Design, Jewelry and Cora Sheibani

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Design, Jewelry and Cora Sheibani

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LONDON — Cora Sheibani was raised with an appreciation for exquisite design. The daughter of the Zurich art dealer Bruno Bischofberger and his wife Christina (known to all as Yoyo), she grew up in a home overflowing with their collections of everything from ancient stone axes to 20th century glass, ceramics and furniture, and visitors like Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

“It was a household where everything was valued as design,” said Ms. Sheibani, now 37 and a jewelry designer.

When she turned 8, Ms. Sheibani was permitted to choose a piece of furniture from her father’s warehouse for her bedroom, until then a typical children’s mishmash from Ikea.

She chose an exuberantly colorful chair from the Memphis Group, the Milan-based postmodern design collective founded in 1981 by Ettore Sottsass, a family friend. “It was a ridiculous piece of furniture but it was really comfortable,” she said with a laugh.

Since introducing her first jewelry collection 15 years ago, Ms. Sheibani has developed an international following of aesthetically minded collectors, who appreciate her playful interpretations of copper cake molds, clouds and cactuses in designs that combine rich color, bold form and graphic lines.

Her home in the Kensington neighborhood of London, not far from the green expanses of Holland Park, doubles as a work space and a reception area for her by-appointment-only clients. (She also occasionally shows with Louisa Guinness, the London-based dealer of artist jewelry).

Ms. Sheibani’s butterfly brooch in red gold with tourmalines and zircons.CreditAndrew Testa for The New York Times

At the center of a row of elegant yet uniform white stucco townhouses, hers has double front doors painted a rich canary yellow and a rainbow’s assortment of flowers in the window planters.

Inside, a Basquiat hangs in the hallway. A giant Damien Hirst dot painting dominates the living room and, below, colorful velvet trays laden with jewels are laid out on a Zaha Hadid-designed dining table, ready for a client appointment.

Ms. Sheibani’s latest collection, called Eyes, is a colorful, contemporary and resolutely design-driven interpretation of a traditional jewelry theme. Weighty gold rings, inspired by the flat-topped, elliptical shape of ancient Roman examples, curve boldly across the finger. The center stones, which include an ocean-blue tanzanite and an warm-orange spessartite garnet, were chosen not for their value but because, she said, they “have the sparkle of a twinkling eye.”

An abstract brooch, featuring a removable post so it can double as a pendant, suggests the eye-patterned wings of a butterfly, its highly polished, pear-shaped gold discs set with softly contrasting rosy pink rubellites, light brown zircons and mint tourmalines.

To ensure such a classic theme did not become too dry, Ms. Sheibani added rings inspired by South Sea masks. The surface of each one is engraved with a unique pattern of graphic lines and set with pairs of colored stones in varied shades.

Along with earrings that depict an owl’s comical eyebrows, she said, the mask rings added the playful dimension that characterizes much of her work. Without them, “the rest could be so grown up and I really don’t think of my jewelry that way,” she said.

A mask ring in gold with spessartite garnets.CreditAndrew Testa for The New York Times

Her pieces span a broad price range, from 5,000 pounds to 40,000 pounds ($6,580 to $52,645), and bespoke items may be more.

Several of her previous collections have been accompanied by bound books that showcased the creations alongside topics like cooking or gardening with cactuses, a more lasting reference than the usual jewelry catalog. Color and Contradiction, her fall 2015 collection that consisted of deceptively simple pairings of contrasting, custom-cut colored gemstones, was paired with a riff on the adult coloring-book fad. And at Design Miami in 2016, her display backdrop was a giant coloring wall just waiting for passers-by.

Ms. Sheibani’s distinctive creations betray the fact that she did not come to jewelry via the traditional route of art school and goldsmithing apprenticeship.

After studying art history in Florence and New York, she relocated to London in 2001 when she married Kaveh Sheibani, who is a fund manager. Abandoning an earlier ambition to become a packaging designer, she enrolled at the Gemological Institute of America in London to study gemology.

She perceived that fine jewelry had a lack of contemporary design so she established her business a year later, while five months pregnant with the first of her three children. “I was very naïve thinking I could do jewelry part-time from home,” she said.

While she continues to work from home today, she acknowledges the challenge of balancing motherhood with running an international business. And it has been complicated by the fact that the craftsmen who render her designs are in Switzerland and Paris, so communication is not always straightforward.

A little-finger ring set in white gold with spessartite garnets.CreditAndrew Testa for The New York Times

The ubiquitous smartphone has improved matters considerably, but the designer said she was waiting for some pieces to be delivered although it was only days before she was scheduled to fly to New York to present her new collection.

The effort and stress of working remotely still is worthwhile, she said: “The good goldsmiths are not just technicians, they’re creative engineers and craftsmen.” And while she has picked up considerable technical experience over the years, she said her jewelry is always the result of collaborating with them, whether it is a question of balancing ice cream cones of malachite and chrysoprase in a ring or recreating the texture of a cactus in gold.

“Solving problems is the joy of their profession,” she said. “After 15 years I know what is possible but still I design first and then we figure out how we’re going to make it and get it to work.”

Inspiration for the designs, she said, comes in myriad forms. It could be from her own art collection or the vast library of jewelry books stored on leather-lined shelves that stretch floor to ceiling in her office.

Her parents’ multidisciplinary tastes also still inform her work, whether it be the Jean Després jewelry that her mother persuaded the Machine Age designer to part with in his retirement, or the Arne Jacobsen cutlery they used to eat family dinners. “They appreciate fashion as much as jewelry, as much as chairs, as much as who designed your typewriter,” she said. “I think that’s why I approach it in that way, too.”

The feeling extends to her own collection of antique and vintage jewelry, an assortment of Berlin ironwork, Art Deco and ’60s and ’70s pieces. Not surprisingly, it “is a very design-based collection,” Ms. Sheibani said, “it’s not a gem collection.”

She hopes her designs will have the same longevity. “Jewelry should be of its time. It will be out of fashion at some point but that’s good,” she said. “At some point you overstep that hurdle and hopefully your jewelry becomes timeless.”

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