Tucked away on a side street in East London, through an unassuming door and up a dark staircase in need of some repair, we emerge, somehow, in Brazil. Stark concrete contrasts with tropical foliage and an artfully tarnished mirror, creating an atmosphere of tastefully faded grandeur, enhanced by a deep gold ceiling that somehow manages to be both subtle and understated. In bespoke golden cases that line one wall a host of gemstones shimmer invitingly, their facets ceaselessly catching the light and our attention. Despite this eclectic singularity, the set-up feels natural and complete.
This is the underlying genius of jewellery designer Fernando Jorge. No matter how ostentatious the piece, the woman in it always appears to sparkle even harder. More importantly, she always looks totally comfortable. Jorge deals in enhancing rather than overwhelming or entirely transforming his clients. Perhaps this explains his popularity amongst some of the world’s most powerful women.
Essentially, anyone who came into your head when you read the words “powerful women” has been a client. Some (Beyoncé, Oprah, Angelina Jolie) have worn their pieces on the red carpet, others (including Amal Clooney and Michelle Obama) have discreetly been in touch to consider pieces for their personal wardrobes. “The jewellery needs to match the woman,” explains Fernando. “Finding the right one depends on a lot of factors. It’s a puzzle, and a really fun one.”
I comment on a piece that has caught my eye: his signature Stream ring in brown diamonds that make the entire piece look an opulent, pale gold. He instantly plucks it from the case and holds it out for me to try. It’s certainly clear that he enjoys this process. As we look through the rest of his collection and comment on our favourite styles, he can’t help holding an earring up to my face, or laying a bracelet over my wrist, looking triumphant when he’s pleased with the effect.
His design ethos follows this same logic of finding the right fit: the pieces are built to showcase each individual gemstone. This may be due to his unorthodox début to the business: then a design student in Brazil, Jorge was hired to make technical drawings for a jewellery company. Utterly seduced by the “incredible, exotic” process of seeing his work on paper become a finished product, he knew he had found his calling. “My passion was for the materials,” he tell us, gently playing with an emerald on his desk. “The natural beauty of emeralds or diamonds or tourmaline and wanting to make them even more beautiful.”
The soul of the brand is sensuality, that body culture of Ipanema and carnival. I wanted to show how playful, natural, and elegant it is.
This is accomplished, essentially, by incorporating them into physical incarnations of the Brazilian spirit. “The soul of the brand is sensuality, that body culture of Ipanema and carnival,” I am told, an inspiration that surprises me. International clichés of Rio often sideline the avant-garde design that abounds in the city, instead focusing on beautiful but highly sexualised women: in riotous and revealing parade costumes or barely-existent bikinis. Fernando takes this stereotype and clarifies it, making it more gentle, human, and ultimately, more accurate. He laughs at the “almost pornographic” vision of Brazilian women promoted in the international media. “I wanted to show how playful, natural, and elegant it is.” The result is a series of undulating, organic shapes, tangible interpretations of a unabashed femininity that simultaneously reflects Brazil’s rich Modernist heritage.
It may come as a surprise then, to the average customer, that these pieces are all designed in the UK. But if Brazil is the soul of the brand, London is the brains. It was here that Jorge was forced to verbalise and justify his instinctive approach to design, something that was relentlessly challenged during a Masters degree at Central Saint Martins. “They had all these questions,” he recounts in his soothing Brazilian accent, still mildly amused. “Why did you do this? You need to have thinking behind your creative process! In London, you need to be focused, you can’t have too many ideas. What you don’t put out is as important as what you do.”
This education in restraint and rigour has paid off. What Jorge is putting out is such a coherent series of triumphs that you wonder about the level of what he isn’t. One imagines it must still be towering somewhere above average. With stockists worldwide (and online) snapping up his existing pieces, the time is ripe to experience the magic of his work for yourself. It is something that is best done in person, allowing their tactile nature to be embraced: touch the pieces, move in them, and find the one that makes you feel like the best version of yourself. You’ll know when you’ve found the right one. Jorge agrees: “It’s the most exciting when it feels like it was meant to be,” he muses. Ah, fate. It moves in mysterious and (apparently) sometimes glittering ways. The idea that the universe wants you to have a certain piece of fine jewellery is both hugely appealing and deeply illogical. Best not to question it.