In a small forest on the outskirts of Stockholm, the demi-fine jeweller Ingela Klemetz Farago can often be found foraging. On her hands and knees, with her platinum hair scraped back into a severe ponytail, she dons a pair of gloves and digs around for bits of fallen tree bark that have lain on the forest floor for years. A homemade denim tote bag rests beside her, ready to be filled.
“I see them as celestial bodies I am about to bring back to life,” says Klemetz Farago, of the bumpy, weathered pieces of oak, elm and beech she turns into earrings (shown above) for her jewellery label, Ingy Stockholm.
“When I find them, they’re a bit mushy. Some are very fragile. Over time they’ve been eaten by ants and worms. They’ve been rained on and are covered in insects. I take them home, brush them and dry them out for a few months before working on each piece.”
The spaces around an oak root are an unlikely starting place for a jewellery label, but the end result is craggy-edged earrings that have an organic vibrancy when brushed with gold acrylic paint. Having dried the bark in the open air, Klemetz Farago then coats each piece with a waterproof boat sealant before painting it in gold, silver or a cherry-red lacquer.
“Every single earring is unique,” she tells me on a call from isolation in Stockholm in March. “But when they’re in your ears, no one ever guesses that they are wood.”
Klemetz Farago is one of a growing number of jewellers to incorporate wood into demi-fine and fine collections, repositioning it as a luxury material. Silvia Furmanovich mixes her wooden droplet earrings — painted with tropical flowers from her native Brazil — with brown diamonds and pink tourmalines, while Mexican jeweller Sara Beltrán turns ebony wood into chunky shell-like charms set on 18ct-gold chains that she describes as “petite sculptures”.
Chaumet, meanwhile, has incorporated ebony into a collection of rings that draws inspiration from Africa, meshing the deep hue of the wood with stones that reportedly have symbolic powers — turquoise, representing wisdom, and malachite, which wards off anxiety. And Bottega Veneta has turned walnut wood into an armour-like choker studded with crystals. Retailing for £4,550, it sold out at Matches Fashion in less than a week.
“For a long time, there was a taboo of some earthy materials being too organic, or hippie, or unsophisticated,” says Balma Gaudio, founder of London-based boutique Koibird, which stocks mahogany pieces by Brazilian jeweller Vanda Jacintho — gargantuan chain-link necklaces and earrings dotted with crystals or gold-toned studs that are guaranteed to make a statement. “The unexpectedness of the wood is cool and modern — and the exaggerated scale is very exciting,” says Jacintho.
Tanika Wisdom, jewellery buyer at Matches Fashion, believes this high/low mixing of materials is a compelling combination. “When [wood] is used with stones, it becomes very luxe and unique,” she tells me. That the wood is often rare and polished, with a rich and deep hue, helps — cheap pine this is not.
Sustainability is an additional draw. The jewellery industry — historically reliant on mined gold, gemstones and diamonds — has faced criticism in recent years over a lack of traceability. Many jewellers, such as Lilian von Trapp, have responded by opting to use only recycled gold in designs. Other brands, including Monarc, use lab-grown diamonds.
Wood, when sourced from sustainable plantations such as those in the Philippines (Vanda Jacintho) or foraged from a Swedish forest, is a natural evolution. “Jewellery brands need to think about how their pieces are made and where the materials come from,” says Gaudio. “Generally, they’re being more conscious and using something they have around them — wood — to create something new and beautiful.”
Beltrán, who has been using ebony in her jewellery for the past three years, says that wood is “recognised as sustainable by virtue of it being a renewable resource”. Today, she adds, it is harvested in a thoughtful way, and to specific forestry standards, to prevent deforestation.
Valerie Messika, who uses Ziricote wood from South America in amulet-style bracelets and chokers, says proffering wood as a new material is key to evolving as a brand, especially as customers’ focus on sustainability grows. “The luxury market is changing constantly and we [have] to look beyond traditional gold, diamond and gemstones as being the only precious metals,” she says.
Boucheron’s Claire Choisne goes further. “It’s as precious as gold,” she enthuses. For her latest high-jewellery collection, Choisne incorporated aspen wood, sourced from Siberia, meshed with diamonds. She had been inspired by scenes from Rostov, in Russia, during winter.
“Snow was everywhere,” she says. “The sky. The ground. Everything was white. The only thing that stood out was the black lines from the forests of trees. It was stunning.” The resulting pieces include gobstopper-style rings and icicle-shaped earrings in a wintry grey wood encrusted with frosty diamonds. Choisne worked with her team to develop a silvery patina on the wood to mimic “Russian wooden buildings weathered by cold and time . . . we had to try a dozen patinas to achieve this result, as we couldn’t wait 200 years.”
Messika framed her warm brown wood with rose gold; she had wanted to create jewellery that was easy to wear “day in, day out”. There is, she says, something inherently romantic about wood “It has a magical power . . . Just like a diamond, it’s an organic and natural material and the irregularities of wood give each piece a unique character.”
Back in the forest, Klemetz Farago says that her jewellery is close to being carbon neutral, and that she often spends her time — quite literally — hugging trees to alleviate city-related stress. “There is so much soul in these pieces of jewellery,” she says. “It’s almost love, coming from me via mother nature. And nothing is more perfect than what nature is making itself.”
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