On a recent cruise on one of the small exclusive, Seabourn ships, the Seabourn Spirit, my two passions met… cruising the Adriatic in complete luxury on this marvelous liner and their boutique filled with terrific jewelry.
However, this is most unusual since most top-end ships I’ve been on usually have low end boutiques which has always been a puzzle to me. Where else could one find an affluent, captive audience especially on sea days, and offer unfashionable, dull merchandise? Plus the fact many items have the cruise name splashed across the front, side or back. I always feel that that the wearer becomes the ship’s walking advertiser or the announcement that they are ‘flush” enough to have taken a special cruise.
Knowing this, I avoided going into the small boutique the first day. But on closer inspection in the display windows, there were several truly marvelous piece of jewelry.
One designer in particular, held my attention enough to make me cross the threshold and find out who he/she is.
Christine Escher, is a most elegant Parisienne, with soft blond hair (twisted in the back in a French roll held by one of her own designed accessory) and very azure blue eyes. One would suspect she was one of the elegant guests, which she was in a sense. But she was also the hard working businesswoman and had, for this trip, brought some of her cache of glorious designs, there to discuss the stones, inspiration and quality of each of the dozens of chic precious and semi precious items.
“I never give my jewelry on consignment so I must be here to discuss each piece,” says the soft spoken woman with the compelling French accent.
Once or twice a year she leaves her atelier on the rue de la Paix near the Place Vendome in Paris where she has a private clientele for whom she designs one of a kind items and floats on one of the Seabourn cruises with the pricey collection. She sells to small exclusive boutiques in Paris, St. Tropez, Toronto and other major cities.
“Before I worked 80% for shops and 20% for private collection, but now that’s reversed.” She admits the economy has changed but not her bottom line.
That said, she’s clever enough to also add some of her considerably less costly sterling silver and electroplated designs which still have top-end creativity and are tremendously successful.
I ask about the gem stones and listen as she recalls that she studied economics at university but never finished, instead had a change of heart. “Even as a child I loved jewels.” So she learned this trade by herself before taking a jewelry course for 4 years after which she received a gemology diploma.
And for the last 35 years, she has had great success. Right off, her talent was acknowledged and become an exclusive designer for the renowned Van Cleef and Arles in Paris and New York where her specialty was an exotic collection in wood studded with gems
“These pieces are very expensive now,” she shows a bit of pride, although too restrained for her success. “I know this because of auctions where the prices for them have become very high.”
But wood isn’t as easy at one would think. She learned about the shrinking in various weather conditions and various other aspects of this material. As she became more knowledgeable, Escher realized that the bottom of the shank could easily split, hence she began using gold in that area of each ring.
“But I’m still learning all the time about the art of making jewelry.” she tells me in the quiet Library Room on the ship. “I have a lot of people working for me. For example there is a special man who does my ebony wood jewelry but I have a lot of workshops throughout France because I have big production,” she states, en passant.
Firstly, she sketches the designs for the craftspeople and then edits if need be, when she sees the first piece completely finished.
Each design is initially made in wax and after the stage, she decides the color and shape of the stones to add.
She mentions Rene Boivin, a famous jewelry designer from the 40s, who is certainly her great inspiration as much as is sea life which appears throughout her collection. As a matter of fact, she is wearing a fabulous Boivin ring with inset rows of triangular pink sapphire set in gold. As for the her other inspiration, she works around the star fish which seems to be her signature since this shape is seen throughout. One caught my eye, a stunning round large brownish moonstone where the star fish is set in diamond on the top. Also noticeable on earrings plus she diversifies at times with snail-like designs on her earrings and rings.
Luckily, Esher loves to travel. This gives her the opportunity to find fine gem stones . “I love aquamarine, tanzanite, opals, so I often go to the destinations where they are mined.” She also now has contacts in Germany and India and China.
“I don’t want my jewelry to be cheap. I like them to be heavy which raises the price since they are 18 karat gold, but although they have weight, they are easy to wear. Of course, now with the raise of the price of gold and the poor economy, cost is an issue and I don’t want to lower my standards, so yes, the sales are slightly lower. But on liners like Seabourn Spirit, there is not too much resistance” says the savvy woman.
As I look through her album of her designs from now and the past which she has on the ship, I see some exquisite creations. One is a dark blue sapphire and white diamond flower ring and a pink beryl with yellow gold ring “a range between orange and pink”. As for her own favorite, it’s aquamarine especially in her cache of earrings.
“I’m very stupid, I really should add all my mentions and photos from famous fashion magazines,” she says then adds, “I will when I return to Paris.”
In the meantime, the small boutique has a few interested travelers who seem to want her attention. She must go. But not before she insist I try on my own favorite, the brownish moonstone ring, which is most tantalizing. It isn’t as much fun as owning but it’s a start.