Rapaport Magazine
Style & Design

Put on a happy face

With the effervescent Smiley emoji turning 50 this year, jewelers are still using it and other Pop Art icons to brighten up their collections.

By Francesca Fearon

Image: Messika

This year, Smiley will celebrate its 50th birthday. The mischievous Pop Art emoji was originally the creation of French columnist Franklin Loufrani, who designed it to highlight upbeat articles in the France Soir newspaper during the 1970s. After the acid house scene coopted it in the 1980s, Smiley went digital at the turn of the millennium, appeared as multiple giant inflatables at the London Olympics in 2012, and became a favorite motif among jewelers during the pandemic as a message of good cheer.

Boom! Pow! OMG!

The symbol’s appearance came on the coattails of the Pop Art movement, which emerged in the mid-20th century when artists, using attention-grabbing colors, incorporated comic strips, celebrities, and commonplace objects like soup cans and Coca Cola bottles into their works. In 1957, artist Richard Hamilton described the style as “popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous and big business.”

Its use of pulsating color, symbols, and playful messaging have made it popular in jewelry — initially in the fashion segment, and later in fine and even high jewelry. Designer Suzanne Syz, for instance, who recently shuttered her business, used Pop Art inspiration in her witty gem-set titanium and aluminum jewels.

This daring genre is the antithesis of heirloom jewelry’s serious character. A noted example of its irreverence is Solange Azagury-Partridge’s Hotlips by Solange collection of rings in the shape of colorful, pouting lips. The design, which she pioneered in 1995, has since gained iconic status in the modern jewelry world for its use of shiny, wet-look enamels on silver, and for its references to both Salvador Dalí’s and Andy Warhol’s obsession with lips. One of the recent additions to the collection even features a Smiley pattern.

Comic-book creativity has been another source of inspiration for both Azagury-Partridge — with her new neon-colored, gem-set Scribbles collection — and Diane Kordas, whose Pop Art collection of necklaces sparkles with diamonds and sapphires spelling out words like “BOOM,” “OMG” and “WTF.”

“I love Pop Art being one of the first manifestations of postmodernism,” explains Kordas. “Its colorful, witty, youthful and glamorous vibe is the perfect way of joining modern acronyms with the existing ones of POW! and BOOM!”

Using gems like emeralds, diamonds and hot-pink sapphires helps elevate the iconography into something precious, differentiating it from fashion jewelry, she says. “Pop Art artists like Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, David Hockney, Keith Haring and so forth are repeatedly celebrated. Therefore, the Pop Art collection will have lasting appeal.”

Cheerful expression

Among those marking Smiley’s 50th is Messika, one of the officially chosen collaborators of Loufrani’s son Nicolas, who developed the emoji’s desktop language. The Paris-based jewelry house is celebrating with a cute Lucky Move pendant in yellow diamonds, and a My Move novelty bracelet assortment featuring Smiley prints on the interchangeable straps.

Smiley also appears in charms from the collections of Alex Woo and Heather B. Moore, and beams joyfully from the signet rings that husband-and-wife team Atsushi and Hwayoung Koizumi designed for their Japanese brand, Komi. In 2020, Komi launched happy-face gold rings with precious stones — which buyers can customize with birthstones — having originally introduced its Emotion series in 2016 to reflect different emoji-style facial expressions.

“To incorporate the motifs into the jewelry designs, we try to simplify or exaggerate the form in the way of drawing an illustration or manga,” says Atsushi Koizumi. “We believe that our whimsical jewelry, with its minimalistic design, gives this wearable art a casual feeling.” The collection is highly popular in Japan and will be available this summer through Kolekto gallery in San Francisco.

Also using the famous smiling face is Rosanne Karmes, founder of Sydney Evan, who has designed diamond necklaces and multicolored gem-set bracelets featuring the cheerful motif. Her jewelry vocabulary includes other graphic symbols of the era as well, such as flower power and peace signs.

“I’m a ’70s gal — it’s my favorite fashion era,” confesses Karmes. “Most of my icons are the doodles I would draw as a kid and the stickers and patches that were on my notebooks and jeans. They are happy and playful, and I feel like they reflect my personality.”

These designs have been in her collection from the beginning. Still, she says, “I do update them with different-color stones, and I have expanded to creating collections based on these symbols, including making them in various sizes and combining them with other symbols.”

Picture perfect

Emoji and emoticons have emerged as the digital generation’s new way of communicating. Surfacing in Japan in the 1990s, emoji were inspired by the graphics in manga comics. Many people credit graphic artist Shigetaka Kunita with transforming them into a digital language.

Alison Chemla, who studied cybergraphics in college, launched Alison Lou in 2012, with offerings including a core fine-jewelry line that featured cheeky, expressive faces and other emoji. She has since expanded her repertoire of symbols in her Groovy collection, reflecting the psychedelic vibe of the 1960s and ’70s with her Trippy tie-dye enamel pieces, Magic Shroom mushroom motifs, and peace signs. She’s also added pearls and opals, which she hadn’t used before.

Brent Neale Winston is another designer tripping out on mushroom and snail motifs in her Brent Neale brand, setting gems into carved hardstones to embellish these whimsical shapes.

“This goes back to a core belief that jewelry should be fun and wearable every day,” says Winston. “The snail was really a nod to the fact that our jewelry is made slowly, and good things take time. And that, I think, applies to so many things in life. Just a message to me (or any wearer) that it’s okay to take your time.”

The popularity of these Pop Art pieces is hard to deny. “We have clients that have bought them as singles and in multiples,” says Winston, who advocates a layered look. “One lovely husband commissioned four for his wife for this past Christmas because she loves them so much.”

They appeal to everyone, agrees Karmes — “young to older, men, women…. Everyone wants to smile and feel joy. Looking at positive, pretty things with a sense of humor helps us to do that.”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - June 2022. To subscribe click here.

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