Alexandra Mor, one-of-a-kind Sphere Ring set with a pair of 18.15 carat ethically mined Muzo mine emerald beads and 16.80 carat wild tagua seed bead. Platinum set on 18 carat yellow gold. Ring size

The Protagonist: an exhibition of sustainable fine jewellery

No one wants to be associated with ivory any more — especially when the tagua seed is a near identical alternative. Using similar responsibly sourced materials, 14 designers have produced gorgeous one-off pieces for a showcase supported by Christie’s 

The Protagonist curated by Vogue Italia, previously known as the US Protagonists, was conceived in 2014 and curated by Vogue Gioiello  as a showcase for the very best of American jewellery design. It has since been adopted by Vogue Italia, which organises an annual selection of pieces by international contemporary jewellery designers.

This year Christie’s New York Jewellery department will partner with Vogue Italia in hosting The Protagonist, with an event on 10 December and an exhibition to run from 10 to 13 December.

Tagua Halo Pendant by Moritz Glik, diamonds (4.33 carat) set in and enclosed between a white sapphire kaleidoscope shaker in 18 carat yellow gold and tagua nut. Price on request. Offered for sale at Christie’s during The Protagonist  event on 10 December

Tagua Halo Pendant by Moritz Glik, diamonds (4.33 carat) set in and enclosed between a white sapphire kaleidoscope shaker in 18 carat yellow gold and tagua nut. Price on request. Offered for sale at Christie’s during The Protagonist  event on 10 December

The exhibition aims to demonstrate that fine jewellery design can lead the way to better industry practices and more environmentally friendly materials without compromising the beauty, elegance or quality of the pieces they create for serious connoisseurs.

‘I believe that the market is hungry for a change in practice,’ says the creative director of The Protagonist curated by Vogue Italia, Alexandra Mor. As a jewellery designer, Mor is well-placed to understand the industry — one that is responding to people’s concerns about dirty gold, elephant ivory and blood diamonds. 

‘I don’t consider sustainability to be a trend, I see it as a way of life, and it is deeply crucial to the future of our planet’ — Alexandra Mor

It was her idea, last year, to invite designers to work with a botanical alternative to ivory. ‘Tagua seed grows wild in the Amazon forest,’ she says. ‘It’s physical properties are comparable to elephant ivory. By introducing it as a fine-jewellery material, we offer a real solution to the poaching of these magnificent creatures and support the communities around the forests.’

For the Brazilian designer Moritz Glik, the material has been a revelation. ‘I’m definitely going to put it in my new collection because the sky’s the limit for it. It’s a hard material, but at the same time it is soft to carve by hand,’ he says. ‘It’s also very porous, which means we can dye it many different colours.’

Three Folds Auspiciousness reclaimed wood bangle, by Yewn. Brilliant-cut diamond set in 18 carat white and yellow gold with reclaimed cumaru flooring wood. Inner bangle size width 55 mm, height 46 mm. Price on request. Offered for sale at Christie’s during The Protagonist  event on 10 December

Three Folds Auspiciousness reclaimed wood bangle, by Yewn. Brilliant-cut diamond set in 18 carat white and yellow gold with reclaimed cumaru flooring wood. Inner bangle size width 55 mm, height 46 mm. Price on request. Offered for sale at Christie’s during The Protagonist  event on 10 December

The designers responded so well to last year’s environmental brief that this year Vogue Italia  and Mor have expanded the format, inviting them to ‘tackle the wider issue of responsible sourcing’ in the industry, focusing on using natural (non-synthetic) materials such as recycled woods, ethically mined gemstones and leather alternatives. All of the diamonds they use adhere to the Kimberley Process, while all the metals are from sustainable sources.

As Vogue Italia’s Fashion Market Editor Francesca Ragazzi sees it, ‘The sustainable revolution is conquering the world, and our mission is to show the consumers how this shift can be absolutely glamorous and fashionable.’

Assael, Angel Skin coral necklace, consisting of reclaimed vintage coral beads with an 18k white gold clasp and diamonds, 2.81 carat. Price on request. Offered for sale at Christie’s during The Protagonist  event on 10 December

Assael, Angel Skin coral necklace, consisting of reclaimed vintage coral beads with an 18k white gold clasp and diamonds, 2.81 carat. Price on request. Offered for sale at Christie’s during The Protagonist  event on 10 December

Assael, round Fijian natural colour cultured pearl necklace, consisting of eco-farmed pearls with an 18 carat yellow gold clasp with diamonds 1.32 carats. Price on request. Offered for sale at Christie’s during The Protagonist  event on 10 December

Assael, round Fijian natural colour cultured pearl necklace, consisting of eco-farmed pearls with an 18 carat yellow gold clasp with diamonds 1.32 carats. Price on request. Offered for sale at Christie’s during The Protagonist  event on 10 December

To clarify her point she references this year's cutting-edge designs, which include a reclaimed wood bangle with diamonds and gold by the Chinese designer Yewn — a favourite of Michele Obama — and necklaces made from eco-farmed pearls and vintage coral by US-based company Assael (above).

Cloud 9 ring, 18 carat white gold, 32.4 carat aquamarine, Sea of Cortez pearl, and 0.36 carat white diamonds, 48 mm x 25 mm. Price on request. Offered for sale at Christie’s during The Protagonist  event on 10 December

Cloud 9 ring, 18 carat white gold, 32.4 carat aquamarine, Sea of Cortez pearl, and 0.36 carat white diamonds, 48 mm x 25 mm. Price on request. Offered for sale at Christie’s during The Protagonist  event on 10 December

Former war correspondent turned jewellery designer AnaKatarina only uses clean gold and recycled diamonds. ‘It was pretty much a no-brainer that I would never give my money to hurt a human,’ she says. Her Cloud 9 ring (above) and earrings typify the best of ethical jewellery: magical and playful, while also embodying a desire to do good.

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Alexandra Mor is passionate about the direction in which she sees her industry heading. ‘I don’t consider sustainability to be a trend, I see it as a way of life, a way of being, and it is deeply crucial to the future of our planet,’ she insists.

And she is adamant that her colleagues must be at the forefront of this change. ‘Designers are more than just creative people,’ she observes. ‘We are the new activists.’