It had 342 brilliant-cut diamonds, 326 tsavorites. The Papillon ring, crafted to look like a life-sized butterfly, was a gift for singer Beyoncé Knowles. Her husband, the rapper Jay Z, had it commissioned. In a word, it was stunning, a magical piece of utter excess.
At the moment, the Papillon ring is on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and its designer goes by a single letter—G. Although the name may sound like a character belonging in a James Bond novel, Glenn Spiro is actually one of the most sought-after private jewelers in the world. He operates out of an appointment-only atelier in London, which used to be the studio of fashion designer Sir Norman Hartnell, best known for his work for the ladies of the Royal Family. A couture piece from the G Atelier can take years to complete, and his technical mastery has gained a him cult following. He is known for only dealing in the rarest of gems, marching to the tune of his own drum.
“We don’t make what people want,” Spiro says. “We make what we love.”
Fortunately we can now see what Glenn Spiro loves, as book publisher Assouline recently released G: Glenn Spiro The Art of a Jewel, part of its Legends Collection. It has text by Jill Newman, a well-respected jewelry writer, and a foreword by Raymond Sancroft-Baker, an expert who started work at Christie’s in 1969 and was their numismatist until he joined the jewelry department in 1988. With original photography of the most iconic pieces in Spiro’s collection, the spirit of one of the most inventive names in jewelry comes alive in a luxurious volume devoted to his show-stopping works of art.
We get to see a Pea-Leaf brooch, mounted in 18-karat yellow gold with a rare collection of demantoid garnets in varying hues of green. And a pair of Floret ear clips, offering 33 carats of cushion-shaped, unheated natural blue sapphires in blue titanium. Says Tamara Ralph, the creative director and co-founder of Ralph & Russo, “Glenn is an incredible artist, and his work has such a unique beauty. For me, he is one of the prominent designers of our time.”
Over the years, Spiro has been known to buy stones, sight unseen, from a group of industry veterans. Spiro trusts his instincts. Once, on a vacation in Mustique, he received a call from a diamond cutter with a strange tip. The dealer had heard—oddly enough from his mother—about a police sale of unclaimed items in a small village outside Rome. One of the items included a large and unidentified orange gemstone.
After getting a description of the gem over the phone, Spiro decided to buy it. The bidding went well over budget, but once it was in his hands Spiro received word from a cutter that the stone was a historic orange-y pink diamond. Twenty-one carats. That same day, Spiro’s daughter Skyla was born; he named the diamond the Skyla Rose. And the first person to see the stone in its finished state was a childhood friend, who ended up buying it for his wife. “When I see something I like,” enthused Spiro, “I just buy it.”