Sculpting precious stones into timeless beauty

For Sara Prentice, design in jewelry is about a balance of form and materials.
Sculpting precious stones into timeless beauty
Ti Gong

It is universally accepted that diamonds are a girl’s best friend. In fact, women of almost all ages are drawn to jewelry.

In O. Henry’s famous short novel “The Necklace,” the heroine even sacrifices her life for a fake diamond necklace that she believes to be real.

And so for most woman, being a jewelry designer would seem just perfect, as it is for Sara Prentice, creative director of House of Garrard, the oldest jewelry house in the world.

Although Garrard is not a familiar name to Chinese jewelry lovers, the Garrard legacy began in 1735 in London. It was known for its craftsmanship and design steeped in British heritage.

Prentice was recently in Shanghai for the opening of Garrard’s first boutique store here. 

After working for internationally prestigious jewelry houses like Cartier, Graff and Faberge, Prentice joined Garrard in 2012. Despite many personal achievements, she still believes the designer is only the vehicle for achieving the best from the precious materials.

“Design in jewelry is about a balance of form and materials. It should not overrule the stones you are highlighting, but rather it should enhance their natural beauty. Proportion and beauty are the key,” she says.

Her emotional link with jewelry started when she chose jewelry design for her major at university.

“At that time, my father was rather concerned about my decision, because he feared that I wouldn't be able to find a job after graduation,” she recalls.

However, it was smooth sailing for her. At Faberge, she designed the first High Jewelry Egg for the brand in 100 years, and at Graff she was responsible for designing a piece with the stones cut from one of the world’s largest-ever rough diamond, the Lesotho Promise.

Asked which stone best represents her, Prentice smiles: “A diamond, strong and timeless.”

Sculpting precious stones into timeless beauty
Ti Gong
Sculpting precious stones into timeless beauty
Ti Gong

Q: What makes a good jewelry designer?

A: A creative and inquisitive mind. Designers need to question the world around them in order to create something new and exciting. When creating a bespoke piece for a client, it’s about understanding what they want without them knowing it.

Q: When you were a small girl, did you love to wear ornaments?

A: I have always been fascinated by jewelry and drawn toward beautiful things.

Q: Why did you choose jewelry design as your major? Even when you were young, you already knew your career direction?

A: I have always been drawn toward design, and to combine this with a strong interest in jewelry seemed the clear path to follow. Fine jewelry has a longevity to it that many other material items do not have. I love the fact that when I design a piece of jewelry I know it will stand the test of time.

Q: Can you use three adjectives to describe Garrard?

A: British, elegant and timeless.

Q: As a jewelry designer, do you consider the shape and pattern more than its practical function? For example, will you sacrifice some shapes in design to make the jewelry easier to wear?

A: I don’t see it as sacrifice so much as achieving the right balance. Design is about both form and function, and good jewelry design creates beauty pieces which are also easy to wear. I think this is something Garrard do very well. 

For example, when we create bespoke tiara's or one-off pieces, we think about the many different ways they can be used. With a tiara we will design it so that it can also be adapted to form a necklace, and for our one-off pieces we will create options that allow the wearer to add or take away parts, such as a pendant or tassel, to tailor the piece depending on the occasion.

Q: Among all the designs in Garrard archives, which iconic design is your favorite? Why? 

A: Albemarle is the collection which epitomizes Garrard’s heritage, inspired by a tiara made for Queen Mary and named after our Mayfair home on Albemarle Street since 1911. The collection embraces our heritage but is very modern in its outlook with striking pieces that really stand out.

Q: Some say that a successful jewelry design might relate to music, literature, or painting. Do you agree with that? Besides its surface value, what other things in your opinion does jewelry charm a woman?

A: Garrard draws inspiration for design from its vast heritage and moments in British history with which it has been involved. Therefore, our pieces evoke a sense of history behind the brand while appealing to the modern woman. 

The root of this is the storytelling behind these historical references and the design, whether it’s an iconic symbol of its day representing strength and humanity, a bold color once loved by a Queen or a design carefully chosen to represent security and protection. 

Jewelry purchases are about an emotional connection with a piece or design, and this can’t be explained by its value.

Q: This boutique in Shanghai is Garrard’s first in the city. The preference of an Oriental woman might be different from a European woman. What kind of strategies will you put in place here to cater to the local customers?

A: Garrard has been serving the royal families and dignitaries from around the world for many years, so we are well versed in understanding different desires and tastes. Part of the bespoke service that we offer is all about understanding and tailoring the design for individual client, regardless of where they are from.

Q: If you have only one piece to wear for an evening party, which one will you choose — earring, necklace, bracelet or brocade?

A: Usually a pair of earrings as they will suit any outfit.

Q: Can you name three items you would take on a desert island?

A: A pen, paper and English teabags.

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