Sophia Vari’s ‘second skin’ wearable sculptures woo collectors
We’ll send you a myFT Daily Digest email rounding up the latest Jewellery news every morning.
Sculptor Sophia Vari wanted to “dare more” for a new exhibition of her jewels opening in London next month. The Elisabetta Cipriani Gallery will include 13 new pieces that the artist created specially for the solo selling show — before her death last week at the age of 82 — among 40 wearable sculptures spanning the last two decades of Vari’s career. Called “All Mediums are Noble”, the exhibition runs from June 7 to July 7.
Five of the new pieces are crafted from amaranth, a hardwood found in rainforests in Central and South America that turns purple when cut, while a further five are made from synthetic white resin. Vari, known for her experimentation with different materials, had not used either medium before in her jewellery.
Last month, in an interview about the show, Vari told the FT that her approach to jewellery evolved over the years. “I found new possibilities to express myself even better and louder each time,” she said. “You always have to go further, but always with the same principles: give priority to composition, harmony and beauty. I like to beautify the woman.”
Born near Athens in 1940, Vari is best known for her sculptures, which are exhibited in museums and the public realm. Twelve of her monumental works are on public display in Park Avenue, New York, until the end of October.
She started designing jewellery 35 years ago when she realised that the small Plasticine models she made for her sculptures to pass the time when travelling — what she described as “a kind of 3D sketch” — could become a piece of jewellery, too. She continued to use Plasticine as her working tool. “My priority is a search for the composition of volumes, which can become a jewel or a sculpture, even monumental,” she said.
Paul Redmayne, senior vice-president for luxury sales at Sotheby’s, says Vari achieved a “distinctive” aesthetic in her jewellery that appeals to contemporary art collectors. The auction house offered five of her pieces in its “Art as Jewelry as Art” sale last October. A pair of Médée gold, ebony and emerald roots clip earrings (c 2000) — the third piece in an edition of six — sold for $18,900.
Redmayne says that, while contemporary jewellery can sometimes seem “quite disjointed”, he finds Vari’s “conversation pieces”, with their many lines and curves, to be “very fluid and peaceful”. “[With] some of the pieces, there’s a lot going on, but it still all works together and the overall effect is one of calmness,” he explains. “It’s very bold, but it remains calm at the same time, which is quite a difficult feat to achieve: to be bold without being overpowering.”
Cipriani, founder of her eponymous gallery, which specialises in wearable art by painters and sculptors, says Vari’s jewels fit the body “like a second skin”. She started representing the sculptor in September and showed her jewellery for the first time at the annual PAD London art and design fair in October, where she identified an “obsession” for Vari’s jewels. “All the women who came to my booth were attracted by Sophia Vari pieces and they didn’t even know who the artist was,” she says.
Cipriani sold eight Vari pieces at PAD, and says sales continue to be “super strong”. The appeal is international and buyers are “women with personality”, she says.
Typically, Vari produced jewellery in limited editions of eight, or six plus two artist proofs, along with some unique pieces. The exhibition features a new one-off ebony and gold necklace. Other new pieces include four rings and a pair of earrings in resin, a material it occurred to Vari to use when she was being shown resin prototypes one day, according to Cipriani. Vari liked its “transparent, marble-like quality” and that it is lighter — which enabled her to increase the size of pieces, says Cipriani, adding: “You don’t really feel [the ring] on the hand — it is incredible.”
These resin pieces are paired with 18-carat yellow gold, as are two rings, a pair of earrings, a necklace and a bracelet made from certified amaranth from French Guiana. Cipriani says the use of this wood, also known as purpleheart, makes the composition “more dramatic, as the curves appear more sensuous and defined”.
Prices for pieces in the exhibition, which also includes works crafted from marble, silver, Pau Amarelo wood, and rock crystal, range from £5,000 to £30,000. Vari designed her jewellery by hand before having it handcrafted by jewellers in Paris, Belgium and Italy, according to their skill sets. Pieces could take between two and six months to make.
Vari brought an “extraordinary uniqueness to her work”, says Cipriani. “Her passing is a great loss to the art world . . . Her legacy will continue to inspire and push the limits of creativity and imagination.”