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While it might seem logical for there to be a direct relationship between creation and family influence, only two inspirations evolved directly from Nicholas Varney’s childhood – the “Plaid” and “Damask” Collections. Varney, artist, artisan and master jeweler, could not help but to draw upon his childhood in the way he conceives and creates his jewels. Varney’s exposure to textile and interior design from his mother and father respectively, absorbed consciously or unconsciously results in his Plaid Collection, his first attempt to meld fabric and jewelry. It also represents Varney’s only creations that are purely geometric.
In 1995, Varney was studying at the Gemological Institute of America’s branch in Vicenza, Italy. During a visit from his father, Nicholas accompanied him on a visit to the venerable textile houses of Mariano Fortuny and Lorenzo Rubelli. It was there that the seed, originally planted in childhood, began to germinate and Varney decided to design jewelry related to textiles. Ironically, Carleton Varney was busy redecorating the famous Palm Beach hotel, The Breakers, and looking for fabrics, while his son was nurturing his attraction and fascination with plaids. Fond of a vintage Bulgari gold loop bracelet, and reflecting on how women were dressing in the simple clean lines of fashion designers Calvin Klein, Donna Karan and Giorgio Armani, Varney then had the final ingredients needed to allow this idea to blossom into reality; hence, the conception of the Plaid Collection.
The first plaid bracelet was designed with monochromatic gemstones and gold. Varney created an interesting play of color and depth by utilizing opaque and translucent gemstones of the same color, in combination with textured and polished gold compliments. The prototype was set with cacholong, a porcelain-like opal mineral which was chosen by Varney for it opacity and durability. This choice was natural for Varney because of his knowledge that these gemstones possess an innate quality: a soft flash of color. He knew it would provide a subtle, lively quality and counterbalanced it with the addition of a lovely transparent rock crystal. Further, he created an additional depth by employing bi-colored gold in contrasting finishes of texture and polish.
As with each of Varney’s creations, time is a non-issue. A true artist cannot rush to complete an expression with unwavering dedication, and so it is for each Plaid piece from the house of Nicholas Varney.
Once the pattern is formed, the next step is to decide on a color palette. Then the process begins with the painstaking search for matched gemstones that are selected based on their beauty, equal transparency, saturation, color, tone, and size. Unique to each jewel is the custom, handcrafted gold casting for each link, which is created here in the United States. Once completed to Varney’s exacting specifications, the gold links and gemstones are sent to Germany for carving.
There, tucked away in the Hunsrück Mountains in southwest Germany, is a region famous for the finest gemstone cutting. Idar-Oberstein, is one of the most recognized towns for this traditional work, the knowledge and secrets of which are carefully guarded and passed down from generation to generation within ancient familiar lineages. With specific instructions sent to the lapidary, a highly skilled cutter, he will work each gemstone individually to fit perfectly into the corresponding gold mounting. After the cutting is complete, the castings and newly cut gemstones are returned to the United States for finishing under the personal direction of Varney.
Obsessed with color, Nicholas Varney carefully selects from a huge palette of gemstones to make each of his “Plaids” different and unique. Although he has successfully used gemstones that compliment or supplement each other, he is most drawn to picking stones that are the same color, such as brown agate and citrine, or aquamarine with rough sapphire. Other examples include purple jade and amethyst, verdite and prehnite, and pink tulit and rose quartz. As the number of color combinations increase, each pattern is unique onto itself.
And while the variables include choice of gemstone, dimensions, color, tone, hue and saturation of the gemstone, and the finish of the gold surface, Varney is not content. A tactile colorist who is not satiated with the ability to create virtually limitless plaids, the artist advances forward in his discovery by adding other elements such as different metals, textures, and materials like wood or lines of diamond accents. It is these additional ingredients that produce an expanding continuum far from his original prototype, but remain true to the initial geometric design.
Historically, plaid or tartan is considered the main symbol of Scottish culture. In medieval times, woven plaids were considered blankets, rapped around clothing to provide warmth – outer garments, that were discarded for heavy physical activity. By the 19th century, plaids or clan tartans had evolved far from their recorded origins. The initial idea came from using small amounts of local dyes in varying degrees of saturation, and the fabric would be woven producing muted and more brilliant tones, with similar colors according to their locations. Browns, greens, and yellows are the primary colors with reds and blues running through them, making them wonderful for camouflage on hunting expeditions, and were worn by Highlanders, and nobility (mainly on their estates). The wonderful nature of plaid is that it offers a boundless amount of variations on design. The famous “Black Watch” was used as a regimental pattern, before new patterns had emerged. Beyond the world of fashion, plaid is utilized extensively in the textile industry for upholstery and wallpaper.
One cannot forget the famous photograph of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor sitting together on an armchair, the Duke clad in a traditional plaid skirt. Designer Jeffrey Banks recently co-authored a book with his long time friend and writer, Doria De La’Chappelle, Tartan: Romancing the Plaid. Banks claims to have written the book to make people feel passionately about plaid, “It represents security and a kind of straightness and regularity. And at the same time, it can be viewed as very seductive and very sexy.” In 1995, Mel Gibson donned plaid in his starting role as William Wallace, in the action drama movie, Braveheart, based on the historical events surrounding the First War of Scottish Independence, winning 5 Academy Awards, and tagging plaid to a sexy icon.
Nicholas Varney’s Plaid Collection encompasses his bracelets, rings and earrings. Each is unique, displaying Varney’s passion, understanding and exploration of color and balance, each a composite of geometric lines and textures, which continue to grow and evolve. Palettes and patterns from the Plaid Collection attract a wide gamut of patrons including devoted classicists, artists, and the chic. The nature of their uniqueness created painstakingly by artist and master jeweler Varney is signature and symbol: the imprint of the house of Varney.
Signed on the back of a gold ring with stamp N. VARNEY 750
Length 8 ½ x width 1 3/8 x height 1/2 inches
After reading an article in the New York Times about the impending ascent of the Brood X Cicada in 2004, Nicolas Varney became fascinated by these near mythic creatures: the periodic Cicadas. Drawn into a world of entomology, he learns of their unusual life cycle, and his interest expands. It moves Varney into a dreamlike world and prompts yet another quest to understand and translate this phenomenon into the jewelers’ art.
Cicadas are found on every continent excluding the Antarctic. They come in all sizes and shapes, basically there are two types: those, which appear annually, and those, which appear periodically. The periodically appearing ones are referred to as a Brood – and may be thought of as analogous to a graduating class. The Brood X, which appeared last in 2004, is the inspiration for this bracelet.
In the United States, the indigenous Brood X is the largest in size and includes three cicada species: Magicicada septendecim, Magicicade cassini and Magicicada septendecula. Their eruption across state lines, covering vast territory including the Ohio Valley and the Central Atlantic seaboard, is monumental in providing a feast for thousands of predators, aerating soil, and trimming trees. The cycle of a cicada’s life is engaging, and intimately woven throughout time and across cultural bounds. Brood X, spends 17 years underground nourishing itself on tree roots. After the appropriate time has passed and the soil reaches the requisite temperature, they burrow towards the surface. They artfully construct “stovepipe” like structures, a tunnel from which they will emerge in unison, leaving behind the earth where these nymphs have spent the last 17 years. It is a mystery how they manage to arrive at the same time; their synchronized biological clocks precisely working.
Perhaps a million cicadas can inhabit each acre of undisturbed land as they simultaneous rise to their next stage of life at twilight. With soft, plump peach-colored bodies the nymphs immediately crawl to the nearest vertical structure, a tree or perhaps a lamppost, and climb. It is there where they molt, leaving behind their pale pink larva skins or husks, now hardened to emerge as adults only to live for a mere three weeks time.
In these, their first precious moments, the cicadas are virtually transparent, appearing as delicate as sheer white gauze. Then their elaborate, elongate, and veil-like wings gracefully unfurl. This near mystical metamorphosis is truly beautiful and a wonderment to witness. Their bodies darken later, but their wings remain a window to their thoraces. It has been observed that the wings protect their bodies from ultraviolet light, another ingenious gift of Mother Nature.
They appear for the sole and singular purpose to mate in their short visitation above ground. To do so, the male cicadas produce a cacophony of love songs – a distinctive call produced by expanding and contracting their timbale muscles to attract the female of the species. She too is beautiful, but her song is merely a snapping sound, similar to that of a finger snap, which draws the males to her like a homing device. Once mating has occurred, the male dies. The female cuts slits into leaves, laying thousands of eggs before dying. Six to eight weeks later these egg cases will eventually drop to the ground, and the cycle begins again as millions of nymphs tunnel below the surface to find protection and food. Much like the famed sparrows of Capistrano, this class will return. Now living below the earth, growing, these nymphs will emerge in the year 2021, sometime in late spring or early summer.
It is a fascinating quirk of evolution that makes the life cycle of the periodical cicadas so captivating. Once Varney has studied and assimilated his subject, only then does he begin to express his interpretation. He begins by drawing a cicada, creating a delicate shell of an adult. The draft is typically meticulous. He creates a figure of an arched adult cicada, complete with a pair of wings, head and body, that are realistically proportioned and shaped, but dreamlike and ethereal in their fragility and transparency. He shares the preoccupation of other artists and cultures before him; Varney is respectful, cognizant and interested in capturing the poetry and beauty of this insect.
Once he is satisfied with his drawing, he creates a single model in a carefully chosen media: this defined by yellow gold, bead blasted for texture and polished for depth. He then accents the cicada with diamond-set wings mounted in platinum, and cabochon emerald eyes. Once satisfied with this complete figure, he creates eight more models placing them in layers in a circle creating a bracelet of nine overlapping cicadas. Varney translates the intricacies of the wings in a brilliant grillwork design that makes each link naturalistic and a true work of art. He also captures the moment of maturity, when the cicada emerges from its shell and is transparent and virginal.
The myth and symbolism connected to the cicada is subliminally indicated by Varney’s choice of a bangle formed by a circle; a cycle with a beginning and an end that repeats in perpetuity. This is not a coincidence, but rather an intentional, creative, artistic and cerebral thought. It is a mark of a master, and a poet, telling us about the insect – genus Magicicada. But Varney is not alone in his desire to pay homage to this insect. The cicada has been recognized for centuries and is associated with eternal life and rebirth around the world. The Ancient Chinese placed a carved jade cicada in the mouth of the deceased to bring happiness in their life after death; today the cicada remains a symbol of longevity in China. In the Far East, the cicada has been known to cure earaches, and is used to treat a variety of medical illness. The appearance of cicadas in Japanese netsuke carvings and Chinese bronze ritual vessels dates to before 1500 BC and indicates a knowledge and respect of these unique animals. They appear extensively throughout writings by poets and are connected to Buddhism. In fact there is a protective ritual, performed by the Black Hat Sect of the Tibetan Buddhist Feng Shui “The Golden Cicada Sheds it Shell,” which is used to change a persons luck, bring good fortune, and symbolizes a new beginning and a rebirth.
Ancient Greeks recognized the cicada as a symbol of rebirth and resurrection, and it is associated with the sun god Apollo. Homer, legendary and epic poet of the Illaid uses the cicada as a simile in the beginning of the third book to cast the Trojans in good light when he refers to skilled old narrators of Troy, “…like cicadas that chirrup delicately from the boughs of some high tree in a wood." The classical philosopher Plato refers to the cicada in Phaedrus, “…and there is a sound in the air shrill and summerlike which makes answer to the chorus of the cicadae. ” Here, referencing the song of the cicada.
The Roman culture incorporated the cicada also; it was represented in the jewelry of the nobility. In ancient Hindu law, the cicada is mentioned, “Learn completely, and in order for what deeds committed here below, the soul must, to achieve expiation of its sins, enter into such or such a body…”, and is associated with rebirth. Cicadas are included in Italian and Zuni myths relating the beauty of its’ song. In several cultures its name is onomatopoeic, meaning the name sounds like the word, for example in New Zealand, the cicada is called Kikihi, and in Australia, the Aborigines refer to cicadas as Galang Galang, while in parts of Malaysia, they are known as riang riang.”
Throughout history and across cultural lines, the cicada is a powerful and important sign, a statement and reflection of how symbolic and melodic this insect has been, is, and will be. Cicadas are always associated with song, peace and rebirth. It is not accidental that Varney chose this symbol as the motif for this bracelet; it represents a part of his continuum as an artist and translator, seer and conveyor, jeweler and musician, poet and visionary. For Varney, it personally conjures up, and is reminiscent of, the innocent sounds of summer.
630 circular-cut diamonds, total weighing approximately 4.15 carats
18 cabochon emeralds, total weighing approximately 4.20 carats
Signed on the inside of the wing; maker’s mark NV on a soldered plate
Length 8 ¾ x width 1 3/8 inches
Nicholas Varney, creative jeweler, was spurred to further explore color, texture, and design after completing a similar pair of earrings commissioned by a patron. Despite having completed the previous pair of earrings, Varney’s artistic mind could not leave the matter as he had so much more to express; the first pair had served as both precursor and catalyst to his process. This geometric circular shape acted as a canvas on which Varney was provoked to revisit and recreate by altering colors and textures. In typical Varney style, he employs gems chosen for their color, beauty, and mystical significance, formulating a design that reaches far beyond mere adornment; the result, this, a masterpiece.
The precursor pair of earrings arose from a conversation between Varney and his client, about incorporating quahog pearls, a gem born from a marine pearl-producing Mollusk. Mercinaria Mercinaria, a Hard-Shell clam, or quahog - pronounced “KWAW-hog” - produce pearls ranging in color from off-white to dark purple, and have been long associated with Native American cultures. These distinctly North American pearls, indigenous to the Atlantic seaboard, are found in the sand and mud bottoms along the salt water shores from the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, Canada, stretching as far south as Florida.
Quahogs, their pearls, shells and flesh, played an instrumental part for many hundreds of years in the cultures, traditions and beliefs of the great Iroquois Confederacy, which encompassed the many tribes of the Mohawk, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca, Onodoaga and Tuscarora Nations. Prior to the arrival of European explorers, quahogs were an important mainstay of Native American life.
Beyond providing food, the quahog was used to make wampum, which was composed of beads cut from the purple part of the quahog shell and the white from the whelk shell. Wampum, derived its name from the Wampanoag, the people that inhabited the present day area roughly from Long Island north to Rhode Island, including most of New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire. These beads were utilized to maintain a record, for keeping a living account of agreements and treaties. Woven into elaborate strands, they could represent: an invitation to a meeting, the position of the possessor, and in ceremonies, they, at times, represented truth. This complex form of communication and historical recording told of events, legal arrangements, and held secrete nuances of culture, tradition, and the fundamental precepts of Iroquois life; hardly mere adornment.
When the Dutch arrived they recognized the importance of wampum because of its extensive use, and while the Dutch perceived wampum as money, it was not. The Native Americans had no concept of currency and found no need for its use. However wampum was greatly valued spiritually, politically, socially and historically. Perhaps best set forth by Chief William Rockwell, he explained wampum as the “meaning or referring to a mind of knowledge or credentials.”
Quahogs do produce natural pearls and, although not grouped with the commonly most recognized marine pearl oysters, they belong to a group that includes pearl producing mollusks such as the Queen Conch (beautiful pink pearl), Baler Shell (the rich cream sickle colored Melo pearl), Paua Ablone (a brilliant blue iridescent pearl), and the Atlantic Deer Cowrie (a soft pale pink pearl), among others.
Varney’s interest in these pearls while shared by few, is validated by a recent comprehensive exhibit at the American Museum of History in New York, Pearls, which detailed both the history, physical nature, and future responsibilities this gift of nature of affords us.
Fueled by Varney’s longstanding attraction to these little known pearls innately and spiritually tied to Native American culture, a tornado of ideas whirled about in his head. As usual, Varney mulls over each creative thought, sometimes sporadically and spontaneously jotting down brief sketches on a paper napkin. Eventually he draws an outline that is suitable. His first full draft has a circular bombé field of diamonds set pavilion out, the opposite of conventional setting, and is centered by cushion shaped peridots. The outside of the field is punctuated with quahog pearls. Varney while not satisfied, is pleased with this creation.
Moving forward, Varney visits a show on the American artist Milton Avery. There, he is exposed to Avery’s landscapes and seascapes of the early 1920’s which are characterized by a light color palette, heavy brush strokes to create pattern, and large simple forms that appear blurry. As Avery matured, his works, influenced by Matisse, began to evolve and become more abstract. While his works are still representational, Avery reduces details and flattens shapes that are filled with color. Young artists such as Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb visited Avery’s studio almost daily and were influenced by his use of color. Similarly, Varney is inspired by Avery’s paintings and his ability to abstract the mood of a place or situation with color.
The tornado touches down again; Varney modifies his color palette and softens the texture. The geometric silhouette is softened by the cognac diamonds pavé-set field, traditionally mounted, speckled with a few colorless diamonds that hint at texture, and slightly change to the brown color value by adding depth. Next, Varney replaces the center stones with orange-red spinels that exhibit an extraordinary match of color, tone, saturation and brilliance. Now, the quahog pearls, with their spherical outline, fuzzy iridescence, and medium luster, produce the color and balance Varney has been seeking. The colors and shapes of this creation seem subliminally suggestive of those found in Avery’s canvas, Gaspe – Pink Sky, painted in 1940.
Varney, as usual, is very deliberate in his choice of these rich and vibrant spinels. It should be noted that he, as is his tradition, has chosen to work with rare and unusual gemstones, and his selections are based upon color, especially true for this pair of spinels. While spinel, a stone that is vastly overlooked, comes in a variety of colors, it is the vivid orange-red stones (appropriately termed flame spinels) that are considered the rarest and rival their nearest match with which they are most often confused, ruby. A rare and unusual spinel in the crown jewels of England was, in fact, long thought of as a ruby.
Varney, a creative visionary, has managed to transformed a visual concept, that incorporates his genuine fondness for quahog pearls, into a precious masterpiece that encompasses and interprets elements from vastly different cultures, disciplines, and ideologies. To the uneducated, Native American wampum might appear as mere beads, but to the connoisseur, it holds a deeper, more spiritual significance. It is a privilege to share the intrigue associated with the creation of these ear clips; to appreciate the embodiment of such a personal expression - to realize the value, beyond mere worth, of this unique piece.
2 square-shaped cushion-cut spinels, weighing 1.65 and 1.58 carats
Circular-cut cognac and colorless circular diamonds, total weighing 3.10 carats
Genius meets genius. According to record, it was September 1939, Paris, about 4 o’clock in the morning when Horst photographed the back of a model wearing a partially undone corset, Mainbocher Corset. This photograph is purported to be Horst’s last shot before leaving everything behind to immigrate to the United States where he could continue shooting fashion for Vogue. It is this image that is perhaps the most recognizable and highly acclaimed photograph by this German born fashion photographer.
This image exemplifies the female form, defined by Horst’s signature use of many spotlights, lit from the ceiling, the light was reflected and controlled by various shutters to make his subjects more dramatic, similar to chiaroscuro in drawing, and referencing her to an ancient carved marble sculpture. The model appears almost surreal, balancing the sensuality and vulnerability of her back, and the unraveled corset; a story steeped in mystery. Also evident is the outline of two triangles, sculpted, implying a basic characteristic of the art moderne movement. There is no question as to why Nicholas Varney is inspired, enamored, and aroused by this iconic image.
Impassioned from the imprint left by this famous image, Varney is driven to design. He is possessed by the desire to articulate his erotic experience. As an artist, he begins by sketching. First, he recreates the female silhouette by designing the two graceful “v”-shaped forms, the points of each touching in the center to form the cinched area of Horst’s model. The upper section is open to house a cushion-shaped stone, while the lower section gently sweeps out toward the ring shank representing the gradual slope of a woman’s hips. Once the hourglass outline is formed in yellow gold, genius Varney mimics the cinched waist of the corset that has been slightly loosened, defined by 18K white gold and diamond pavé-set laces.
Varney has successfully transferred his impression from emotion to paper. This is analogous to Horst’s arrangement of model and lighting prelude. Next, Varney needs to capture the image. To do this, he seeks out the perfect stone. Using his keen sense of color and instinct for the intangible personality of materials he is drawn to a brilliant aquamarine. Varney understands that the stone needs to be a rectangular-shaped cushion-cut stone, opting for a stone with curves as opposed to the rigidness of an angular-cut, in order to magnify and showcase the sensuous mounting, thereby completing the image. The mounting is handcrafted in 18-karaty yellow gold and platinum. It is a labor-intensive task to form a perfectly balanced laced corset mounting. As a finishing touch, the jeweler bead-sets matched, colorless full-cut diamonds, creating a platform of brilliance and scintillation, perfect to manage the sultry aquamarine.
Horst’s photograph captured a moment in time when the flat, geometric shapes of the twenties transformed into the voluptuous sculpted forms of the 1930’s. The marriage of aquamarines and diamonds in jewelry came into fashion at this same time, a fact not unknown to Nicholas Varney. Venerable jewelry houses such as Cartier, incorporated these combinations at the request of their famous patrons. Fashion icon and pioneer interior designer Elsie de Wolfe, who had been voted Best Dressed Woman in the World, commissioned Cartier Paris to create a tiara of diamonds and aquamarines in 1935. At the age of 70, this international socialite allegedly had her hair dyed blue to match. However, due to demand, limited attainability, cost and the onset of World War II, the use of aquamarines was curtailed.
This large curvaceous aquamarine is a beautiful stone. It is as stunning, seductive, and mysterious as we imagine the model to be. Varney’s lust has prompted him to acquire a rare find, a large aqueous gemstone, with a heavenly matched saturation, rich color and brilliance; a stone that is fragile, soft, and feminine. Yet, exudes a coolness, an aloofness beyond the placid color of the sky and the sea, making it a natural compliment to the hardest gem known, diamond, or colloquially, “ice.” The partnership of these carefully chosen stones and the mounting subliminally and symbolically present Varney’s translation of the mystery, the seductiveness, the undeniable femininity captured in black and white by Horst in two dimensions into three dimensional living color.
1 cushion-cut aquamarine, weighing approximately 30.43 carats
Full-cut diamonds, total weighing approximately 3.80 carats
Signed on the interior shoulders with engraved Nicholas Varney Plat/18K
Height 1 3/8 x Width 7/8 x depth 7/8 inches
At first glance, this monumental and beautiful cuff bespeaks a simple elegance; sexy and chic; exemplifying the unquestionable earmarks of a creation by master jeweler Nicholas Varney. Yet, hidden behind this seemly simple monochromatic single-metal, structure, is an exquisite gem - representing the intimate relationship among Varney’s personal history, his family’s influence, his evolution, and ultimate expression as an artist.
Studying in Italy in 1995, Varney began to conceive of this piece. It was not until 2007 that this idea began to take shape, and he was finally able to fully formulate this dream. This bracelet began life as a solid piece of wax, from which it took more than 440 hours during more than four months to painstakingly hand carve the damask pattern. Because of the intricacy of Varney’s vision, this sculpting process was extraordinarily complex. It necessitated that the work be done only in short – no longer than two hours daily – sessions, because of the high level of concentration required. Prior to completion of the wax model, Varney needed to imagine the finished bracelet; with complete regard to balance, weight and comfort required to make this cuff an object it was to become. The next step in this process was to approve the finished model, which was then placed into a metal cylinder, and encased in a water-soluble plaster – called an investment. Once the investment is hard, it is fired in a kiln, where the wax melts, leaving a fossil of plaster. This fossil cast is filled with molten gold, spun in a centrifuge, while the molten gold is cooled. From there, the cuff is bead-blasted and carefully polished, to create the two different textures of the finished piece. It is only the mind of the master jeweler that can translate an idea into reality.
Nicholas Varney designs jewelry to satisfy his own creative needs. It is the melding of his talent with the influence of his famous and artistic family - textile designer mother, and interior designer father; that makes this piece unique. Damask, is a figural pattern formed by weaving; with one warp and one weft in which one warp-satin and one weft sateen weaves interchange in fabric creating a flattened texture on both sides. The name originates from the Middle Ages, when the city of Damascus was renown for the finest and most beautiful textiles. Varney captures the subtle texture in his creation by juxtaposing the matte field against a raised satin polished pattern.
Varney employs classic damask motif consisting of scrolling acanthus leaves (a medicinal plant and associated with the healing powers of Apollo), anthemion (a band of ornamental palmette or honeysuckle, associated with life and death; and said to be the predecessor to the fleur de lis – the emblem of diving right of kings); and with the lotus (spiritual, rising daily with the sun and setting every evening). Unlike any other of his creations, this bracelet is intimately tied to his personal life.
While Varney initially rejected the urge to design pieces related to fabric; this piece is unique and a departure from him. This cuff evinces his environmental influences and indicates a returned to his roots. Nevertheless, like his forebearers, he is a master of design and original. He is also distinctly unique and creator of jewels; inspired by nature, color and texture, he expands beyond the common palette to create his own objects that are timeless, exquisite and beautiful.
Signed with maker’s mark on a plate soldered on to the interior
Varney’s attraction to quahog pearls is intense and borders on obsession. His personal collection of quahog pearls is purported to be the one of, if not the largest in the world; and he continues to seek out and acquire these large beautiful and rare purple-colored organic gems produced by the Hard-Shell Clam - Mercinaria Mercinaria. This necklace represents his first creation completely dedicated to his love, respect, and fascination with the purple quahog pearl.
It took more than a year for him just to select and arrange the order of these large richly colored pearls. Each pearl must be a certain size, indicative of the age of the pearl, and for quahog pearls this distinction is marked by rings on the shell of the Hard-Shell Clam, much like the rings of a tree. To produce a natural purple pearl, these bi-value mollusks must be greater than 4 inches in diameter, and, to those who eat clams, are known as Chowder clams. The existence of quahogs more than 40 years of age are not unusual, provided they are free from natural predators and exploitive fisherman. In addition, not all quahogs produce pearls, so that it is rather remarkable to amass a collection of such large pearls anything like these that appear in this necklace. These pearls also share: similarities of shape (almost spherical); unblemished surfaces; they are possessed of an enticing orient (iridescence); and, are of a matched luster. All of these qualities are important and difficult to match, making their appearance together anomalous. What Varney the colorist has chosen, beyond these consistent and conventional virtues by which one measures the quality of the pearl, is the quahog pearls’ seductive body color which ranges from lilac, to violet, to deep lavender. This combination of elements makes this a rare and unique masterpiece.
Once the quahog pearls have been chosen, Varney picks a pleasing geometric silhouette with a slightly softened bombay field, which is bead set with pavé-set diamonds randomly punctuated with cabochon blue moonstones. The diamonds artfully chosen for their brilliant scintillation are balanced by the mystical and floating light or adularescence of blue moonstones, and together create a dramatic stage for the spectacular purple-colored pearls. The placement and careful choice of this trio, quahog pearl, diamond and blue moonstone is typically cryptic, even mysterious, but perfectly logical to master jeweler Varney.
The circular motifs are created in a slightly graduating size, the center disk a crescendo to Varney’s opus. Joining these circular links are wisp-like blades of sea grass, gently curved, organic and bending with the gentle flow of the ocean breezes. It is significant that Varney has chosen the blades of sea grass to harmonize with nature’s salt-water gems, the phenomenon stone blue moonstones, and the stars of this night at the ocean’s edge, diamonds. It is telling that on the obverse of each circular-form, is a detailed, 18-karat yellow gold textured sea grass grillwork, this, an echoed and secret detail, only for the knowledge of the wearer. One can almost smell the salt on the cool night breeze.
Paramount is the subconscious affection and connection that Varney feels to this creation. For he has created both a song and a sonnet that embodies his love and respect for the Native Americans; who utilized quahogs in their wampum, strings of beads cut from the quahog, to record documents and treaties. Wampum also symbolizes mystical powers; it was used for ceremonies, marked binding agreements and played a most significant and, to us, mysterious role in the culture of the Six Nations that inhabited the eastern seaboard of North America. Figuratively, he has melded these highly sought after beautiful pearls with the strength, brilliance, and durability of diamonds, and the shimmer of the blue moonstones. These phenomenon stones poetically capture and hold the rays of the moon granting good spirit guidance to those who hold it.
The totality is that Varney expresses in iconic symbols a story steeped in mystery, enveloped in cultural ties, and layered with beauty… of story of love. Varney’s typically careful choice of materials and motifs represent his personal attachment to nature, the spirit world and magic, which transcends the physical magnificence of this masterpiece forged in his heart and mind.
12 purple quahog pearls, total weighing approximately 75.00 carats
Circular-cut diamonds, total weighing approximately 29.65 carats
Oval cabochon-cut blue moonstones, total weighing approximately 28.20 carats
Signed on the clasp, Nicholas Varney
Inspiration is like a lightening bolt or any other force of nature; unpredictable, unreliable, and, for the artist, undeniable.
Nicholas Varney is empowered with the ability to recognize and embrace such flashes as they happen. It was a hot summer day, when Varney came upon several beehives while working on restoring his country home in Stanfordville, New York. Buried neatly beneath the clapboard was a row of beehives; each requiring removal so that he could move forward with his home project. Initially struck with what might seem an ungainly job, this unexpected find prompted him to divert his attention from the task at hand and transport his focus to the different world of his art.
Nature's most vital and studied small insects, bees; necessary for our survival and responsible for the pollination and growth of crops and flowers on Earth became his focal point. Driven by his uncontrollable fascination to see and understand the complexity of the bee and its’ life, he decided to Yard Guard one hive - freezing life eternally.
After removing this hive, and dissecting it carefully with the skill of a learned entomologist, Varney carefully chose several specimen bees, and various sections of the hexagonal comb cells to study. The hive presented a mathematical and architectural marvel of nature – vertically constructed – honeycomb cells are the internal structure providing a home for the bees, larvae as well as a repository for their honey. Varney was so awestruck, that ultimately the hive would serve to create realistic life size castings. It was the dual pleasure of discovery and intrigue that so enthralled the inquisitive and interested artist. This specimen and his hands-on accessibility proved to be all the more inspiring for Varney as it enabled him to add insight and dimension to his earlier usage of the honeycomb motif in the late 1990’s.
It is this random and simple event that bore the idea for “Honeycomb Brooch.” The potent components of each creation are the perfectly blended balance of organic and geometric elements. It is Varney’s innate desire, dedication and ability to understand and translate these visual forms initially into a working sketch accompanied by notes and specific details and eventually into what would become a tangible three dimensional life size tribute to this innocent encounter.
The original design, typically a variation of the finished work, shows an oval stone accented with three sections of honeycombs. This piece's evolution was furthered by another chance encounter, this time it was an antique parcel of rough citrines where Varney was seduced by a slightly oblong cushion stone. A spectacular and extraordinarily lively citrine that displayed an evenly saturated, rich, warm honey-color, was to form the heart of this piece. Altering the shape of the center required a change of balance; hence the addition of a fourth side, each side being composed of six comb cells in a pyramid form. Without closing or backing the hexagonal cells, depth is created in the empty cell sleeves by the technique of “bead blasting” and contrasts the cells of fancy-cut yellow sapphires, representing the honey, and retained by fine bezels. Resting upon the brilliant citrine is a young female bee with wings bearing small diamonds culet side up, and copper legs. This worker bee model provided through the process of lost wax casting, appears life size, and bears blackened rhodium which has been removed in areas by a fine frazer producing faint yet real texture, all hand detailed to simulate nature. She is tending to the needs of the nest, repairing the cells, nurturing and feeding the developing larvae, and producing honey.
Beyond the beauty of this uniquely beautiful creation are the underlying connections among cultures, history and antiquity. Universally the bee is recognized for its importance: the Ancient Greeks and Egyptians believed that it represented the soul; Napoleon Bonaparte adapted the bee as his personal badge; this tiny insect is associated with purity, diligence, community, political and social order; and has been found to have vital medicinal applications. More than these multiple and complex relationships with bees, this “Honeycomb Brooch” represents the skillful translation and interpretation of a powerful inspiration by a master contemporary jeweler, Nicholas Varney.
1 Antique cushion-cut citrine, weighing 38.07 carats
15 hexagonal-cut yellow sapphires, total weighing 17.53 carats
20 round diamonds
Accompanied with a copy of the original drawing