Jeweller Francesca Amfitheatrof is the new design director of Tiffany, the largest luxury jewellery retailer in the US, and its first female design director
Tiffany’s head of design, Francesca Amfitheatrof: “Architecture and jewellery are very similar”
Jewellery from Amfitheatreof’s new T Collection for Tiffany
Your appointment means a new change in direction for Tiffany: Yes, my new T collection is close to the grid system of New York in style. It has a fairly pure, pared down essence that you see in Italian, Japanese and American design. It has 90 degree angles. You don’t have organic shapes. I have been looking at the 1940s, the Bauhaus influence in architecture, literature and music – that period interests me. Architecture and jewellery are very similar. The Flatiron building is nearly like a piece of jewellery. When I look at it, I think of a pendant.
Tell us something about your background: My father, Eric, worked for Time magazine as a foreign correspondent and every four years we moved when he became a bureau chief. We went from Tokyo, where I was born in 1968, to New York, Rome, London, and Moscow during the Brezhnev years. I went to boarding school in England and studied at the Royal Academy of Art in London.
How does being so well-travelled affect your work? I have a good understanding of a broad spectrum of cultures having lived and worked in these places. My aesthetic has been influenced by Japan and Italy – my mother is Italian.
You have designed for many other companies: If you are a visual person, you choose the things that influence you subconsciously. I feel I have sub-edited these things in my style.
What about Tiffany’s history? Tiffany has a history of design and there was so much innovation in the Forties, so part of Tiffany’s history is the history of American design. They stripped things away from European history, which is so layered, so Tiffany has this lightness.
Who is a typical Tiffany customer? It has different price points and no other brand is so open and democratic – from 16-year-old kids to oligarchs. The Tiffany woman has a New York energy and I hope that comes through in the jewellery, which I am subtly steering in new directions. Values in jewellery are changing – it doesn’t have to be a gift from a man.
The jewellery has a certain formality of style: I was interested in making it very engineered, but fluid, as I’m drawn to mechanics nowadays. To make something there is a need to own it. You need to create something and take ownership with complicated cuts too expensive to copy.
What sort of jewellery do you wear? My own jewellery includes a lot of Lalique rings from my grandmothers, pieces of antique jewellery, beautiful 1920 diamond jewellery, a gift from my husband, and pieces of my own design. Now I have amazing Tiffany pieces and I wear a mix of them. I love big chains and ceramic cuffs, but I change things all the time. Jewellery has a talismanic aspect and becomes part of you – it can give a point of view of who you are.
What other changes are you making? I am starting a competition with the Royal College of Art and Central St Martins in London and two design colleges in the US, offering internships, so we can hire them for work experience for two months. I really believe in the art school system and teaching gives you back so much. Every year is completely different and I am determined to keep that relationship going. I am also redesigning the studio so it is much more communal – I want to take them away from computers.
Have you been to Ireland? Yes, to Dublin. I had an exhibition at the Sebastian Guinness gallery a few years ago and know his wife, Peggy, the jeweller, very well.
What did you bring when you moved to New York? I brought my trinkets and keepsakes – a shell from a sadhu (holy man) that a painter gave to me and a little photo album collage of my children, a boy and girl, at five and seven. New York feels like home now. I was given a meteorite as a wedding present and it used to spook me, but now we have become friends.