Growing up in Paris in the 1990s, French jewelry designer Marie Lichtenberg loved playing the Magic 8 Ball. When the toy is shaken, it acts like a fortune teller, displaying the answer to a question in a small window: “Don’t count on it.” “To be sure.” “Ask later.”
“My parents travel a lot,” Lichtenberg said by phone from his home in Paris. “Every time they go to the US they bring back something nice for me and my siblings and the Magic 8 Ball is one of them.
“I still have the ball and my daughter and little boy are playing with it,” she added.
Last summer, Lichtenberg was sitting on the couch thinking about what to design next when she noticed the ball on the coffee table. “I knew what we had to do,” she recalls. “We must make an 8 ball out of gold and diamonds!”
In June, at the Fashion Jewelry Show in Las Vegas, the designer unveiled an 18-karat gold, diamond and enamel version of the $10 plastic toy, but it sold for $21,560. The pendant, which replicates the fortune-telling function of the original 8 Ball and was crafted in Italy with support from toymaker Mattel, won the show’s Best Innovation award. (The judges praised “it inspires joy.”)
When Ms. Lichtenberg decided to recreate the Magic 8, she didn’t even know Barbie’s maker, Mattel, owned the rights. Instead, her business instinct seems to be the same as some jewelers’ motivations: primarily a desire to create designs that evoke their childhood joys.
As such, a slew of unicorn- and Rubik’s Cube-inspired fine jewelry is about to hit the market.
Camille Zarsky, founder of Seven, a designer jewelry boutique in Manhattan’s West Village, interprets the trend as evidence of a collective desire for “a lighthearted pastime.”
“People are looking for something less serious, more whimsical,” Ms Zarsky said in a telephone interview from Sag Harbor, New York, where the Seven just opened a second location.
In 2020, during the pandemic lockdown, Claire Choisne, creative director at Paris jeweler Boucheron, came to a similar conclusion.
“Two days before our trip to Africa with my team, we had to cancel our trip,” Ms. Shuwana wrote in an email. “Everyone is sad! We spent hours on Pinterest looking for inspiration. In the process, I found images of Memphis designs that reminded me of my happy childhood in the 80s.”
She was referring to the bright colors, geometric shapes and bold patterns of the Memphis design movement, a style associated with a group of Italian architects and designers who dominated the decade with Pop Art-inspired sensibilities.
The birth of Boucheron’s 30-piece “More is More” collection, launched during Paris Fashion Week in July and widely praised on social media for its originality and sense of humor. One of the collection’s most talked-about pieces is the Solve Me necklace, essentially a deconstructed Rubik’s cube encrusted with gemstones.
“Like the cube of the original puzzle, each face of the puzzle is a different color,” Ms. Schwaner wrote. “The artisans mounted gray spinels and pink sapphires on small plates of white gold and inserted them into aluminum cubes. Various types of mother-of-pearl were used: white, pink and gray.”
Ms. Choisne, like many fine jewelers, sees the pursuit of happiness as a motivating factor in her design process.
“At that time, the most precious thing to me was happiness,” she wrote. “I can’t accept more restrictions, I feel like a rebel, I want me and my team to design something that makes us happy, expresses what we want to express. I need color, fun.”
Emily P. Wheeler, a Los Angeles-based fine jewelry designer, shares the same philosophy. In May, she launched Mommy and Me, a Mother’s Day capsule collection in collaboration with Maria Dueñas Jacobs, founder of children’s jewelry brand Super Smalls.
In Ms. Wheeler’s jewel-studded designs, she remains true to Super Smalls’ rainbow, sparkling oversized designs, but opts for precious materials. Ms. Wheeler, for example, has reinterpreted the $36 Super Smalls unicorn pendant as a white onyx design, crafted from base metals and created gemstones, with 18-carat gold bristles, set with sapphires and rubies, and a white onyx necklace Freshwater Pearls.
“I’ve always found something very charming about a relaxed style and not taking yourself too seriously,” Ms. Wheeler said.
She really lives up to that creed. In 2019, long before “Barbie” was a blockbuster, Ms. Wheeler put a bright pink vinyl wrap on her Land Rover Defender. “It looked like a giant toy car,” she said. “It’s been so much fun, it’s been great.”
Ms. Wheeler cited her car of choice as an example of how stupidity can be the antidote to current events. “Every decision we make today takes it more seriously,” she said. “Whether to give birth, where to live. Is this ethical? Will this place be flooded in 20 years?”
But using pink cars or jewelry to lighten the mood is nothing new.
In 2012, Alison Lou’s creative director and designer, Alison Chemla, founded the New York-based fine jewelry brand with a collection of seven emoji-inspired designs celebrating “a new way of communicating ’, Ms Chemla said.
Four years later, the toy company Hasbro proposed that she remake three of its most iconic products—Twister, the Monopoly game and Mr. Potato Head ) into jewels.
“Mr. Potato Head really resonated with me because I sculpted the face,” Ms Chemla said. “I copied the Twister board with the spinning wheel as a pendant.”
London-based interior and product designer Tatiana Van Lancker drew on a similar nostalgic theme in 2019 with a collection of robotic jewelry in gold and colored gemstones inspired by her mother’s work in Van Lancker. Articulated pendant worn by Van Lancker growing up. Sydney, Australia.
Ms. Van Lancker’s line of robotics pieces, called Van, is meant to evoke the retro-futuristic vibe of Rosey the Robot, the maid robot from the 1960s animated sitcom The Jetsons, when she wears a prototype to attend She became popular at a party in London. It aroused the interest of a fashion editor.
“They’re definitely your friendly robots,” Ms. Van Lank said when called from her home in Rome. In 2022, she and her husband moved to Rome for work, which brought her closer to her studio in Tuscany.
“My clients never take them off,” she adds. “And because they have an articulate tactile element, it’s soothing. It feels like your little friend is hanging around your neck.”
Bella Neyman, co-founder of New York Jewelry Week and a regular lecturer on jewelry history, said toy-style jewelry, in addition to evoking a more carefree time, “gives a new dimension to everyday life by adorning it with gems and metals.” Life” “.
She counts contemporary studio jewelers Emiko Oye, Margaux Lange and Lisa Walker as pioneers of the category.
“Margaux used Barbie dolls in her designs before the movie even came out,” Ms. Neiman said in a recent phone call. “Emiko has been sourcing vintage LEGO bricks. It’s also about upcycling and taking these mass-market things and elevating them.”
In describing Ms. Walker’s work — “her style is subversive and surreal” — Ms. Neiman pointed to 20th-century Italian designer Elsa Schiaparelli, with whom she collaborated on the Dreamlike jewels like the aspirin necklace made of blue porcelain beads that look like Painkiller co-created with novelist Elsa Triolet; Ruby Lips, a brooch with pearl teeth and ruby lips, by Salvador Dar Created by Salvador Dalí.
Ms Zarski of the Seven also mentioned Schiaparelli’s influence on jewellery. “People want jewelry that’s not just diamonds and gold,” she said. “It’s about storytelling and escapism.”
Ms. Lichtenberg said that designers in this field must remember one thing: “The less serious you are, the more serious you have to be with your product. Craftsmanship has to be dead. Otherwise, it’s just A toy.”