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The natural world as portrayed in Ilgiz Fazulzyanov’s elaborate enamelwork is no drowsy, whimsical Eden. Instead, the Russian jeweller finds inspiration in nature at its most uncompromising: tree boughs splintering with ice after a storm; battling ravens tugging at each other’s feathers; grey clouds over a choppy winter lake.
His painted enamel flowers and dragonflies are delicately wrought in Art Nouveau-inspired tangles around rings and pendants, but this is nature as portrayed by a close observer. The forms of a pheasant or finch are glimpsed through grids of denuded golden branches or cascades of diamond raindrops; slow fish weave through painted reeds; dragonflies appear to pulsate as if warmed by sunlight. In recognition of his achievements, he is having a solo show of 250 works in the Assumption Cathedral, one of the venerable Moscow Kremlin Museums and part of the Kremlin Palace complex. He is the first independent contemporary jeweller to obtain such a show.
His burgeoning career is a rare bright spot in Russian luxury, following the collapse of the rouble in December 2014. “The Russian luxury market is in depression now,” says Mr Fazulzyanov. “Most luxury brands have closed their [concessions] and boutiques in Moscow and other Russian cities, but as a small workshop with no budget for marketing and advertising I have a very special place in this market,” he explains. “We need only a small group of clients. For some people, crisis is an opportunity for enrichment.”
His fighting “Ravens” pendant is among six of his pieces bought by the Kremlin Armory in 2014. It’s an apt locale for a pendant with a bellicose theme inspired by the “aggressive atmosphere in the air”. “It’s not an easy pendant to wear because of its relation to war,” he says through an interpreter.
His delicate, attentive nature studies seem far removed from the histories of bloodthirsty conquest and battlefield machismo associated with a national centre of power. As with the Assumption Cathedral — the site of imperial coronations — it is a locale that recalls jewels’ status as spoils of war, and their role in displaying wealth and power, today as in the 16th century.
Born in Tartarstan, south-east of Moscow, in 1968, Mr Fazulzyanov studied art in Kazan and was among a group of students sent away to learn traditional jewellery techniques. The apprenticeship “didn’t go according to plan”, he says, so the group returned to Kazan, but not realising he had not completed his training, friends started approaching with small commissions. “My sense of pride prevented me from admitting ignorance, and so I had to learn quickly. The first instruments I used, I got from dental surgeons.”
Mr Fazulzyanov flourished as an autodidact, and soon began experimenting with fine enamel work, using a combination of French and Russian enamels to achieve the perfect tone: “Working by trial and error, I settled upon a smelting temperature of 970 degrees centigrade. As far as I know, nobody else is using such operating conditions.”
His relationship with the Kremlin museums started in 1998 with a commission to produce a miniature of the Kazan Cap, a 16th-century gold filigree diadem created for Ivan the Terrible. “I’m not sure what made them choose me as a jeweller for that task: that I was from Kazan or that my first internationally acclaimed jewellery pieces were made using the filigree technique,” he says.
A move to Moscow in 2003 came “out of necessity”, and at first Mr Fazulzyanov relied on clients who rented a workshop for him. His business has been built slowly, aided by a handful of prestigious awards, foremost among which was Champion of Champions at the Hong Kong International Jewellery Show, which he won both in 2011 and 2013.
His simplest pieces retail for €3,000, though more complex works, set with fine stones and requiring weeks of meticulous work, can cost up to €400,000. While he sells through partners in Geneva and Tokyo, and has a shop in Monaco, 60 per cent of sales come through his appointment-only Moscow showroom.
Since the Champion of Champions awards, Mr Fazulzyanov has enjoyed a growing demand for pieces bought as investments, and his collectors now include an Italian who purchases all of his competition pieces. Nevertheless, everything he makes is designed for the body rather than a display cabinet. “I want to make sure that the earrings don’t weigh down the ear lobes, that the locks don’t unclasp, that the collar rests comfortably on the neck, that the rings don’t get in the way,” he says.
“All of my pieces are tested first by my wife and I pay close attention to her opinions.” Studious observation, as ever, remains key.
Ilgiz Fazulzyanov’s work will be exhibited at the Assumption Cathedral, Moscow, from April 1 to June 31