Jewels That Look Good Enough to Eat
New York Times, May 12, 2011
MUNICH — The British television chef and food writer Tamasin Day-Lewis was intrigued last summer when Hemmerle, the famed Munich jeweler, asked her to collaborate on a book of recipes.
The result, “Delicious Jewels,” published this month by Prestel, is an illustrated cookbook centered on 12 vegetables featured in a newly introduced Hemmerle collection.
Including a pair of carrot earrings blazing with orange sapphires and 11 brooches — among them a radish studded with bright red spinels, a copper artichoke with a heart of purple sapphires, and a cauliflower smothered in cream-colored diamonds — the jewelry pieces are distinguished by a startling, mimetic realism.
The similarities, of course, go only so far: Hemmerle’s jewels start at €28,000, or $40,000, more than even the rarest dishes from chefs.
Still, “there’s a common denominator between fine jewelry and fine food — you can’t cheat,” said Anders Modig, editor in chief of Plaza Watch, a luxury watch and jewelry magazine published in Stockholm. “You have to have good produce to make good food, and the same thing applies to good jewelry.”
“Of course, you can’t forget indulgence,” he added.
Mr. Modig, himself a former chef, has given that side of the matter some attention. In March 2009, he published a Bacchanalian still life shoot by the photographer Tomas Monka. Titled “La Grande Bouffe,” the photos depict a food-and wine-stained banquet table strewn with plates of half-eaten lobster and roast chicken. Amid the carnage lies a selection of delicate pearl jewels and diamond-encrusted watches costing more than $100,000. In one vignette, a young woman clad in fishnet stockings, red snakeskin heels and a stack of Hermés bangles reclines on a plate of chocolate cake, surrounded by a scattering of cherries and raspberries.
The idea that epicures, master jewelers and watchmakers are kindred spirits similarly inspired Chopard, the Geneva watchmaker and jeweler, to invite seven top chefs in seven countries — including Eric Fréchon from the Hôtel Bristol in Paris; Philippe Rochat from Restaurant de l’Hôtel de Ville in Crissier, Switzerland; and Carlo Cracco from Ristorante Cracco in Milan — to create a cookbook around the brand’s Imperiale collection of ladies’ watches, introduced at the Baselworld luxury fair in March.
“We had the idea to link high cuisine and high watchmaking because it’s all about precision, passion and timing,” said Caroline Gruosi-Scheufele, co-president of Chopard. “Even if the food is consumed in a second and the watches last for years, the passion is the same.”
In the case of Christian and Stephen Hemmerle, the idea of a jewelry collection looking good enough to eat began three years ago, after they read a magazine article about salads while on a flight. “When we got home, we sat down in the workshop to see if we could realize the vegetables in naturalistic gemstones,” Christian Hemmerle said.
As the cookbook was being photographed in October, an incident showed how well they had succeeded.
The Hemmerle team, looking to juxtapose the precious collection with the earthy tableau of an English vegetable garden, shot several pieces amid the cabbage, kale and sprouting broccoli of Ms. Day-Lewis’s backyard. The next morning, the chef received a panicked call from a Hemmerle representative: the chard brooch had gone missing.
“I went out in the pouring rain in gum boots and dressing gown and umbrella and tramped around searching through the muddy earth, in the cabbages, under the cabbages, looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack to shine out and glitter at me,” Ms. Day-Lewis wrote in an e-mail. “Had it been buried under the downpour and mud?”
Fortunately Ms. Day-Lewis eventually found the brooch and returned it to Hemmerle before it was eaten by an unsuspecting rabbit. But the fact that it had blended so easily into the background vegetation was a backhanded compliment to the jewelers’ skills.
“It’s a logical link but it’s not obvious, which is why I like it,” said Milton Pedraza, chief executive of the Luxury Institute in New York, of the jewelry-chef partnerships. In each case, “you start with raw materials and you create something that is, to some degree, art.”