Thinking outside the blue box

Francesca Amfitheatrof, the first female design director of Tiffany & Co, sees herself as the "policewoman" of the famed 178-year-old American jewellery brand.

"It's challenging to create a vision for the 21st century that respects the legacy of the brand," the 44-year-old says. "My design team and I can design beautiful things, but if they don't feel Tiffany, we shouldn't be making them."

The trained jeweller and silversmith from London's Royal College of Art believes in the transformative powers of jewellery and creating jewellery that speaks to people.

"I try to design from a spirit of fun and I think that if you approach it with a lot of passion, people feel it in the pieces of jewellery."

And people certainly responded to Tiffany T, her debut collection for the brand after taking on her post last year. Although she expected it would do well, the overwhelming reaction around the world surprised her.

The collection sold out in Singapore when it hit the shelves in September last year. The most popular piece here is the Tiffany T wire bracelet in 18k gold with diamonds, priced at $5,000.

Now a permanent range at the brand, prices for the collection start at $800 for a sterling silver T cut-out ring and go up to $250,000 for a statement necklace made of 18k yellow gold and the green gemstone chrysoprase.

Amfitheatrof attributes the success of the collection to its elegant and timeless design, which she says is what women want.

She says excitedly: "Reese Witherspoon told me she had dinner two weeks ago in Los Angeles with really fabulous girls and actresses and everyone at the table had T jewellery on."

The American designer is friends with the actress and both were in town for the global launch of the Masterpieces 2015 collection at the Capitol Theatre last Thursday.

The annual Masterpieces collection is traditionally launched in New York, but Singapore was chosen this time because she felt it was good to have a change.

There are five Tiffany & Co boutiques in Singapore, with a sixth opening in Ion Orchard by the end of the year.

The one-of-a-kind pieces in the collection were inspired by the glittering lights and iconic buildings of New York City.

Prices for the Masterpieces collection start at $20,000 for a pair of 18k yellow gold earrings with rose-cut diamonds to $4.5 million for a 1.82-carat fancy vivid blue diamond ring in platinum.

Though a gold necklace with a fringe and disco balls is her favourite piece from the collection - as the yellow gold suits her skin tone - she is also fond of two colourful bracelets from this year's Blue Book collection, The Art Of The Sea. The Blue Book is Tiffany's annual publication of its most exquisite designs and jewels.

Inspired by sea corals, one of the bracelets is set with aquamarine and the other with rubellite. Both are overlaid with diamonds.

The most expensive piece in The Art Of The Sea is a $10.6-million 4.16-carat fancy intense pink diamond ring.

Most of the more than 200-piece collection were sold within two days of its launch on April 15.

Says Amfitheatrof: "I love doing the Blue Book because it's so fantastical - these pieces are not encumbered by time and cost."

She adds that the collection, made up of one-off pieces, is based on the energy of the sea.

"I think nature is such a strong inspiration," she muses, "and it's the beginning of a journey that we're going to take people through with the Blue Book. Every year, we'll travel somewhere and go on an adventure together."

When asked about her family, who lives in New York City, she is quick to report on their excitement and support. Her husband runs a fund and consults for fashion and technology start-ups.

"They love what I do," she says fondly, referring to her son, nine, and daughter, seven. "I think it's great to show them passion and for them to see something creative appearing out of nothing."

Her children accompanied her to Los Angeles in February for the Oscars, where they saw actresses Cate Blanchett and Emma Stone wearing pieces from the Blue Book collection on the red carpet.

Amfitheatrof recalls: "On our way back to New York, we bought a toy Oscar statue for my daughter at the airport. She took it to school and said to her teacher, 'My mummy won an Oscar!' I don't know how they absorb it, but they sort of do."

This article was first published on October 22, 2015.
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