even the city’s recent runway shows. On the third floor of Phillips’s vast glass-clad Aukett Swanke-designed headquarters in Mayfair, her jewel-encrusted creations gleamed against a backdrop of flowers — a 10-foot-tall cascade of green amaranth with mossy tentacles by the Parisian florist Louis-Géraud Castor — as four models moved about the space in sculptural ear cuffs inset with rainbows of diamonds, tourmalines and sapphires.

With a lightness and sense of play that is typically reserved for fashion jewellery, Khouri realises seemingly miraculous designs in exquisite precious stones that have won fans such as the actresses Carey Mulligan and Charlize Theron. Adorning her own ear at Phillips was the Delphine, a nest of spiny pavé diamond claws with a dime-size green tourmaline dangling boldly beneath. But beyond their masterly construction, these small sculptures are created to empower and invigorate the wearer. “It’s not about gender fluidity, I’m just very sensorial,” Khouri said, referring to the two male models wearing elaborate diamond ear cuffs. That feeling of sumptuousness pervaded the evening. The buffet, created by the New York-based artist Laila Gohar, was brimming with soft round figs and slabs of inch-thick dark chocolate that guests were later invited to smash with a wooden mallet. And the female models wore long draped white silk dresses designed by Khouri herself. When the stylist Elizabeth Saltzman stopped by, she begged the designer to make one for a client to wear to the Emmy Awards.

Carlotta CardanaKhouri beside a tower of amaranth, rearranging one of her original sculptures in aluminum and gold leaf and wearing the Athena bracelet it inspired.
Khouri beside a tower of amaranth, rearranging one of her original sculptures in aluminum and gold leaf and wearing the Athena bracelet it inspired.

Khouri’s perfectionism extends to every element of her output. “I’m a bit of a freak!” she said with a laugh, modeling an alabaster knit sweater and gathered mid-length skirt of her own design, her long dark hair tumbling over her slender frame. Long before founding her New York-based brand in 2013, Khouri had been cultivating an encyclopedic knowledge of her craft. After growing up between Brazil, Florida and New York, she earned a degree in fine art at the Fundação Armando Alvares Penteado in São Paulo. She specialised in sculpture, but at her graduate show, an audience member asked Khouri to transform each of her pieces into jewellery, announcing that she would buy them all. “I said to her, ‘I’m not a jewellery designer. I can’t do that,’ and she replied saying, ‘Well, figure it out.’ She was so emphatic that I decided to learn how,” Khouri said. She studied molding, setting and gold work at Central Saint Martins in London, followed by courses in gem sourcing and design at the Gemological Institute of America, the Fashion Institute of Technology and Parsons in New York. “The more I could see that what I wanted to do wasn’t being done,” she said, “the more I wanted to study and really hone my skills.”

Today, her knack for gravity-defying structures allows her to create near-impossible pieces: spirals of diamonds that cascade from and around the earlobe, the loops connected as if by magic; a 10-carat oval blue tanzanite suspended in a ring setting so delicate that Khouri was told by her team it would never work. Then there are the ear cuffs, punk in their sensibility but impeccable in their execution: the Marcia, with its thin strip of diamonds, sits perfectly suspended from the cavum, hugging the lobe just so, while a 4.78-carat unheated pink sapphire appears to float outward into the air. Khouri is resolute about touch and insisted on helping her guests into the jewels at Phillips, pointing out how they mold, ever so gently, to the body. Though effortless in their appearance, each of her pieces is made with sustainably sourced gemstones and 18-karat gold that is hand-fit by appointment to its buyer — so that each design sits at the perfect angle to the body, “like haute couture,” as Khouri said.

Carlotta CardanaKhouri modeling the diamond-and-emerald Daphne earring.
Khouri modeling the diamond-and-emerald Daphne earring.
Carlotta CardanaKhouri’s diamond-and-emerald Eva bracelet.
Khouri’s diamond-and-emerald Eva bracelet.

This exquisite attention to detail puts Khouri right at home in London’s long-awaited the Row store, where she will be the only featured contemporary jewellery designer. When the boutique opens this coming weekend on Mayfair’s Carlos Place, an exclusive selection of Khouri’s Editions — a collection of limited-run designs, rather than one-off bespoke pieces — will be framed by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s subtle, luxurious garments. “Working with them is a very natural and organic process,” she says. “The girls see the jewellery as an artwork and wanted to present my work in the London store among the beautiful art they showcase there.” In the few days between the Phillips party and the store opening, Khouri’s schedule will have taken her from London to Paris to New York and back to London again, but, as with everything she does, it will no doubt seem effortless — even artful.