Yehuda Kassif, art director of the Harry Oppenheimer Diamond Museum, who sees music, art and love in gemstones
Yehuda Kassif speaks of jewellery at different points as a language, a painting, a recipe, a poem, or a symphony. His lifelong passion for gemstones and jewellery survived a 17-year stint in the Israeli armed forces, and has turned him into a global ambassador of sorts for the art of jewellery design.
“I'm always trying to make people love gemstones and jewellery as I do,” says the art director of the Harry Oppenheimer Diamond Museum, and the jewellery promotion director of the Israeli Diamond Institute. “To do that, I wear a lot of jewellery — when people ask about it, then they are a captive audience and I give them my lecture on quality jewellery!”
He certainly wore a singularly eye-catching piece during his recent presentation in the city, organised by Mehta Jewellery at the Taj Connemara Ballroom. The massive pendant (designed by Kassif) featured a gorgeous lavender-coloured amethyst from an Indian cutter in Tucson, Arizona, set against pale emeralds and yellow sapphires in silver and gold.
“Jewellery is truly a language — a good designer can create a poem, a less talented designer creates a tax form,” says the designer, who is also, unsurprisingly, a poet. “When I look at jewellery, I look for poetry, for symphonies — sometimes you find them, sometimes you create them.”
During the evening's presentation, Kassif discussed everything from the fascinating history of the Israeli diamond industry (born as it was in the 1930s, as Jews fled Nazi Germany for Palestine) to current trends in the international jewellery scene, such as the move from large stones (diamonds and coloured gemstones) to a multitude of tiny ones.
A passing trend?
“Some people believe that this is a passing trend and big stones will come back, but I'm not certain,” says Kassif.
“Jewellers are using these small gemstones as a palette of colour to create jewellery as beautiful as a painted picture.”
The slide presentation of breathtakingly unusual jewellery pieces gleaned by Kassif from across the world at the end underlined this message — tiny diamonds knitted into an intricate lace-like pattern, or miniscule coloured stones in the shape of beads, flowers, fish, spiders, snails or crocodiles, avant-garde pieces to match footwear off the ramps of France, etc.
But, for all his talk of paintings and poems, Kassif is a realist when it comes to selling jewellery. “Design is saleable art,” he says.
“Innovation and art are essential to jewellery design, but should be used with care, like spice in food. Understand the taste of your market. And never ever underestimate the importance of the finish.”
Indeed, the presentation tended to get a tad dry at points, with Kassif drifting into too much technical detail on pricing and such, and the audience getting rather distracted (it didn't help that waiters began serving soup as the event went on for longer than expected after a delayed start.)
But the passion of the man who made jewellery for his mother from stones, trees and fruit as a boy, and later from the wires of a car engine won the day. Just like always.
“You know, my mother didn't believe that jewellery design was the profession for a man,” he says confidingly.
“But, after I finished university and serving in the army, I went back to my love.”