Welcome back to my day-by-day breakdown of the 2023 edition of The COUTURE Show, which recently returned to the Wynn Convention Center.  As my notes were more comprehensive on Day 4, I have broken out each of the designers with whom I met—Arunashi, Goshwara, Karen Suen Fine Jewellery, Bayco, and Assael—into their own article.  Enjoy!  And now, completing the series: Assael!

Sunday, June 04: Day 4 (1pm – 6pm)

While It is unescapably accurate that the role of colored gemstones and minerals, as well as colored alloys, and techniques such as enameling, have become increasingly more prominent in jewelry design as people become more concerned with expressing their own personalities and individuality than in years past; it always amuses me when I learn that another editor has come away from COUTURE declaring that “Color” is a hot trend.   

Besides the fact that colorless diamonds are always going to be in style—certainly, if DeBeers has anything to do with it, and especially with the rise in high-quality lab-grown diamonds—you’d have to have a heckuva lotta nerve (and be ignorant af!) to walk up to anyone affiliated with any the five acclaimed jewelry houses I met with on the last day of COUTURE 2023, look them in the eye and tell them, with a straight face, that color is new, is back, is a trend, or is anything other than one of the pillars upon which they (and in many cases, previous generations of their families) have built their respective companies. 

Anyhow, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let’s get to it!

ASSAEL:  Any conversation about Assael begins with pearls—of the South Sea, Tahitian, Fijian, Akoya, Keshi, or natural varieties—and coral.  Whether it’s being worn by a debutante or a dowager, if the jewel in question is a lustrous strand of pearls or a vibrant strand of coral, the name on the lips of jewelry connoisseurs, collectors, and aficionados alike is Assael.

So, when Assael’s SVP/Creative Director, Peggy Grosz—the handpicked successor of the Maison’s late matriarch, Christina Lang Assael—began experimenting with pairing pearls and coral with colored gemstones and unique minerals that enhanced and played on their delicate hues, I thought it was tremendous.  Not only did it expand (and in many cases, redefine) what ‘pearl jewelry’ meant to most people; it has brought entirely new markets of customers to the Assael party.  And what a party!! 

So, instead of obsessing over the gobsmacking strands of pearls and coral for which Assael has been, is, and always will be associated, I’m gonna focus almost entirely on the collection known as The Colors, which was introduced to me at COUTURE 2018.  I’d have paid it more mind, at the time, if I hadn’t been so busy kvelling over the newly-launched Bubbles collection—designed for Assael by the absurdly talented Sean Gilson—that I wasn’t paying attention to too much else; so, it wasn’t until COUTURE 2019 that I got into ‘The Colors’ vibe by way of an exquisite pair of Tahitian Pearl Earrings with Color-Change Garnets that appeared green in natural light and violet in incandescent light, both shades bringing out the pearls’ vibrant peacock-hues; and the stupendous 63.5” Natural Sardinian Coral, Black Onyx, and Diamond Chain Necklace, a fabulous fusion of Art Deco and Mod that managed to be utterly timeless.  By the time I was getting up close and personal (at COUTURE 2020) with the sophisticated pairing in the Sand and Sea Golden South Sea Pearl and Sonoran Turquoise Ring (where the turquoise’s veiny golden matrix appears to have been leached from the luscious golden South Sea pearls that surround it), I was an unabashed fan of ‘The Colors’.  And I wasn’t the only one, seeing as the demand to expand the collection has increased year-to-year to the point that at COUTURE 2023, ‘The Colors’ occupied all of the windows on one side of the Assael salon. 

The first piece to really resonate with me, this year, was the Dendritic Agate, Coral, Pinctada Natural Saltwater Pearl & Garnet Brooch, a 2” x 2” miniature ‘painting’ of the floor of the Mediterranean (down to the coral branches!!) in the form of an 18K gold and platinum brooch that doubles as a choker attachment and features a 60.45-carat Dendritic agate from India, to which a branch of red Sardinian coral and a natural saltwater Pinctada pearl (5.28-6.30mm) have been added, with the whole thing surrounded by 58 round copper garnets (8.20tcw).  Just a delightful jewel!

The ‘In Reverse’ Tahitian Pearl and Sunstone Earrings feature a pair of natural color Tahitian pearls—one 10.5mm round pearl and one 14.1x10.7mm drop pearl—with vivid peacock hues, that have been matched to 10.55-carats of green Oregon sunstones that were deemed “rare and fine” by the GIA and sent to Germany to be cut and polished by one of Assael’s preferred lapidaries, before returning to the US where they were paired with the pearls, and set in 18K gold.  The hypnotic Tahitian Pearl and Cat’s-Eye Moonstone Earrings feature two well-matched baroque Tahitian natural color pearls (17.0-9.0mm), that have been paired with two cat’s-Eye moonstones (10tcw) selected for the way their colors enhance the silvery blue hues of the pearls, set in platinum with diamond accents.  I found the Petrified Wood and Tahitian Pearl Earrings at once cool and a bit spooky (in the most wonderful way), owing both to the legally-sourced petrified bog wood from Oregon with its opalized mother-of-pearl-like pattern (that brings to mind the wings of a ghost moth), as well as the pair of 11mm Tahitian natural color pearls that highlight the silvery iridescence in the wood.  And rounding out the Tahitian pearl entries on my list, the Blue Tahitian Pearl and Vivid Aquamarine Ring, featuring a 12.3mm Tahitian natural color pearl paired with a stunning 10.45-carat kite-shaped Brazilian aquamarine in an intensely vivid hue that is particularly rare, set in platinum.

For those seeking more of a fabulous red-carpet vibe, it doesn’t get much more glam than the Golden South Sea Pearl and Fancy Yellow Diamond Earrings with their pair of 12.0 x 12.1mm golden South Sea pearls that have been set in the midst of a 3” vertical row of natural fancy yellow diamonds along with a second, shorter row of the same.  The really cool thing about these earrings is that while they’ve been styled with clip backs, they give the illusion of passing through the ear (whether those ears have been pieced or not). 

One of the most easy-to-wear pairs of earrings in the collection is the Golden South Sea Keshi Pearl ‘Black & Gold’ Earrings which, measuring 0.75” in length, feature nearly 19-carats of cabochon-cut black metamorphic rock containing pyrite (aka ‘fool’s gold’) paired with a half-dozen natural color golden South Sea keshi pearls (5.0mm-11.0mm), set in 18K gold.  The insanely lustrous sheen of the pearls is owed to keshi pearls being non-nucleated, and therefore consisting entirely of nacre.  And keeping with the golden pearl theme, the Fijian Pearl and Petrified Golden Oak Earrings measure 1.5” long, and feature a pair of glossy Fijian pearls (10.8 x 10.7mm) nestled atop pieces of responsibly-sourced live-edge Oregonian petrified golden oak, set in 18K gold.

One of my favorites from 'The Colors' is the Princess Cushion-Cut Ring from Assael’s limited Princess series, which features a lush and alluring 27.88-carat cushion-cut bi-color Nigerian tourmaline, set in 18K gold, and surrounded by 19 baroque Akoya pearls of varying hues (3.5mm-4.0mm); and is the perfect piece for anyone looking to live their best princess life.

Early in the show, I’d been chatting with Peggy in front of Assael’s windows, when I erroneously referred to two pairs of earrings featuring Maligano jasper, in my own inimitable overly-self-assured way, as “Kimono Earrings.”  I’d forgotten to bring my readers with me, that day, so—thanks to my blurred vision—my brain read what was actually the Maligano jasper’s distinctive breccia as hand-painted Japanese themes, with one pair depicting katana-wielding samurais and the other Sakura blossoms and crashing waves.  The Tahitian Pearl, Maligano Jasper, Sardinian Coral, and Aquamarine Earrings (aka the pair with the samurais) measure 2.5” in length and feature a pair of round, 10.6mm blue-toned Tahitian pearls and two pieces of Maligano jasper (74.19tcw), are accented with two red coral branches totaling 1.63g and two round aquamarines (0.28tcw), and set in platinum; while the Tahitian Pearl and Maligano Jasper Earrings (aka the pair with the Sakura blossoms and crashing waves) measure 2.25” in length and feature a pair of round, 9.6mm silver-hued Tahitian pearls, two pieces of Maligano jasper (38.71tcw) set in 18K rose gold.  I gave myself a pass on my erroneous identification, though, seeing as Maligano jasper was only discovered on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi a little more than a decade ago, and is fairly new to the American market.

And while I’ve kept things focused on ‘The Colors,’ it’d be foolish to write about Assael and fail to mention at least one of their stunning pearl pieces sans couleur; and I just flipped for the whimsical South Sea Baroque and Keshi Pearl ‘Fairy Blossom’ Earrings by Sean Gilson for Assael, which measure 3.25” in length and feature a pair of very large (over 22mm!) beautifully-matched baroque South Sea pearls, each topped with a crown of crescent-shaped South Sea keshi pearls, set on ‘stems’ of 18K white gold.  Dubbed the ‘Fairy Blossom’ earrings by Assael’s graphic designer, I found these utterly enchanting earrings to be brimming with Josephine Baker energy, as the ring of keshi pearls reminded me of an inverted version of the notorious banana skirt in which Baker was photographed (and forever immortalized) along with multiple strands of pearls at the Folies Bergère.  Talk about style transcending time!

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