Given the issues of the past year, it is not surprising that it was an extremely poor time for jewellery events around the world. Any good news, then, is welcome. I can say we are all starving to see an artistic miracle to brighten the day. So, when I heard that Elena Okutova decided to advance her quest for excellence and made a “100% precious” collection, I thought I needed to see it. Her creations were already fairies-dream-come-to-life kind of things, so I couldn’t imagine what the upgraded version would look like.
Okutova’s showroom is nothing like those of posh jewellery galleries. It would leave an impression of a small living room with warm coloured walls with mirrors and sketches on the walls and shade separating common area from improvised entrance hall. If not a layered cake-like stand covered with rings and mounted on a coffee table between sofas, you couldn’t tell it’s a trade place. Everything is made to accommodate the jeweller’s clients, team and friends. It’s really impossible to say who’s sitting next to you and discussing the treasures because everyone seems familiar enough to exchange news and opinions about the jewellery, events, people or places. Whenever you come you feel belonging to the circle of beautiful, talented and creative people. You are not intimidated by anything or anyone.
Such space was created for a reason. Elena never makes two similar pieces of jewellery, each time the enamel design, details, gems should be adjusted to the client’s temper, character, ideas. So they should feel comfortable to dive into her imaginary world without hesitation, choosing a model for their own adaptation and freely sharing thoughts about everything that bother them or inspire.
And there could be plenty subjects to discuss. Okutova’s creations offer a perfect exercise for those who like to deconstruct and decompose contemporary jewellery design. Her creations are known for their complexity. It’s very difficult to find an analogy for the impression they make. They were described variously as a Russian fairytale, the “glorious age” of the Ottoman Empire, a “journey to Indochina”, and the Renaissance and medieval artifacts. No one seems to agree on what they see or experience. Subjective feelings – that’s all you can rely on. You either feel it, like it or find it “too much” of everything.
The renowned jewellery critic Melanie Grant sees in them a “whimsical gothic universe” and “baroqueness.” And there’s an allusion to the fact that Tim Burton’s “Dark Shadows” and “Dambo” characters wore these rings. But Okutova’s rings acquired a life of their own off-screen. Actress Eva Green, the first person to collect the brand’s rings, introduced them to the film’s costumery because she felt they not just fit her image but projected her spirit as well. She calls them ” weaponry” perfect for press time: “This way I feel like I can be myself. I feel protected, as if I was wearing a talisman.”
Jewellery experts see a mixture of styles in Okutova’s pieces, both historic and ethnic. The same commingling of styles gave birth to Russian modernism and to the Pre-Raphaelites movement in Victorian England; while in France, an infatuation with the Orient and Egypt brought about an aesthetic revolution in all of the applied arts at the turn of the 20th century. Elena’s artistic sense is just as eclectic. She tells the story of travels in time and through cultural spaces, the story of discoveries that can subtly change your intimate reality. And she can start her journey from anywhere – from a phrase that pops up in a book to the architectural detail her eye caught during a walk.
This isn’t a rare practice among jewellery designers. It’s actually rather common. What is unique is the way she incorporates real and dreamed-up symbols and patterns into completely new creations without losing their lines and closely merging with opposite styles.
It’s obvious that what she does is not just sketching and general management of the masters team working for her. She is so a part of the creative process that when you talk with her you discover the way she solved the trickiest moments of metal work or enameling. One ring might have 3-4 innovative techniques on top of a traditional technique and she articulates the whole story behind every tiny detail you wouldn’t even read as a key stone of the construction. Rarely the process of production sounds as adventurous and involving as in her tales. You can literally feel the enamellier’s broken spirit when he sees the baked glass fall off the silver surface.
“We want to make timeless jewellery that would live on in the family, that would be handed down from mother to daughter,” explained Elena. “We like the ideas of continuity and respect to the tradition in jewellery making, and feel an affinity for handmade pieces, and support for the dying crafts. We use hot enamel, hand carving of wax and engraving techniques, paying particular attention to settings and proportions. Because besides being a striking adornment, every piece of jewellery should be comfortable to wear and properly sized”.
So it doesn’t really matter precious line or basic silver line you are looking at. The only difference between them is a pure celebratory mood, value and weight that shinning gold and expensive gems bring to the pieces, while silver works still have a strong earthly spiritual aura. Of course not everyone in our age of minimalism and commercial simplification appreciate her approach or her signature designs. But when you recognize there something that reflects your personality or dreams, the conversation will turn from “carats in curves” to metaphysics. You will talk about emotions, spirits and all sorts of intimate memories.
Photography: Xenie Zasetskaya, Bella Antonio (stills)
Model: Vlada Erofeeva
Stylist: Anna Altabaeva
Author: Olga Zakharova-Kaetano