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Jewelry Based on Childhood Toys

When French jewelry designer Marie Lichtenberg was growing up in Paris in the 1990s, she loved playing with a magic 8 ball. The toy, when shaken, acts as a sort of fortune teller, revealing answers to questions in a small window: “Don’t count on it.” “It is certain.” “ask again later.”

“My parents traveled a lot,” Ms. Lichtenberg said by phone from her home in Paris. “Every time he visited America, he brought some goodies for me and my siblings and Magic 8 Ball was one of them.

“I still have this ball and my daughter and little boy are playing with it,” he said.

Last summer, Ms. Lichtenberg was sitting on her couch thinking about what to design next, when she caught sight of a ball on her coffee table. “I know what we have to do,” she remembered. “We have to make the 8th ball out of gold and diamonds!”

In June, at the Couture Jewelry Show in Las Vegas, the designer presented an 18-karat gold, diamond and enamel version of the $10 plastic toy, but priced at $21,560. The pendant — which replicates the predictive functionality of the original 8 Ball and was crafted in Italy with the blessing of Mattel, the toy’s maker — earned the show’s Best Innovative award. (The judges applauded “its ability to spark joy”.)

When Ms. Lichtenberg decided to remake the Magic 8 Ball, she didn’t even know that Mattel, the maker of Barbie, had the rights to it. Instead, she was acting on the same instincts that seem to inspire some jewelers: primarily, a desire to create designs that reflected the playfulness of her childhood.

As a result, a flood of great jewelry inspired by things like unicorns and Rubik’s Cubes is hitting the market.

Camille Zarasky, founder of Seven, a designer jewelry boutique in Manhattan’s West Village, interpreted the trend as evidence of a collective desire for “lightweight distractions.”

“People are looking for things that are less serious and more whimsical,” Ms. Jarsky said in a phone interview from Sag Harbor, N.Y., where Seven recently opened a location, its second.

In 2020, during a pandemic lockdown, Claire Choisne, creative director of Paris-based jeweler Boucheron, came to a similar conclusion.

“Two days before our trip with our team to Africa, we had to cancel it,” Ms. Choisne wrote in an email. “Everyone was sad! We went on Pinterest and spent hours looking for inspiration. Through this process, I found pictures of Memphis designs that reminded me of the happy times of my childhood in the 80’s.

She was referring to the bright colors, geometric shapes and bold patterns of the Memphis Design movement, a style associated with a group of Italian architects and designers who dominated the decade with their Pop Art-inspired sensibilities.

The result was Boucheron’s 30-piece More Is More collection, presented during Couture Week in Paris in July, which was widely praised on social media for its simplicity and humour. One of the many talked-about pieces in this line was the Solve Me necklace, which was essentially a shattered Rubik’s Cube encrusted with precious stones.

Ms. Choisne wrote, “Like the cubes of the original puzzle, each facet of the piece is a different color.” “Crafters set gray spinels and pink sapphires on small plates of white gold before inserting each into an aluminum cube. Different types of pearls were used: white, pink and gray.

Ms. Choisne echoes the words of many fine jewelers when she cites the pursuit of joy in her design process as a driving factor.

He wrote, “At that time, the most precious thing to me was happiness.” “I couldn’t stand any more constraints, I felt like a rebel, and wanted me and my team to design everything that brought us joy, expressed everything we wanted to express. I needed colours, playfulness.

Emily P. Wheeler, a leading Los Angeles-based jewelry designer, adopted this same mindset. In May, she introduced a Mother’s Day capsule collection of mommy and me pieces created in collaboration with Maria Dueñas Jacobs, founder of children’s jewelry brand Super Small.

In Ms. Wheeler’s gem-studded version, she stayed faithful to the large scale of the Super Small’s iridescent, glittery designs, but chose precious materials. For example, Ms. Wheeler recreated the $36 Super Small Unicorn pendant made of base metals with imitation stones in a white agate design, with an 18-karat gold mane inlaid with sapphires and rubies, on a necklace of white freshwater pearls. Explained.

“I’ve always felt there’s something particularly glamorous in having an effortless style and not taking yourself too seriously,” Ms. Wheeler said.

She definitely lives by that principle. In 2019, long before “Barbie” became a blockbuster movie, Ms. Wheeler put a hot pink vinyl wrap on her Land Rover Defender. “It looked like a giant toy car,” she said. “It was great fun and great.”

Ms. Wheeler presented her automotive choice as an example of how stupidity can feel like an antidote to current events. “There is a lot of seriousness in every decision we make today,” he said. “What to breed, where to live. Is it ethical? Will this place go under water in 20 years?

But using pink cars – or jewelry – to lighten the mood is hardly a new phenomenon.

In 2012, Alison Chemla, the creative director and designer of Alison Lu, founded her New York-based fine jewelry brand with a collection of seven emoji-inspired designs that celebrated “a new way to communicate,” Ms. Chemla said.

Four years later, toy company Hasbro proposed that it turn its most classic products — the Twister and Monopoly games and Mr. Potato Head — into jewelry.

Ms. Chemla said, “Because I make faces, Mr. Potato Head really matches up with me.” “I repurposed the Twister board as a pendant with the spinning wheel.”

London-based interior and product designer Tatiana Van Lanker drew on similarly nostalgic themes in 2019, when she introduced a range of gold and colored stone robot jewelery based on a clear pendant that her mother then wore When Ms. Van Lanker was growing up. Sydney, Australia.

Designed to evoke the retro-futuristic vibe of Rosie the Robot, the maid from the 1960s animated sitcom “The Jetsons,” Ms. Van Lanker’s series of robot pieces, called Vans, was captured when she shopped in London A prototype was worn to a party in the U.S. and a fashion editor was interested.

“They are definitely made to be friendly bots to you,” Ms van Lanker said on the call from her home in Rome, where she and her husband will relocate in 2022 for their work, which will lead to more of their workshop in Tuscany. Came close too.

He added, “My clients never take them off.” “And because they’ve got this tactile element of being expressive, it becomes soothing. It feels like your little friend around your neck.

In addition to making for a more carefree time, toy-inspired jewelry has also served to “elevate the every day by adorning precious stones and metals,” said Bella Neiman, co-founder of NYC Jewelry Week and regular lecturer on the history of jewelry. ,

She cited contemporary studio jewelers Emiko Oye, Margaux Lange and Lisa Walker as pioneers in this category.

“Margaux was using Barbies in her designs before the movie was made,” Ms. Neiman said on a recent call. “Amiko is sourcing vintage Legos. It is also about taking these things to the mass market and upgrading them.

Describing Ms. Walker’s work – “her thing is about subversion and surrealism” – Ms. Neyman mentioned 20th-century Italian designer Elsa Schiaparelli, whose collaborations with fantasy jewelry such as the aspirin necklace of blue porcelain beads met what appeared to be Painkiller, produced with novelist Elsa Triolet; and Ruby Lips, a mouth brooch with pearl teeth and ruby ​​lips, made with Salvador Dali.

Ms. Zarasky of Seven also noted Schiaparelli’s influence on the jewelry. “People want jewelery to be more than just diamonds and gold,” he added. “It’s about storytelling, escapism.”

Ms. Lichtenberg said there’s one thing designers in this field should remember: “The more serious you get, the more serious you have to be about your production. Craftsmanship needs to die. Otherwise, it is only a toy.”


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