For Meeling Wong, March 31 did not go as planned. The managing director of jewelry for 112-year-old Danish silversmith Georg Jensen was preparing to travel from Copenhagen to New York to meet Dame Zaha Hadid, the world-famous, boundary-breaking architect. The two had spent the past 16 months collaborating on a jewelry line, the Lamellae Collection, which had just debuted at Baselworld (the annual international watch and jewelry fair held in Switzerland). Though Zaha had personally approved each piece, she had yet to see the final series newly cast in gold. “I was supposed to meet her on April 2 to give her the gold ring,” Meeling recalls. “She loved gold.” The meeting never happened due to Zaha’s tragic death a few days prior, aged 65.
That same gold ring is now in my hand (or on my middle finger to be precise). It bears a pleasing weight, complete with 383 diamonds (1.22 carats) in exacting lines of pavé. It’s sculptural, imposing, amorphous and sensuous— It’s pure Zaha. But it’s also Georg Jensen.
Flipping back through the archives, the numerous connections between the two—ideological as well as aesthetic—are almost uncanny. Both are inspired by a certain logic found in nature and both (this collaboration was not the first for either party) see huge value in a cross-pollination of the arts. “It was like a perfect marriage that fell from heaven,” Meeling tells me.
So how exactly did such a fated collaboration happen?
“They met at a dinner and the rest, as they say, is history…” said a member of the team at Zaha Hadid Architects, now led by Patrik Schumacher.
It all began in Beijing, September 2014. Zaha and David Chu (Georg Jensen’s chairman and chief creative officer) found themselves seated next to each other at the opening of her Wangjing towers. Chu complimented Zaha on her jewelry; Zaha expressed admiration for the Danish silversmith; and two months later Meeling found herself in Zaha’s offices on London’s Goswell Road. “The first thing I noticed about Zaha was her jewelry: she had huge cuffs and rings on both her hands. She had a real presence.”
And presence is exactly what the eight-piece collection has, which comes alive when it’s worn on the body. And although you “can’t wear a building on your finger,” (something the architect pointed out somewhat wryly to Meeling over their first meeting), it really is best described as “architecture for the hands.” 3D CAD sketches, the kind used in Zaha Hadid’s architectural practice, were sent to Georg Jensen who were tasked with the challenge of making the designs wearable. It was a “painstaking labor of love,” Meeling reveals with a fond smile. She and Zaha would wear-test pieces over a year-long process that sent the prototypes on a round-the-world tour from Copenhagen to Chiang Mai and everywhere in-between.
The relationship was symbiotic, “A constant process of balance, proportion and scale,” Zaha said during the Basel debut, only a few weeks before she died. “We have learnt a great deal about the craftsmanship from the team at Georg Jensen.” I ask Meeling for an example. The collection’s hero piece—a twisted cuff that boggles the eye with its mind-bending beauty—needing refining. “Zaha designed it in a regular cylindrical shape,” Meeling described, “but I could tell it needed some fine-tuning to work on the wrist. The balance was off so we had to compress it slightly on one side.” I look down at my arm and notice—for the first time—how the cuff narrows at the wrist and subsequently “hugs” the arm. It’s so comfortable, it’s easy to take the complex design for granted.
That these tiny adjustments (a clasp there, a diamond here, a softening of the edges, a slight change of proportion…) are invisible to the untrained eye is not only testament to Jensen’s technical capabilities but also to the palpable synergy between the jewelry house and the architect. “From the beginning,” says Meeling, “we spoke a similar design language.” And while it remains true that London’s Serpentine Gallery, or Italy’s Messner Mountain museum, or the Vitra Fire Station in Germany (or any building designed by Zaha Hadid) can’t be worn as rings or cuffs or bangles, their very essence—the curvilinear slats, organic silhouettes and great sweeping lines that make up her architectural DNA—very much can be. And thus, a legacy lives on.