James’s Gorgeous Gems

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“Making jewelry is very close to architecture. Every piece is a puzzle to be solved,” according to James Taffin de Givenchy. At the Madison Avenue headquarters of Taffin, de Givenchy’s eponymous-to-his-middle-name jewelry line, that concept is evident throughout, where the showroom’s design is as meticulously considered as the layout of the objets d’art around the space—to say nothing of the jewelry itself. De Givenchy designed the by-appointment salon with accent walls and furnishings in his signature color, which can best be described as a vivid hue of “tomato coral.”

This illustrates the French side of de Givenchy: sophisticated with a sense of humor (next time you see a young Frenchman in a suit, particularly at a wedding, ask him to show you his socks—you will be pleasantly surprised at the lighthearted colors and patterns they will reveal). The nephew of famed couturier Hubert de Givenchy, James de Givenchy was raised in Beauvais, a small town almost 50 miles north of Paris. But the siren’s call of the New World soon brought him to these shores, and his bicultural immersion began to take effect, not just on his personality, but on his work.

He started by studying graphic design at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, where he developed a draftsman’s touch. After briefly running a Givenchy flagship store, Christie’s jewelry department welcomed de Givenchy into their fold, and from there the jewelry bug took hold. He then earned his gem bona fides as a vice president at Verdura, and as a creative director for Sotheby’s Diamonds from 2008 to 2011. While at Sotheby’s, he caused a bit of a stir when he created a collection for them by setting diamonds in gunmetal, a move that he claimed some people regarded as “a real no-no.”

That audacity, that willingness to be fresh and exciting in the face of tradition, is what illustrates the American side of the man. He is the perfect combination of French sophistication and American modernity, and his Franco-American creations fuse Paris chic with Manhattan excitement. Take, for example, his playful rings of brightly colored gems paired with the even more brightly colored ceramic bands: they manage the difficult feat of being both elegant and whimsical at the same time. Since launching Taffin in 1996, the haute couture jeweler has developed the reputation as a connoisseur of exotic gems who can create intricate and unique settings which flatter not just the stones, but also the wearer.

James de Givenchy Portrait 2 (JPEG)A piece by de Givenchy will not be lost in a crowd, even if everyone is wearing serious bling, because of the aristocratic eye he possesses, which knows how to balance the tasteful with the unexpected. He has a healthy disrespect for the tired conventions of fine jewelry design, while knowing instinctively what are the real hallmarks of quality. His obsession over the details of construction translates into pieces that are extraordinary yet unpretentious.

He’ll mix commonplace materials with exalted stones, or glorify a gem that most jewelers might pass over—a trait he shares with that other famous contemporary French fine jeweler, Joel Arthur Rosenthal. Though, in comparison, JAR designs are more flowery where Taffin’s are more edgy, which is reflective of the slightly bad-boy allure of de Givenchy himself (which is just his “look”—in reality, he’s a very happy husband to wife Gina and father to their daughter Stella).

Imaginative, luxurious, inventive, one-of-a-kind: clients keep trying to come up with new ways of explaining the beauty behind Taffin. “I am trying to safeguard a craft that is being lost,” de Givenchy once said. “Jewelry is an emotional object that projects who you are. It takes artistry, intellect and logic to make it.”