Jewels & Time 2020: Louis Vuitton's Artistic Director for Jewellery Francesca Amfitheatrof Looks to Space for Inspiration
It’s 9am in New York when Francesca Amfitheatrof logs onto Zoom to speak to me about Louis Vuitton’s new high jewellery collection, Stellar Times. She sits in the living room of her Brooklyn apartment, which she shares with her husband, who accidentally walks into frame during our interview, and their two children, who are nowhere to be seen. “Last night was a full moon,” she tells me. “I really feel its energy.”
Expressive and quick-witted, there’s no doubting Amfitheatrof’s a Gemini. “I always make the time to read my horoscope,” she says, adding that she has struggled to adjust to the pandemic’s new normal. “I miss going to museums, to the cinema, to the theatre and to concerts."
As artistic director for jewellery and watches at Louis Vuitton, Amfitheatrof is in charge of creating new jewellery collections and oversees the house’s watch designs. The daughter of a Russian journalist and an Italian publicist who worked for Valentino, she attended boarding school in England, which gives a backstory to her plummy British accent. Amfitheatrof studied at Central Saint Martins before receiving her Masters in silversmithing at the Royal College of Art. Her weekends were spent partying with the Young British Artists (YBAs), London’s artistic in-crowd that includes Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin. In fact, Amfitheatrof’s first show was at Jay Jopling’s White Cube Gallery in the early 1990s.
She was later commissioned by Chanel, Fendi and Marni, among others, before launching the London-based art agency RS&A. In 2013, she was appointed design director at Tiffany & Co, which is where she worked until 2017 as the brand’s first female creative lead.
Stellar Times is Amfitheatrof’s second high jewellery collection since she joined Louis Vuitton in 2018. Her first, Riders of the Knights, was unveiled in extraordinary fashion at a baroque castle north of Prague. “It was so incredible. Prague is so romantic,” she says, adding that she “wanted to do something different” when designing Stellar Times.
Amfitheatrof’s genius lies in her ability to innovate. “There’s no point doing what has already been done; there’s no relevance in that,” she says.
“Women are becoming more adventurous and are buying jewellery for themselves. Men have historically bought sapphires, because they like the colour blue. They bought earrings and necklaces because they liked looking at them. Now, women buy bracelets because they are constantly looking at their phones and want to make their wrists beautiful.” Louis Vuitton’s jewellery, she says, is meant to be seen.
“High jewellery can be worn with a white shirt. You don’t have to wear a ball gown. The design should be fresh and interesting: to me, that’s Vuitton.”
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For Stellar Times, the 52-year-old wanted to explore the concept of time and space. “If I’d known Covid-19 was coming our way, I would’ve packed my bags and gone to the moon myself,” she laughs. “If someone asked me, ‘Do you want to space travel?’, I think I’d say yes. Although I wouldn’t want to go to Mars—it would take too long.”
Divided into seven spectacular themes, Stellar Times consists of 90 pieces that each took at least a year to create, and Amfitheatrof knew depicting space and time would be no easy feat. “It’s a concept that’s so difficult to grasp. It’s like when you look up at the sky when you’re a child. You try to see it all, to understand the distance, and how much time it takes to focus on a single star, but it seems impossible.”
A rainbow-wide spectrum of coloured gemstones defines the collection; particularly striking is the use of rubies. The Astre Rouge necklace features an incredibly lively 8.06-carat, cushion-cut ruby that’s surrounded by white diamonds suspending outwards like an explosion on slivers of white and yellow gold. “It’s spectacular,” says Amfitheatrof. “I can’t even tell you how many months of setting were involved.” And it holds special meaning.
“For me, this ruby represents what I hope will be the first female astronaut to set foot on Mars. The idea that a woman could be the first person to set foot on the Red Planet is incredible to me.” And who doesn’t need a moment of inspiration during these uncertain times?
(Related: Jewels & Time 2020: 3 Necklaces We Love From the Louis Vuitton Stellar Times High Jewellery Collection)