When French jewelry designer Marie Lichtenberg was growing up in Paris in the 1990s, she loved to play with the Magic 8 ball. When shaken, the game acts like a kind of fortune teller, revealing in a small window the answers to the questions: “Don’t count on it.” “It is for sure.” “Ask again later.”
“My parents have traveled a lot,” Mrs. Lichtenberg said by phone from her home in Paris. “Every time they went to the US, they brought some goodies for me and my brothers, and Magic 8 Ball was one of them.
She added, “This ball is still with me, and my daughter and my little boy play with it.”
Last summer Mrs. Lichtenberg was sitting on her sofa, pondering what to design next, when she noticed the ball on her coffee table. “I know what we have to do,” she remembered thinking. “We have to make the No. 8 ball of gold and diamonds!”
And in June, at the Couture Jewelry Show in Las Vegas, the designer offered a version of the plastic toy in 18-karat gold, diamonds, and enamel, valued at $10, but priced at $21,560. The pendant – which mimics the original 8 Ball fortune-telling function and was manufactured in Italy with the blessing of Mattel, the game’s maker – was awarded Best in Innovation at the show. (The judges praised her “ability to spark joy”.)
When Mrs. Lichtenberg decided to remake Magic 8 Ball, she didn’t even know that Mattel, the maker of Barbie, owned the rights. Instead, she was driven by the same instinct that seems to motivate some jewelers: above all, the desire to create designs that evoke the fun of their childhood.
As a result, a wave of fancy jewelry inspired by things like unicorns and the Rubik’s cube is coming to the market.
Camille Zarsky, founder of The Seven, a designer jewelry store in Manhattan’s West Village, interpreted the trend as evidence of the collective desire for “playful distractions.”
“People are looking for things that are less serious and more exotic,” Ms. Zarsky said in a phone interview from Sag Harbor, New York, where Seven has just opened its second location.
In 2020, during the pandemic lockdown, Claire Choisne, creative director of the Paris-based jewelry house Boucheron, came to a similar conclusion.
“Two days before our trip with my team to Africa, we had to cancel it,” Ms. Schwazen wrote in an email. “Everyone was sad! We went to Pinterest and spent hours looking for inspiration. In the process, I came across pictures of Memphis Design that reminded me of a happy time during my childhood in the ’80s.”
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 in July during Paris Haute Couture Week, which received widespread acclaim on social media for its wit and sense of humor. Among the many talking pieces in the line was the Solve Me necklace, which is essentially a loose gem-set Rubik’s cube.
“Like the cubes of the original puzzle, each side of the piece is a different colour,” Ms. Schwazen wrote. “The artisan lays gray spinels and pink sapphires on small plates of white gold before inserting each one into an aluminum cube. Different types of mother-of-pearl are used: white, pink and grey.
Ms. Schwazen echoed many fine jewelers when she cited the pursuit of happiness as a motivating factor in her design process.
“At that time, the most precious thing to me was joy,” she wrote. “I couldn’t stand any more restrictions, I felt like a rebel, and my team and I wanted to design whatever makes us happy, express whatever we want to express. I needed color and fun.
Los Angeles-based fine jewelry designer Emily B. Wheeler has adopted the same mindset. In May, she presented a Mother’s Day mini collection of Mommy and Me pieces created in collaboration with Maria Dueñas Jacobs, founder of children’s jewelry brand Super Smalls.
In her gem-encrusted design, Ms. Wheeler stayed true to the oversized size of the gleaming rainbow designs from Super Smalls, but opted for precious materials. For example, Ms. Wheeler reinterpreted the $36 Super Smalls unicorn necklace made of base metals with imitation stones into a chalcedony design, with an 18k gold mane set with rubies and sapphires, on a white freshwater pearl necklace.
“I’ve always felt there’s something particularly charming about having an easygoing approach and not taking yourself too seriously,” Ms. Wheeler said.
She certainly lives by this credo. In 2019, long before “Barbie” became a blockbuster, Ms. Wheeler put a hot pink vinyl wrap on her Land Rover Defender. “It looked like a giant toy car,” she said. “It was so funny and so cool.”
Ms. Wheeler framed her choice of cars as an example of how ridiculous it feels to be an antidote to current events. “There is a lot of seriousness that hangs over every decision we make today,” she said. “Do you want to have children, and where do you live? Is it ethical? Will this place be underwater in 20 years?”
But the use of pink cars – or jewelry – to lighten the mood is not a new phenomenon.
In 2012, Alison Shimla, Creative Director and Designer for Alison Lowe, founded her New York-based fine jewelry brand with a collection of seven emoji-inspired designs that celebrated “a new way of communicating,” in the words of Ms. Shimla.
Four years later, toy company Hasbro proposed that it turn three of its most classic products – Twister, Monopoly and Mr. Potato Head – into jewelry.
“Because I build faces, Mr. Potato Head really resonated with me,” said Ms. Shimla. “I made a Twister board imitation, using a spinning wheel, as a necklace.”
London-based interior and product designer Tatiana van Lancker drew on similar themes of nostalgia in 2019 when she presented a collection of robot jewels in gold and colored stone based on an articulated necklace her mother wore when Ms. van Lancker was growing up in Sydney, Australia.
Designed to evoke the retro-futuristic vibe of Rosie the robot, the maid in the 1960s animated sitcom “The Jetsons,” Mrs. Van Lancker’s set of robot parts, called Van, caught her eye when she wore a prototype to a party in London and sparked interest. Fashion editor.
“They are meant to be your friendly robot,” Ms. Van Lanker said on a phone call from her home in Rome, where she and her husband moved in 2022 to do his work, bringing her closer to her workshop in Tuscany.
“My clients never take it off,” she added. “And because they have this tangible element of expressing themselves, it’s soothing. It’s like your little friend around your neck.
In addition to evoking a more relaxed time, toy-inspired jewelry also “uplifts everyday life by dressing it up with gems and precious metals,” said Bella Neiman, co-founder of NYC Jewelry Week and frequent speaker on the history of jewelry. “.
It cited contemporary jewelers Emiko Oe, Margo Lang, and Lisa Walker as pioneers in the category.
“Before the movie came out, Margo was using Barbie dolls in her designs,” Ms. Neiman said in a recent phone call. “Emiko has been sourcing old Legos. It’s also about recycling and taking these mass-market things and upgrading them.
Describing Ms. Walker’s work — “her work is about subversion and surrealism” — Ms. Neiman mentions Elsa Schiaparelli, the 20th-century Italian designer whose collaborations yielded exquisite jewelry such as the aspirin necklace of blue porcelain beads. Painkillers, created with novelist Elsa Triolet; and Ruby Lips, a brooch in the shape of a mouth with pearly teeth and sapphire lips, created in collaboration with Salvador Dali.
Lady Zarsky of the Seven also notes the influence that Schiaparelli still has on jewellery. “People want jewelry to be more than just diamonds and gold,” she said. “It’s about storytelling and escapism.”
Ms. Lichtenberg said there is one thing designers in this sector need to remember: “The more unserious you become, the more serious you have to be about your production. The craftsmanship is to die for. Otherwise, it’s just a game.”