Sharon Khazzam isn’t one of those designers who blindly stumbled into her profession. She dedicated years to studying jewelry design—at F.I.T and later G.I.A (Gemological Institute of America)—and apprenticed under a number of master jewelers until becoming one herself.
She’s been part of the Barneys family for more than ten years, and her designs are as brilliant as ever. Who among us hasn’t stopped to ogle one of her resplendent necklaces, sparkling under a glass case on the first floor?
We spoke with Khazzam to learn about how her line came to be, how it has evolved, and the fabulous story behind her aquamarine and diamond “Piette” necklace.
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Tell us about your “big bang” moment. What was the impetus to start your line in 2001?
I had just left Asprey, but didn’t know where it was that I wanted to be. Then Barneys actually called me, and asked if I wanted to do a collection. I started slowly, and with Barneys’ support, took the classical work that I had been doing at Asprey and my own sensibility, and tried to combine them. I wanted to create something for the woman of today.
What does that “woman of today” look like?
She’s independent, and doesn’t necessarily need the approval of a man to make a purchase. It’s not a let-me-see-if-my-husbad-likes-it kind of husband. She’s bold, but that doesn’t mean she’s not feminine. She’s confident.
You’ve passed your 10-year mark. How is the Sharon Khazzam line evolving?
It’s always evolving. I really view the collection as an anthology; you’re never dropping the last chapter. There’s a thread that connects it all together.
What are your favorite materials and techniques to work with?
Basically, I am always looking for something new—but something new that must last forever. I wouldn’t use fabric, for example, because it won’t last forever. A gemstone or 18-karat gold will last. Gemstones are what really excite me. My dealers know me quite well at this point, and so oftentimes, when they return from a buying trip, they’ll give me first pick. When I really love a parcel, I’ll hold onto it for a long time until the right idea comes along because it might be the last time I see a certain gemstone.
You’re a phenomenal painter. How did you uncover this talent?
Painting is one of things that I love most about what I do. Depicting jewelry is a somewhat specialized skill, and I began studying it while I was in school. After I graduated, I was sent by Asprey to apprentice for one year with a master jeweler who was French. I painted day in and day out, and then he would take a millimeter gauge and inspect my work. If I was off by even one tenth of a millimeter, he would have me start over. Years later, I completely understand why he did that. The subject matter that you’re dealing with is tiny—and you need to show detail and life. You need to make it look three-dimensional so you want to pick it up off the paper. It’s very challenging and very absorbing.
What do you learn studying gems so closely?
The more you look at something in different light and at different angles, chances are you’ll notice something you didn’t before. Stones are not man-made, so each has its own personal qualities—no two are alike. I really think of my pieces as paintings in three dimensions, and they just happen to be wearable.
We love a statement necklace. Tell us about how you conceived the aquamarine and diamond Piette piece.
I had this idea that I wanted to do a retrospective of aquamarine in necklace form since I had been collecting so many gorgeous cuts. One day, I was looking at them all together and thought, how cool would it be to show someone the story of aquamarine in a necklace? Since the design had a cubic feel, it reminded me of Mondrian’s work. “Piette” is my take on his first name, Piet. I like to think he might like the piece if he were alive.
What kind of varieties of aquamarine are featured?
The idea is to show them in various states. You have crystals, which represent the state that aquamarine comes in straight from the mine. Then there are three different carvings of leaves—from very fine to a larger, more abstract fleur-de-lis. I’ve also chosen to set a few aquamarine stones in reverse. They’re upside down. I thought they were so fabulous set this way. You also will see cabochons—round and pearl-shaped—and traditional faceted stones.
The diamonds are interspersed. They’re there to assist the aqua; they’re helpers. But I really used everything I possibly could to explain “Aquamarine 101.” It’s really a celebration of this beautiful beryl!
As an artist and creator, you probably draw inspiration from a number of places. But tell us about a great book, movie or work of art that’s inspired you recently.
I am really most inspired by music. That’s all I need. I play the piano and I love classical music—piano, Bach, Chopin—and anything French, even rap. I also love jazz. There’s an old movie called Bell, Book and Candle that inspired my obsession. Jack Lemmon, Kim Novak, Jimmy Stewart. I loved the clothes, the music, the movement—it’s a fabulous movie.