During couture week in Paris in July, amid the packed schedule of lavish events and parties, the jewelry designer Elie Top hosted a notably intimate dinner party for 14 friends in his design studio on Rue St.-Honoré. His guests included the stylish model and actress Marisa Berenson, who said dinner at Mr. Top’s was always one of her favorite invitations.
“The dinner was so fun, warm and joyful,” said Ms. Berenson, who lingered until past midnight. She has been close to the designer since they met 15 years ago at a friend’s house in Tangier, Morocco. “The world today is such that what’s most precious is to surround yourself with quality people that you appreciate, and Elie surrounds himself with people he loves,” she said.
Mr. Top’s cozy dinners remind Elisabeth von Thurn und Taxis, the journalist and socialite, of an earlier era. “This is what I imagine dinners were like in the 1970s,” she said, “when fashion wasn’t so commercial, and it was about a designer’s friends and entourage and whoever inspired them.” (Ms. von Thurn und Taxis didn’t come to the July dinner, but she often attends Mr. Top’s gatherings.)
During a time when large jewelry houses like Tiffany & Company and Bulgari, both owned by the luxury behemoth LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, are investing millions in whisking clients to glamorous destinations for grand events and are paying brand ambassadors and celebrities to wear their jewelry, it can be hard for smaller brands to compete. Mr. Top, however, has chosen a different path.
His jewelry is sold mainly through his Paris salon and studio, where he is often available to meet with visitors. He also occasionally does pop-up selling events in Gstaad, Switzerland and New York — a trunk show was scheduled Nov. 13-26 at Bergdorf Goodman — and, for the first time, he exhibited at the PAD London art fair in October. The support of his friends, who wear his designs, has also given the designer visibility.
“Many women who wear his jewelry are also his friends,” Ms. von Thurn und Taxis said. “We buy his jewelry because we love it.”
The Influence of Friends
The designer’s stylish confidants have influenced Mr. Top’s designs. “I’m drawn to powerful, independent women,” he said during an interview this summer. “I imagine these are the types of women who are wearing my pieces; they give me a mood.”
At the dinner party in July, Mr. Top unveiled his Twist jewelry collection, which everyone was trying on. Inspired by the shapes of coiled snakes, the twisted 18-karat gold and distressed silver pieces formed intertwining S shapes in openwork pendants, earrings and rings, most with diamond accents ($6,800 to $22,400). There also were one-of-a-kind snake rings set with large stones, such as a five-carat old-mine-cut diamond and a four-carat emerald.
“Twist reminds me of the huge chain necklaces worn in portraits from the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, but these are a little punk rock,” Mr. Top said. His jewelry themes have been wide-ranging, from his 2015 debut collection, Mécaniques Célestes, which featured gold sphere pendants and rings that twist open to reveal another design, to a five-piece high jewelry collection of quirky animals, Magica Naturae, presented in 2021.
“His jewelry is modern,” Ms. Berenson said, “but at the same time has a baroque quality so they look like they could be from another century. It isn’t like anything you see out there.”
When designing, Mr. Top said, he sketches a woman wearing the jewelry, her attitude, hair and fashion.
“I try to imagine the way a woman will wear the jewelry, what clothing and how to create a balance.”
A Heritage in Fashion
His holistic approach to jewelry comes from nearly 20 years of working in the fashion industry, where he met many of his longtime friends. Mr. Top began his career in 1997 as an illustrator in Yves Saint Laurent’s studio, where he met Alber Elbaz. In 2001, he followed Mr. Elbaz to Lanvin, where he collaborated with the designer for more than a decade on oversized, creative costume jewelry before leaving to establish his own brand.
The jeweler’s attention to detail caught the attention of Inès de La Fressange when Mr. Top was working as freelance designer on Roger Vivier handbags, from 2004 to 2012.
“I saw him making technical drawings and then making them into cardboard maquettes,” said the French model and designer, who also has become a close friend. “I said to him why don’t you have an assistant make the maquettes, and he told me that by making them himself, he learns more about the construction and details.”
“You can recognize his jewelry immediately, even though the designs are all different,” she said. “It has real style and attention to detail.”
Ms. de La Fressange said she saw similarities between Mr. Top and Karl Lagerfeld, the prolific designer who considered her a muse. “Elie is the only person who I could compare to Karl,” she said. “Karl had a huge knowledge of culture and of the history of fashion, costume and jewelry, like Elie does.”
Mr. Top has been curious since his childhood in northern France, reading and exploring everything from space and mechanics to vintage costumes and art. All these interests make their way into his jewelry: For example, the idea for his Mécaniques Célestes collection came from an exhibition catalog of 17th and 18th century astronomical clocks and celestial measuring instruments.
“Elie’s pieces have a personality and they’re very individual, that’s why I love to wear them,” Ms. Berenson said. One of her favorites is his Étoile Mystérieuse hexagonal pendant, which she says makes her feel empowered.
For Ms. Von Thurn und Taxis, Mr. Top’s way of setting large stones in whimsical pieces or in distressed silver makes them easy to wear every day. “He uses beautiful stones but in a way that is more rock ‘n’ roll and less intimidating.” She wears his large shield ring with a 1.5-carat emerald all the time, which she said, “feels like a piece of body armor.”
“There is a lot of jewelry today that is technically beautiful but a little bit boring,” she said. “In the ’20s, 30s and 40s there were artists like Suzanne Belperron and Jeanne Toussaint creating jewelry, and they had the technique, the style, and great imagination. Elie works in this tradition.”
To some degree Mr. Top’s brand is an insider’s marque as it isn’t widely available, but his fans say that is part of its charm. “There is a real luxury in wearing something rare, beautiful and something not a lot of people have today,” Ms. de la Fressange said.
Mr. Top said he took pleasure in having women wear his designs. “I enjoy the sensation of seeing a woman meet the jewel when it is a perfect match,” he said. “That means I did my job.”
And his friends always cheer him on. “Last night a friend was at a party in New York, and she texted me a picture of another woman’s hand with my huge snake ring with an emerald,” Mr. Top said. “That made me really happy.”