Larissa Moraes, Brasilia, Brazil
First Place, Professional Excellence (1-3 Years in Business)
By John Shanahan
In 1886, Vincent van Gogh moved from the Netherlands to Paris. The relocation brought with it a tonal change in the artist’s work, from earthy tones to brighter colors. He nourished this shift of vision through a series of still lifes, many focused on flowers. Among his favorite floral subjects were gladioli, which he captured in a number of paintings, including “Vase with Gladioli and China Asters.”
Just as the Dutch artist was captivated with these flowers, so was Brazilian jewelry designer Larissa Moraes by that very painting—an inspiration she turned into her award-winning necklace. “I found that van Gogh’s use of color, the way he was able to contour shapes that evoke emotion, could directly translate into jewelry,” she says. “I pushed myself to learn about his process and the feelings he intended to portray. I knew there was a connection between the wearable art I was creating and his timeless icons.”
Moraes’s asymmetrical design revisits the essence of van Gogh’s work in an 18k gold framework of leaves encasing 19.9 carats of light citrine, 3.9 carats of rubies, and 10.65 carats of morganite. “This necklace is a ‘puzzle’ of the painting that inspired it,” Moraes explains. “It was the perfect backdrop for our implementation of gemstones of different colors. Taking artistic license, we replicated the details of the gladioli leaves and carved lines in the gold to represent their veins.”
Moraes broadly studied van Gogh’s still life work before settling on this particular painting as the basis for her necklace. “I analyzed the painting, looking for interesting shapes, with no commitment to use the whole canvas or just in part,” she says. “The piece I envisioned for this painting was a necklace. I decided to use three colors from the painting for the necklace: yellow, red, and pink.”
She took to sketching out her idea even before deciding on what stones she might use. Although she realizes it might seem a bit backwards, this is the way she prefers to work. “Most designers I know buy the gemstone first and then draw the piece,” she says. “That way, you buy what’s available and avoid the hard work of searching for a stone with a specific tone and a specific cut. But I prefer to draw first. I like freedom in the idealization of jewelry. Then I adapt to reality.”
Moraes worked through several iterations before landing on her final version. In it, each color commands its own branch. “In the painting the colors do not mix, so in the necklace, they also do not,” she says. “The order of yellow and red was reversed from the painting because it seemed more harmonic.”
When she showed her sketch to her goldsmith, she ran into a slight difference of opinion in terms of ideal versus practicality. “He said that the necklace’s design was unbalanced. I explained that I wanted it just like that. He told me that the rule is to align the necklace with the breasts. I said to him: This is contemporary jewelry—there are no rules.”
Moraes did have one more thing in her favor. “I happen to be quite determined and convincing,” she says. “I work hard with my goldsmiths to make the piece just as I imagined. It’s a collaborative effort. They know when I set on something we’ll end up finding a way to make it work.”
From the drawing stage, Moraes moved on to creating mock-ups with paper and string. She would try on these prototypes to see if the asymmetrical draping she envisioned would hang and wear properly. Both aspects—the asymmetry and wearability—were central to capturing van Gogh’s subject and the designer’s ideal.
The organic drape of the leaves is meant to reflect nature. The bezel-set rubies nestle between the leaves or hang like reddened droplets of dew, delicately balanced in jump rings to give the piece a sense of movement. The citrine and morganite add subtle shine like captured sunlight in their bezels.
As she moved into the creation of the actual piece, subtle changes were made. “Much is based on stone sourcing,” she says. “We often find that size and placement as well as shapes may alter from my original idea, so we build anew from the stones we have been able to locate.” For example, her original design called for a pear ruby. When she could not find it, she opted for a marquise.
As the piece was coming together, Moraes and her goldsmith met many times. She tried the piece on for wearability and made various design decisions to land on a perfect fit. She recognizes her time with the goldsmith as a valuable part in this process, which was also a good learning experience for her as a self-taught designer. “I discussed all the final details with him,” she says. “Where it will be articulated, the texture, the finish. He taught me a lot. I changed some details during the creation of the necklace, following his guidelines.”
There was one more bit of back and forth with the goldsmith on a final detail: the S-clasp closure at the back. Moraes wanted this look for a vintage touch in her contemporary design that would also reinforce the piece’s handmade character. The goldsmith had perhaps a different idea. “He changed the clasp to try to align the collar again,” she says. She once again defended the piece’s asymmetry and her aesthetic, and the goldsmith dutifully corrected it. “Then the necklace looked exactly as I imagined it.”
And with that, this gallery-ready piece of art was ready for its lucky recipient—and a Vision Award.