Among the bright lights of Mayfair, Garrard’s flagship store is a beacon to the glamour. The grandiose exterior practically sparkles and is lit up like a palace. Some might say it looks fit for a queen and it is anything but an exaggeration to say that the exterior of the home one of Britain’s most historic fine jewellery brands is one fit for the bold creations that have been coming to life within its walls since 1735. And inside one can find Sara Prentice. She has served as Garrard’s creative director since 2015 after joining the brand as head of design in 2012. Alongside her team, Prentice has steered Garrard towards the nexus of tradition, trend and perennial style by remaining in constant touch with its striking historical roots while simultaneously propelling the brand straight to the forefront of modern high luxury jewellery design.
Words by Madeline Anderson.
On a blustery Friday evening in March, 5ELEVEN was given a rare glance into Prentice’s life and career. We were also given an in-depth overview of the history of a brand that has originated some of the most culturally significant pieces of jewellery of the last century. And we learned the story of the path that led Prentice to being at the centre of innovation within the once rigidly traditional fine jewellery space.
All things considered, it’s difficult to believe Prentice’s journey to her role at Garrard began by accident. Although she was certain that she wanted to pursue a creative career upon leaving school after her A-levels, it was ultimately a wrong turn down a corridor that kickstarted her passion for jewellery design.
“I applied to many colleges for fashion courses — I thought I wanted to pursue fashion and textiles,” Prentice explains. “One of my interviews was at the Kent Institute of Art and Design, and I got a bit lost in the halls and came across the jewellery and silversmithing studio. The tutor, Brian Hill, helped me out with directions before asking me if I had ever thought of designing jewellery. It was never something I had considered, but he showed me some of the work and asked if I wanted to show him my portfolio, and that’s exactly what I did.”
Following her studies, Prentice joined Cartier as a designer, and she would go on to work there for more than a decade. “That’s where I grew to absolutely love design… Whilst there, I learned there needs to be a perfect balance between the beauty of a gemstone and the design — one never overtaking the other — for a complete piece.”
Prentice then spent five years as the design director at Graff before joining Faberge as head of jewellery design in 2010. Later, after another stint at Graff as head of design from 2011 to 2012, she moved to Garrard. The rest was quite literally history, as Sara’s very first high jewellery design for Garrard went on to be memorialized in the cultural zeitgeist in 2013 when it was worn by modern royalty.
“Beyoncé’s stylist walked in one day and asked if we had any crowns they could borrow,” Prentice recalls with a smile. “Crowns aren’t the type of thing we hold in stock, so instead I showed him a piece that had just been combed from the workshop, which happened to be my first high jewellery design for Garrard. He loved it and Beyoncé ended up wearing it in her promotional video for her Mrs Carter tour.”
Long before Garrard was outfitting the likes of Queen B, the brand found its groove by serving a far more traditional royal clientele. Garrard received its first royal commission in 1735 – the same year it was founded by master silversmith George Wicks. This led to Garrard being appointed by Queen Victoria as the first ever Crown Jeweller in 1843. It has served every successive monarch since.
Nowadays, the unmistakable blend of tradition and contemporary taste stands as a key pillar of Garrard’s design flavour. And Prentice upholds the importance of the brand’s modern heritage. “When I got [to Garrard], I felt it was really important to use our heritage but I didn’t want it to define us. I wanted us to be a forward-thinking brand, and for the designs to be modern and let modernity shine through. On my arrival I made the decision that all new collections need to come from the heart of our heritage, whether that is a design, a moment in time or a muse – the options are endless from our 300-year history,”
Perhaps the house’s most iconic muse is Princess Diana, whose legendary sapphire and diamond cluster engagement ring inspired Garrard’s ‘1735 collection’. The ring, which features a 12-carat oval Ceylon sapphire encircled by a halo of diamonds set in 18-carat white gold, was selected by Diana in 1981 and soon became a worldwide sensation. And Prentice believes that the 1735 collection takes the classic beauty of Diana’s ring and updates it to fit “contemporary tastes… Diana’s ring was designed in the eighties, and the trend at the time was yellow gold. The original features a yellow gold band and lots of claws on each of the stones, while the centre stone has about 12 different claws going around it. I wanted the cluster to shine and not be crowded by all this metal. So, the centre stone now has four claws and the diamond that go around are held by the minimum amount of claws as possible.”
Prentice continues, “The cluster design is a classic, but the proportions and balance are key… This is a design that is both used in our collections like the 1735 line, but also features in more elaborate designs in our Jewelled Vault jacket rings through to the interpretation of the cluster that can be seen in our Blaze collection. It is another key Garrard DNA design feature.” While Diana’s ring inspired the effortlessly gorgeous 1735 collection, it was the very essence of the people’s princess herself that inspired one of Garrard’s newer ventures: the Blaze collection. Blaze takes the classic cluster motif and inverts it — the designs feature a masterful blend of faceted and cabochon gemstones which come together to create what Sara deems, “An electrifying synergy of colour and texture.”
The design is also a clever illustration of the way Diana has been inspiring women all over the world for more than four decades, and in many ways, a demonstration of how Diana embodied the characteristics of the ‘Garrard woman’. “The ‘Garrard woman’ is confident, independent and self-motivated,” Prentice explains. “We want the wearer to feel empowered – to own her style and be confident while she does it.” With that description in mind, it isn’t difficult to see why Sara turned to Olivia Cooke – aka Alicent Hightower in House of Dragons – to front the Blaze collection as the face of the brand. “We thought the character she was playing and Olivia herself just fit,” Sara said.
But Garrard’s designs take more than aesthetics into consideration when approaching the creative process. The brand’s all-female design team considers the mindset of modern women when considering how each jewel can fit into their lives, a strategy that comes from an intricate blend of creativity and expert craftsmanship. “We all trained not just in design but also in manufacturing – ‘on the bench’ as it is termed in the trade,” Prentice reveals. “This makes the design process much easier for us as we understand the limitations in manufacturing but use our knowledge as designers to look for new ways to innovate. All our designs must be comfortable to wear – we consider the weight of items such as earrings, add sliders to necklaces so you can adjust the length… these are all elements that make our items wearable from day to night”. “In our designs, we try and always give flexibility to the purchaser to buy into that collection knowing there will be something that will work for them,” she adds.
One design that may spark particular curiosity comes from the Fanfare collection, which takes inspiration the precious fans carried by guests at the opera masquerades that were the height of fashion in London’s theatre district when Garrard opened its first boutique there in 1735. Earrings featured in the collection fan out across the earlobe but are cleverly engineered to stay in place through an extra fixture on the back that sits up the ear. The collection also features ornamental hardstones in order to give the designs contrast in textures and materials.
On the inclusion of the hardstones, Prentice says, “Ornamental hardstones like lapis lazuli and malachite tend to be opaque and flat. What I wanted to do was create a real contrast against translucent faceted stones, so the hardstones were used to create the contrast.”
The Fanfare collection makes use of the Windsor motif, which is also seen in Garrard’s Albermarle collection, named after the street that houses the brand’s flagship house in Mayfair. Prentice explains that the Windsor motif was taken from one of Garrard’s most significant commissions, a piece likely to be recognized — consciously or otherwise — by even those unfamiliar with high fine jewellery. “It is inspired by the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara… Crafted by Garrard in 1893 as a wedding gift of Queen Mary and presented to her by her ladies in waiting, the tiara was later given by Queen Mary to Princess Elizabeth – later Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II – for her wedding in 1947.”
Further tie-ins to iconic royal motifs can be found in the Aloria line, a delicate range of open heart-shaped pieces that utilize Garrard’s Sovereign motif. “This motif draws on the historic setting of the most precious stone in history… Garrard crafted an ornate enamel and gold setting to hold the 530.20 carat Cullinan I, the largest cut and colourless diamond in the world, positioned atop the Sovereign’s sceptre in this beautiful heart-shape motif… When I designed Aloria, I wanted a collection that was very pure in terms of the design. We literally just used the heart shape and did the detailing within the shape.”
Despite Garrard’s perennial ties to the past, the brand and the business surrounding are anything but old-fashioned, if that wasn’t already entirely clear. Garrard remains entirely committed to a series of sustainability initiatives, something Prentice deems a key component of Garrard’s present and future plans. She goes on to say, “As the longest serving jeweller in the world, we are proud of our heritage and understand that businesses need to evolve over time. Sustainability underpins everything we do, from responsible sourcing to ensuring our head office and Albermarle Street showroom use 100% renewable energy. We believe we can accelerate positive change by partnering with others and this is why we, for example, collaborated with Planet Bee in 2021 and set up an urban garden with an estimated 100,000 bees on the roof of our London showroom.”
Garrard was also awarded the Butterfly Mark by Positive Change in 2017, a certification given to luxury brands that meet the highest standards of verified environmental, social and governance performance. “Sustainability is a journey, and we continually challenge ourselves to think about we as Garrard can have a positive impact on the people and the planet,” Prentice states.
Looking ahead, Garrard is set to celebrate the 20th anniversary of yet another one of its iconic creations: the Wings collection. Aptly named for their characteristic wing-like shape, the pieces take inspiration from the iridescent feathers on an angel’s wings and symbolize peace, protection and purity. The collection is looking to get an update later this year, which will surely follow the innovative trajectory Prentice set her brand on from the moment she sat down in the creative driver’s seat back in 2015. Of the Wings Collection anniversary, Prentice concludes, “The Wings design was created in 2003, before I arrived. We’ve found that the motif has really resonated internationally. Over the years, we’ve added new iterations of it, so later this year will be celebrating the enduring design and all its past iterations… We’re very excited.”
You can find this piece in the Jewellery Special inside the Spring Summer 2023 Issue 10
Purchase your copy here.