Best known for its haute skincare and fragrances, Cultus Artem has sparingly released limited-edition haute jewelry: a pair of 18-karat gold and diamond earrings here, or a cobalto calcite ring there. This summer, the brand has gone all-in by debuting a collection of one-of-a-kind fine jewelry pieces inspired by the most raw and natural version of a kaleidoscopic array of gemstones. The Through Paradox collection marries the raw with the refined and the organic with the streamlined, creating a symphony of contrasts and “disparate materials as expressions of snippets of time and place,” says founder Holly Tupper, who spoke with Surface ahead of her collection’s launch at London’s PAD art and design fair on October 10.
She found further inspiration in the concept of topograms, or “tiny landscape poems,” explains nature writer Robert Macfarlane, who characterizes them as words or phrases created to capture the essence of a fleeting moment in nature. “When [poet] Gerard Manley Hopkins didn’t have a word for a natural phenomenon, he would simply—wonderfully—make one up: shivelight, for ‘the lances of sunshine that pierce the canopy of a wood,’ or goldfoil for a sky lit by lightning in ‘zigzag dints and creasings,’” Macfarlane writes.
“As topograms act as linguistic souvenirs of encounters with nature, my pieces serve as tangible relics of my own experience,” Tupper says. Those include childhood memories of clambering over the granite boulders that make up the aptly named Rock Island in Rhode Island, stargazing through breaks in the treed canopies of the forest on Quonochontaug Pond’s Yellow Trail, and idyllic summers spent digging for mussels and venturing past the pond to the ocean beyond. The designer in turn enlists gems—raw, polished, opaque, brilliantly clear, craggy, and smooth as glass—as a narrative element. Each piece, from the constellation of diamonds encircling an abstract-cut sapphire (Minutes After Sundown earrings) to the glittering expanse of the magenta cobaltoan calcite (Pink Crush Aphrodite ring) tells a story imbued with her own memories and the untold tales of its future wearer.
Tupper brings to the collection her mastery of jewelry design and fabrication, which has been developed from practices as varied as ancient solderless fusing techniques to modernist found-object craft. Throughout her creative process, she’s used tools that range from the primitive—brass canisters fueled by kerosene and oxygenated with blow pipes—to the state-of-the-art—acetylene tanks and mechanized oxygen regulators. These and other practices learned from her living and working in Singapore, the UK, Indonesia, India, and beyond have informed her skillset and perspective.
“The flexibility I divined by studying and working across many cultures as an outsider has shaped my approach to design and construction,” she says. “Being free to explore form, function, and pleasure for the sake of its appeal in the moment—this is what sets my design approach apart. I mix materials and experiment with shapes without preconceived notions of what I’m supposed to do.”
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