Tucked away on a small, elegant street in Mayfair, London lies the Ara Vartanian store. Beautifully lit and ready for their close-up, a panoply of large, colorful stones take center stage inside the intimate space. Juxtaposed against the warm wood interior, elegant megawatt gems come to life and invite you to experience them. Shopping for jewelry can sometimes feel at best intimidating and at worst, downright cold, but entering this slice of Ara’s world is anything but.
It doesn’t hurt that dispersed around the room is a collection of personal feeling items each with their own story—a symbolic brass turtle, model car, records, art and a multitude of crystals. It’s the sort of place that makes you want to roll up your sleeves, pour a drink, put on a record, and stay to play the ultimate game of jewelry dress up. It just feels right.
The Brazilian-Armenian jewelry designer is celebrated for his inverted and upside down diamonds, two and three-finger rings, “Octopus” rings, and hook earrings. Ara’s gemstones are the natural stars. And there are some epic stories. Our favorite is how Kate Moss visited his São Paulo boutique, commissioned a tanzanite ring, fell and love, and then helped architect his London launch. The pair enjoyed collaborating, and then unveiled a KMxAV capsule collection together.
Read on to discover what drives Ara, the scoop on his favorite stones, why art and interior design inform his work, and much more. -Jenna Wise for The Stone Set
How did your life lead you into jewelry?
I was born in Beirut but I consider myself Brazilian since I arrived here when I was one years old. I grew up in São Paulo and moved to Switzerland as a high school student. I graduated in Economics in Boston and worked in the financial markets in the US. In 2000 I returned to São Paulo and to the jewellery market working as a stone trader for my family’s business. It was later in 2004 when I started my own business creating and producing jewellery for my own brand.
Tell us about the Ara Vartanian brand. What does it represent? How do you push boundaries?
My brand represents an extension of my imagination and sense of creativity as I design every single piece. I love the curiosity of what’s going to come next and I know what I want to achieve but it’s always a negotiation with the stone. Stones are the most important for me; they are gifts of nature and they truly excite me in every way.
In regards to design, I try to be as pure, truthful and genuine in my creative process and I believe this will achieve amazing results. Market trends and behaviour only serve as a distraction, as a designer you have to stay true to your style and vision, if you have integrity then so will your designs. What dictates are my feelings, not the market. I believe in doing what’s good for my soul then everything else falls into place. I push boundaries by always questioning the conventional and traditional. I always want to be the alternative to the expected.
How does your Brazilian and Lebanese heritage impact your design and perspective?
I get inspired by the avant-garde approach from Brazilian designers from the 50’s and 60’s as the artisan element defined their work: Zanine Caldas, Jorge Zalszupin and Sérgio Rodrigues.
Brazilian culture inspires me a lot. Not only from the gorgeous national gems such as Turmalina Paraíba but local traditional techniques and materials. “The future is brilliant” is a recent project to discuss the social, environmental and cultural matters within our value chain. By uniting ethics and aesthetics we have initiated our first empirical experience with WaiWai indigenous women from the Kaapu project, in the Amazon. With that we seek to experience new possibilities of interaction between methods, techniques, processes and materials from original Brazilian cultures and our creative universe.
What themes are you drawn to?
My experience started with gems. As a gem trader I fell in love for the singularity of such natural beauties. My style of creating fine jewellery is quite particular in that I try to capture the essence of each stones and this goes for every single piece I design, I begin by developing an intense relationship with the material being worked on and this is done from an architectural and romantic point of view.
We especially are in awe of your Paraiba tourmalines. What are your favorite stones to work with and why?
I have a few favourites including Emeralds from Colombia, Zambia and Brazil, Pigeon blood rubies from Burma, Paraiba tourmalines from Brazil and Mozanbique. Tanzanite is another stone that I like to work with very much.
The design of your flagship store is breathtaking. What role do architecture and interior design play in your life?
I wanted the store to follow the founding elements of the Brazilian showroom while introducing new aesthetics that follow London’s traditions. In other words, the space is a combination of the essence of the brand’s architecture with the concepts of creativity and beauty that London embodies. I wanted to align the architecture to one of the concepts behind the jewellery—that of “opposite elements:” the raw and the refined.
A carved out concrete wall can be compared to an inverted diamond, it is rugged but designed with elegance. Architecture and interior design are incredibly important to me. I could easily do interior design and would have just as much fun! My art collection, home, store designs – they are all a common vein where my influence is seen in.
What are your most prized pieces of jewelry?
A pair of opal earrings I made which Gwendoline Christie wore to the Golden Globes. I doubt I would ever sell them, I want them to stay in the family. I have two daughters so they will have to learn to share as I don’t think I will ever find opals like them again.
We loved your collaboration with your friend Kate Moss. How did it come to be? Will it be ongoing?
Kate is a friend and owns several of my pieces. We often chatted about our mutual love of jewellery which lead to us sitting and sketching one day. It was very organic and so much fun to create with a friend. Who knows if it will happen again, as I said curiosity is what keeps me designing!
You’ve spoken of your love of travel. What are favourite destinations that inspire you?
I love my native Brazil and often retreat to the rainforest to get some space and be inspired. I do however love Japan and try to whisk my wife away to see the cherry blossom in the spring.
What does luxury mean to you?
Anything that takes time and demands patience.
What’s something about you that may surprise people?
I love to cook and have my own separate kitchen in my house. I have also just moved in to my new house which took me seven years to design and build.
Photography by Emerald Carroll for The Stone Set