Chains, a foundational element of jewelry design, have been integral to crafting ornaments for as long as humans have been making interlocking rings to adorn our bodies.
As Otto Jakob, a German master jeweler, said: “Chains are an archetype in jewelry, and they tell a symbolic and universal story with their own alphabet.”
Evolving from Babylonian loop-in-loop techniques to the opulent pieces worn by medieval kings, from Coco Chanel’s gracefully draped chains to the chunky links embraced by rappers, chains have enjoyed an enduring appeal as a cornerstone of jewelry craftsmanship.
This year, chains have been bold elements in both high jewelry and fine jewelry lines, reimagined as stand-alone pieces or pulling double duty to carry a pendant. Showcasing the artistry and imagination of their designers, these well-crafted pieces have gone from supporting to starring roles, becoming focal points in collections.
“I have always loved articulated chain links,” Mr. Jakob said in a phone interview from Karlsruhe, Germany, where he is based. “As a modern designer and an old-fashioned craftsman, I am always looking for ways to make my chain pieces more practical, longer lasting and wearable.”
True to that goal, Mr. Jakob, a specialist in intricate chains with interconnected, movable parts, often associates them with Renaissance-inspired enameled pendants. And this year, he combined the two in a yellow-gold chain-link bracelet that he unveiled in July on his Instagram account.
While its large sculptural links appear to be rounded, they actually were engineered to lie flat on the wrist, ensuring that their fragile glass enameling in red, black and lime green would be protected from rubbing against other links.
“This is a piece of wearable architecture that wraps around the wrist,” Mr. Jakob said.
Cartier put its own craftsmanship to the fore in an all-white, diamond-set chain-link necklace called Zuria, unveiled as part of Le Voyage Recommencé (or, The Journey Started Anew), the high jewelry collection it presented in May in Florence, Italy.
Zuria was composed of diamond pavé links in half-moon shapes, slightly rounded and curved inward at the edges. With voids between each link, the necklace’s composition captured the light to add brilliance to its two rectangular-shape diamonds totaling 6.09 carats, and two half-moon step-cut diamonds, totaling 2.28 carats, set as a pendant.
“Articulation and flexibility are essential to jewelry, for several reasons: The pieces are in intimate contact with the body and comfort is mandatory, and free movement conveys elegance,” Pierre Rainero, the house’s director of image, style and heritage, wrote in an email. “That’s why, at Cartier, we create articulated designs that accompany and sometimes amplify movement.”
Even when high jewelry chains are designed to disappear, expert craftsmanship goes into making them, explained Anne Eva Geffroy, design director at Graff. Her recent challenge was to create a chain to highlight — but not overwhelm — a rare 30.28-carat fancy intense yellow pear-shape diamond set as a pendant. She designed a chain from platinum and white gold and then used it as a base for 167.85 carats of white diamonds, chosen in a range of cuts and set at different heights on the chain to create a kind of irregular design.
“The metalwork is concealed so the chain resembles a cascading river of diamonds,” Ms. Geffroy wrote in an email.
“I wanted the chain to work in balance with the central pendant and also to be worn alone as a magnificent jewel in its own right,” she wrote. “It had to reflect the light beautifully and lead the eye down towards the pendant.”
Ana Khouri, a Brazilian-born, New York City-based designer, introduced chains to create asymmetry and infuse a punk, rebellious touch to the high jewelry pieces she presented at Connection, a jewelry show hosted by Christie’s Paris in July.
A choker she crafted from ethically sourced yellow gold incorporated a segment of chain pavéd with white diamonds. Dangling from it was a pendant with a central 5.32-carat fancy intense natural pink diamond.
“A classic designer would not pair a rare five-carat gemstone with an asymmetrical, chunky chain,” Ms. Khouri said in an interview from the Greek island of Mykonos, where she was vacationing in July. “My jewelry represents the culture of today.”
Francesca Amfitheatrof, Louis Vuitton’s artistic director of watches and jewelry, created an unexpected twist by designing a high jewelry choker with a gourmette-style chain, the French term for a chain of flattened links, also called a curb chain.
Part of Louis Vuitton’s Deep Time collection, the Rupture choker was constructed in tiers, inspired by the Earth’s geology. The middle tier is a yellow-gold gourmette chain set with a yellow triangle-cut Sri Lankan sapphire of 13.81 carats, placed beneath a top row of 33 brilliant-cut zircons weighing 163.71 carats and above a bottom row of 15 oval-cut Mexican opals weighing 32.77 carats. Each tier is detachable and could be worn separately.
“Rupture is a powerful statement,” Ms. Amfitheatrof wrote in an email. “Not often do you get to describe a piece of high jewelry as being cool. Rupture is just that, it has a devil-may-care attitude.”
To mark almost two decades at Pomellato, Vincenzo Castaldo, creative director of the Milan-based house, wove chains into an anniversary collection called Ode to Milan, designed to tell the tale of the brand’s gold smithing heritage.
“Chains are the calligraphy of Pomellato and a foundation of our identity,” Mr. Castaldo said. “Our chain expertise starts with a simple metal wire that we twist in infinite ways. We look for modernity in our chain designs by experimenting with link shapes and sizes to create different compositions with irregular rhythms.”
In the one-off Catene Milano necklace, Mr. Castaldo combined repetition and change to create a chain necklace in rose gold set with 14.31 carats of diamonds, which could be worn as a necktie or a sautoir (long necklace), thanks to an adjustable clasp. Its diamond-set pendant, itself designed to resemble a chain link, “gives it an urban, industrial flair,” Mr. Castaldo said, and makes it “wearable by everyone.”
Dior turned a signature motif — Christian Dior’s initials — into the links of a graphic chain-inspired collection, called Color Dior and first introduced in 2022. An addition this year was a double ring that can be transformed into a pendant by placing it on a chain. A rose gold version was enhanced with touches of black and white lacquer, while the yellow gold ring has shades of turquoise and navy.
Catherine Zadeh, an independent fine jewelry designer based in New York who started creating men’s jewelry in 1995, broadened her approach recently with chain-link pieces that marry yellow gold to blackened silver, designed to bridge the gender divide.
“The Fiero chain necklace has oval shaped links with blackened crevasses that add texture, depth and character to this piece,” Ms. Zadeh said. “It has a subtle masculine edge, but you can stack it with a contrasting gold chain for more unisex appeal.”
And, she said, the Fiero sautoir was designed to appeal to anyone. “A lot of men today are wearing chain-link sautoirs,” Ms. Zadeh said. “My husband may not, but someone with the sartorial sense of Harry Styles would.”
Also using chains to evoke “both feminine and masculine vibes,” the Athens-based designer Nikos Koulis has turned to blackened or brushed gold chains, some set with precious stones.
“These pieces are about balance between rich and plain, feminine and masculine, tough and soft, confident and steady,” Mr. Koulis wrote in an email. “My chains are connectors. They have a delicate austerity to them, but they are timeless.”