Emmanuel Tarpin: “I’ll never feel frustrated if I can express myself”

Lostinjewels continues the series of interviews about the jewellery world and the market – the moment of it, right now, as we see it through the eyes of its players. This time I, Olga Zakharova Kaetano, talked to the jewellery artist, one of the most promising talents in high jewellery, – Emmanuel Tarpin.

The Magnificent Jewels sale at Christie’s in December 2017 made then 25-year-old Mr. Tarpin a sensation. His earrings were sold by phone to an anonymous bidder for $25,000 along side with Van Cleefs and Arpels’ works and JAR’s. That was a remarkable accomplishment on its own for the unknown designer, but the age and the brightness he showed to the jewellery experts raised up the attention of the wider public. Rihanna wore his earrings at Oscars afterparty, then De Grisogono announced a collaboration project in 2019…

Emmanuel Tarpin. Portrait by Alison Goote.

LIJ: Emmanuel, you are one of the youngest and most appreciated jewellery artists among high jewellery experts. Your works were sold at auctions. And, correct me if I’m being wrong, it brought you almost immediate recognition. But that seems a star-was-born-kind of moment only for people from outside. We don’t see your path, the challenges you faced, the choices you had to make. What was your path? How did you make it?

I come from Annecy, in the French Alps. I practised sculpture and oboe for 14 years from a very young age. Jewellery has also been a real passion since my childhood. And since the beginning, it was a way to express myself. I did general studies in the french Alps, then in Geneva at the High School of Art and Design (HEAD) in the jewellery and watch department for 5 years. After my graduation, I worked in a high jewellery workshop of Van Cleef and Arpels in Paris. It was essential for me to know everything about the jewels – from the inspiration to the final piece. All the different steps were interesting, and offered me real knowledge about it. After 4 years I decided to build my own brand. It was quite risky for someone who didn’t know that much about the business itself. But I’ve learned – step by step creating one-of-a-kind pieces one by one, in my own rhythm. I wanted to build not just something strong, but something that represents better than anything who I am.

Emmanuel Tarpin. Left: Hydrangea earrings in white gold, ceramic, diamonds and Santa Maria aquamarines. Right: White hydrangea brooch in white gold, ceramic, pink and white diamonds, photographed by Isabelle Bonjean

LIJ: What did you learn from the Van Cleef and Arpels’s workshops and decided to “take” with you in your personal journey? What had you seen at the time as a problem?

It was a real opportunity for me to work with high jewellery.

The craftsmanship is something essential in a design and I was very curious about all the different techniques. I learned a lot by sharing with older jewellers, at the bench, through special tips to know.

I feel very lucky and grateful because it was the best way to learn so to develop my own ideas, in my head first.

After 4 years, I decided to start my own brand. At a certain point, I felt a bit frustrated to not propose and create my own designs, I wanted to try things, experiment new materials, patinas, ideas… I needed to do something on my own.

LIJ: What was 2022 for you? What did you do last year? What are you especially proud of? What is that you appreciate the most?

In 2022, I deeply wanted to link my involvement to protect nature with my jewellery. I started a collaboration with an organisation in French Polynesia, Coral Gardener, which replants corals. Spent a month with the team in September to understand more about their engagement and follow all about their work. It was truly special. I created one-of-a-kind high jewellery pieces inspired by the ocean. 80% of the sale price will go directly to them to support their initiatives.

Jellyfish brooch in handcarved rock crystal, titanium and diamonds, by Emmanuel Tarpin. Project for the Coral Gardener

I also went to Mexico to visit the opal mines. As I’ve said it’s essential for me to know all about the jewellery, that includes everything about gemstones – from the mines to the market. So I needed to meet those market players that we usually don’t see – the minors. Everything starts with them. I wanted to watch and learn about their life, the way they work, their passion, their culture. It was a fabulous experience. I will continue visiting other countries to develop my understanding of jewellery and gemstones.

Next trip planned is Columbia and the emerald mines in August! Yes, curiosity is my vice.

LIJ: Your inspiration comes from different sources but the most known are nature inspired works. What do you find the most challenging? Which stage?

I have several inspirations in my work, but it is true that nature is the most important one. Though I can be inspired everywhere, it is always very spontaneous.

Emmanuel Tarpin.Cattleya orchids in ceramic, red gold and rubellites from Cruzeiro

Creating the one-of-a-kind jewellery is a challenge always – because of new materials, different gemstones and techniques. Depending on the piece, I need to think about its weight, colours, textures…

And that is actually very exciting. I have that need to experiment, to be surprised. The worst for me is to do the same things again and again, and to get bored.

LIJ: Your work and freedom with which you choose metals is quite remarkable. Rarely do young designers have such opportunities to develop innovative approaches in high jewellery. Your experiments and the way your workshop follows your ideas are crucial for the outstanding results. What are your secrets?

Thank you for these kind words. My choice of stones and materials fully depends on the design I have in mind. When I get the inspiration, I work very fast on 3d experimental models, then I show them to the masters at my workshop, we exchange thoughts on them, then together we try different techniques to find the best way to express my idea. It takes time, I must say, but I believe it is worth it.

LIJ: Do you use computer modelling and prediction in your work? What is your attitude to it? And what do you think about AI opportunities for the designers?

I think computer modelling is a great opportunity for designers. As for my own designs, I much prefer to work them out through wax carving. I love this idea of jewellery as a sculpture, made by hand. For me it gives something even more natural and special.

Emmanuel Tarpin. Left: A summer acorn in patinated bronze, rose gold, emeralds and tsavorites garnets. Right: The pumpkin brooch, photographed by Isabelle Bonjean.

LIJ: What are the main problems in the professional community and in the world of high jewellery right now as you see them? And are there any promising trends?

I think jewellery slowly loses its power to inspire. My vision is that jewellery is an art, a way to express mind and soul just like painting, photography and so on. It is a sculpture to wear. For me, jewellery pieces should have a meaning, a symbol. It is not just about precious stones set on precious metal. It is more than that, it is about emotions.

I will never feel frustrated as long as I can continue to express myself. As for the trends I definitely am not good at talking about it because I never follow them.

LIJ: Do you follow jewellery auctions and exhibitions? Which exhibitions do you find the most interesting, important for your brand? And which do you choose for yourself – for search, for inspiration?

As an art lover and collector, I follow different exhibitions such as contemporary or modern art for example. Every time I am in New-York, I spend days in the Met museum, the Guggenheim, the Whitney museum or in Chelsea – visiting some galleries. As for jewellery, sometimes I go to TEFAF or Gemgeneve. There are always interesting things to see.

But for exhibiting my works, right now I prefer to keep it very intimate – I arrange private appointments in New York or Paris with my clients.

Emmanuel Tarpin. The ear of wheat pin in 18k and 22k yellow gold and fancy vivid yellow diamond pear.

LIJ: Do you have favourite jewellery designers – from the past or contemporary? Who or what was the biggest influence on you, your vision, in jewellery design?

There are a lot of beautiful jewellery brands. I truly appreciate Art Nouveau artists like René Lalique and his use of plique-à-jour enamel, his very fresh interpretation of inspiration driven from nature. Or Jean Schlumberger, of course, Paulding Farnham, Suzanne Belperron…

LIJ: What is next – for you as a designer? If you have a professional dream, what is it? If it’s not a secret…

I would just say I want to continue work, keeping freedom in my creating process. I want to continue to explore and to experiment every day. I feel very lucky and grateful that I can do it. It’s not about business for me. It’s about passion.