The beginning of December is usually the time when the art world heads to Florida for two contemporary art and design fairs. Design Miami is the forum for collectible design, while Art Basel Miami Beach is considered the top art fair of the Americas. The latter is marking its 20th anniversary this year with a bumper edition featuring 283 participating modern and contemporary art galleries.
And the arrival of large numbers of wealthy collectors for this week-long celebration of art and design is also a potent attraction for watch and jewellery brands. While collectors are perusing the paintings, sculptures and, now, digital artworks, a limited-edition timepiece or jewellery might be on their shopping list, too. Luxury labels have realised the potential behind these fairs and brands such as Cartier, Bulgari and Harry Winston have all entertained clients with exclusive dinners and events for those in town for the fairs.
Art Basel is owned by the Swiss company MCH Group that used to organise Baselworld, the premier watch and jewellery fair until it was axed during the pandemic. So a relationship between brands and organisers already exists. Watchmakers Hublot and Tag Heuer hosted big parties for collectors and their brand ambassadors during the Miami fairs in 2021, while Audemars Piguet, which has partnered Art Basel for 10 years, has commissioned artists to create new installations for the Miami Beach fair.
The advantage is that “these fairs assemble international audiences and act as a convening moment for the art world”, says AP’s art co-curator Audrey Teichmann. This gives the brand a bigger platform from which to engage their audience with new contemporary art.
This year, the watch brand will host a private event during the fair, as will jeweller Harry Winston. But the plans of many other luxury brands are still under wraps. Last year, Tiffany & Co painted the Miami Design District yellow in order to promote its renowned yellow diamonds, in particular the 128-carat Tiffany diamond that starred in the Beyoncé and Jay Z About Love marketing campaign last year.
At Design Miami, the fair’s partner, Dolce & Gabbana, will premier one-of-a-kind jewellery pieces that combine vintage elements with contemporary craftsmanship. The fair is known for its modern and artistic design and, since inception, has pursued historic and contemporary jewellery galleries, gradually expanding its offering as interest grows. “We certainly see an appetite for high jewellery among the collectors and enthusiasts who frequent the fair,” says Grela Orihuela, Design Miami’s vice-president of fairs.
Visitors’ interests are diverse, she says, and so Design Miami introduces them to historic and contemporary material covering the spectrum of design collectibles — from furniture to lighting, objets d’art and, of course, jewellery. Among those attending are London gallerist Elisabetta Cipriani who returns after a six-year hiatus and longstanding exhibitor New York gallery Ornamentum.
“You never know how fairs are going to happen and it’s good to return and find out if, in six years, things have changed, and to explore a different clientele,” says Cipriani, who specialises in wearable art. This year, she is presenting jewellery by visual artists including Sophia Vari, Giampaolo Babetto, Ute Decker and her best seller Giorgio Vigna — whose sculptural designs were well-received in Miami in 2016.
“Americans love bold sculptural jewellery; they trust my taste,” she says. Cipriani’s offering is completely different to designer or branded jewellery and appeals to an art world clientele that frequents both Miami fairs.
The demographic has shifted since Covid, with wealthy Americans relocating from New York, Illinois and Silicon Valley to Florida, attracted by the weather and lack of state income tax. This, in turn, has drawn a new crowd to the fairs alongside international collectors.
“It is our favourite event of the year,” says Stefan Friedemann, co-owner and director of Ornamentum in New York, who is exhibiting the unconventional and irreverent jewellery of Karl Fritsch and Jiro Kamata. “The energy is unparalleled, and there’s a mix of collectors from all across the US, Europe and South America that are always excited to see experimental contemporary works, both for on the body and in the home.” He describes them as “art world, moneyed people looking to acquire bold collector pieces” and, significantly, “clients that are younger than at many other fairs we’ve done, which is extremely important for the growth of contemporary jewellery”.
The influx of international collectors to Miami is felt further up the coast in Palm Beach where Sotheby’s presents art previews, while fellow auction house Doyle hosts watches and fine jewellery previews in early December in advance of its pre-Christmas New York sales.
Also feeling the benefits are leading local jeweller Hamilton, which stocks luxury brands like Chopard, Mikimoto and Pomellato. “While a majority of events take place in the greater Miami area, over the past couple of years we do see locally focused events taking place on a smaller, personalised scale to coincide with Art Basel and Design Miami,” says Hank Siegel, president and chief executive of Hamilton. The group organises special “meet the designer” and “rare gemstone” presentations in exclusive venues.
Palm Beach is now a regular stop for jewellery designers. Siegel describes the client base of the area as sophisticated and discerning — and notes “a younger clientele [is] bringing a new energy to the market”.