Jewellery

Virgil Abloh’s most iconic jewellery designs

Virgil Abloh made a serious impact in the world of jewellery with his unique, boundary-pushing vision

By Joshua Hendren

On November 28, the visionary American fashion designer Virgil Abloh died at the age of 41. The son of Ghanaian immigrant parents to the US, Abloh studied engineering and architecture before finding fame in the world of international fashion as Kanye West’s creative director.

At his Milan-based line Off-White, established in 2013, the multi-hyphenate helped change the face of fashion with his luxe streetwear marked by exclusive drops and highly covetable footwear. In 2018, Abloh was appointed as the first Black creative director of Louis Vuitton menswear, where he pushed against the grammar of men’s fashion with electrifyingly colourful and accessorised collections that proposed new silhouettes in tailoring.

Off-White ring

No stranger to statement accessories, throughout his career, Abloh married his trademark minimalistic aesthetic with the world of luxury jewellery. At Off-White, Abloh explored concepts of branding, youth culture and function, often reimagining household items as playful, contemporary pieces.

For Spring/Summer 2019, the label debuted an array of industrial-themed jewellery, crafted in weathered silver-tone metal and decorated with embossed quotations. Broken down into the Arrow, Sweetheart, Mini-Hoop and HEXNUT series, the unisex collection included the Lifesaver Necklace, modelled after military dog tags, that featured cutouts for turning hex nuts, and the Utility Ring that doubled as a bottle opener.

Off-White necklace

Later that same year, Abloh unveiled his Bijoux Autumn/Winter 2019 collection for the house, featuring a range of bracelets, necklaces, earrings and rings in brass and aluminium with enamel or pavé Swarovski detailing. Highlights from the collection included a galvanic nickel choker, bracelet and ring inspired by sweetheart jewellery designs from World War I, a series of mini hoop earrings detailed in a variety of Swarovski gem colours and a set of three ear cuffs finished with a white, black, blue, fuchsia or orange glaze.

Jacob & Co earrings

Abloh’s unique talent for jewellery design took centre stage in March 2020 when he unveiled his highly-anticipated fine jewellery collaboration with New York-based jeweller Jacob & Co. The collection, aptly titled Office Supplies, stayed true to the designer’s ethos and aesthetic by elevating the ordinary, everyday paperclip into a luxury staple, reimagining it into a series of diamond-encrusted, 18-karat gold accessories.

Jacob & Co paperclip

“A paperclip is less than five cents. Done in diamonds, it exudes a different value, but it offers the same intrigue to the brain when you look at it,” Abloh said of the collection. “I love the conundrum. I love that your brain can ping-pong between values based on form and materiality. That’s why I call it an object of art rather than a piece of fashion.”

The collection of traditional silhouettes ranges from earrings to bracelets to necklaces, crafted to exacting standards from 18-karat yellow, white or rose gold and encrusted with sparkling white and yellow diamonds. Each piece is also engraved with the Office Supplies logo into each clip, with prices ranging from £2,400 to £54,300. Upon its debut, the collection was only obtainable via a questionnaire that would be personally reviewed and approved by Abloh and Jacob & Co. founder Jacob Arabo.

“With jewellery design, not only is technical sophistication important, but also lineage,” added Abloh. “That’s the foundation for pieces with meaning. Jacob, for me, has always been innovative, particularly in the notions of merging design sophistication and the pop culture emanating from the streets. This collection is one of the purest forms of expression that I’ve come up with.”

When reflecting on the indelible mark Abloh left on the fashion industry, pop culture, and art, one must, of course, discuss his time as men’s artistic director at Louis Vuitton, during which he produced some spectacular jewellery creations.

For his debut Spring/Summer 2019 collection, Abloh debuted the now-iconic LV Chain Link necklace. Inspired by a traditional links necklace, the design came in a special series of 12 numbered models for the Spring/Summer 2020 season, with a new edition dropping in 12 of the world’s largest cities every month. The exclusive London necklace, crafted with multi-hued crystals, enamel and plexiglass inserts, comes punctuated with an elegant monogram pattern and a special plate engraved with a three-letter code for the name of the British capital. Each necklace has been meticulously crafted with the environment in mind and comes housed in an original pouch made from recycled fabrics.

LV Aquatics

The following year, Abloh debuted a further two collections of costume jewellery: LV Friends and Aquatics. LV Friends, a nod to the designer’s exploration of boyhood, features a charismatic crew of muppets called Zoooom with Friends, seen scattered across Louis Vuitton’s ready-to-wear, leather goods, accessories, and jewellery. Each character, hung as oversized pendants or lacquer charms, comes detailed with Swarovski crystal inlays and a glittering LV initial charm. The Aquatics collection, featured in the brand’s Spring/Summer 2021 men’s capsule, features sea-inspired charms elevated by delicate lacquer work and crystal inlays bringing a precious quality to each design.

Hang It Mascot

And who could forget Abloh’s illustrious three-year partnership with the National Basketball Association? Marrying the visceral iconography of the French fashion house and the legendary basketball league, the limited-edition clothing and accessories line featured some standout jewellery moments. These ranged from gargantuan chain necklaces that paid tribute to the players of the 1990s to an LV x NBA logo-bearing retelling of the championship ring.

As one of the most celebrated tastemakers in fashion and beyond, Abloh’s impact in the jewellery world is undeniable and will serve as an inspiration to jewellers for many years to come.

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