Wearable Luxury: Jewelry Design with Tamara Comolli

Tamara Comolli - jewelry designerInvoking a sense of the sea, whimsy and holiday, jewelry designer Tamara Comolli’s (right) aesthetic has come to epitomize the Southwest Florida lifestyle. Her designs are the essence of casual elegance: leathers set with diamonds, beaded wood bracelets arranged with rose gold, ocean jasper cut into candy drops—all exude luxury in a wearable way often not found with fine jewelry. And though these shapes, colors and gems give a sense of permanent beach holiday, Comolli is German-born and currently lives in Bavaria, a millieu more akin to the Sound of Music than the sandy shores of the Seychelles. But her childhood, a whirlwind of Mediterranean resort-leisure towns, helped instill the casual elegance and whimsy of her collection.

   “It has a lot to do with my upbringing,” Comolli says. “My father ran casinos, had a casino in Gibraltar and then in France. So my mother and we four kids traveled all over the world to follow Dad, and we were surrounded in this Mediterranean environment that always had this holiday feel for us,” adds Comolli, who strategically targets her markets with boutiques on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach, the Hamptons, and her U.S. headquarters in Naples.

   Though the sea seems to intertwine with Comolli’s vibe, she still holds Germany close, not only by living there, but with a boutique on the exclusive island of Sylt and another to open in Munich. To Comolli, Germany is home—and a strategic base of operations.

Tamara Comolli - Working with her deisgn team in Germany
Comolli (right) with members of her design team in Germany.

   “I like the country because its very homey, safe and a good place to raise your children,” says Comolli. “The spirit of the collection definitely comes from traveling and loving the beach and the water. [The beach] is where I would like to spend most of my time but unfortunately you have to work, too. The good thing about Germany is there are amazing goldsmiths here, the very best gemstone carvers are based here, and it’s great place to have a hub between America and Asia to do sourcing, production and distribution.”

   It’s a practicality that helps explain the other half of Comolli—the business-driven realist. “I studied business and economics at university and went into consulting for luxury goods before starting the company,” says the designer, who started her eponymous line 22 years ago. “Since I was 12 I had a strong passion for gemstones, and I am really crazy about bracelets. I started my first little bracelet collection when I was 17 and tried to sell it, but my father said ‘don’t you start with this nonsense, you have to do something real and study.’”

Tamara Comolli - Flamenco Bracelet

   So Comolli stuck with consulting, designing and creating jewelry for herself, until one day, at 29, she finally “got fed up” and took the plunge with her own business. But even then, she went into it with her own rules.

   “It was always a clear vision of fine jewelry that was very different and quite daring at that time. I always had an understated approach to high-end jewelry. [Fine jewelry] was always intimidating and expensive; going into a jewelry store was quite an effort … no one quite understood the sense of casual luxury. I think, if you can afford it, just wear it … put a pair of diamonds on leather. I just did not understand that classic, over-the-top approach. So I wanted to do my own brand with my own vision … wearable, casual luxury. That’s how I built the brand in the end.”


Conitnue to page two for more with Comolli.

   With a quick look at her collection, one immediately sees the common thread that connects it. Symbolic shapes appear often, creating a signature without overtly stamping a logo or name. Case in point, the capricious candy/acorn charms that first won acclaim on Comolli’s Flamenco bracelet have migrated to chandelier earrings and pendants on necklaces, all in array of colorful gemstones.

Ocean Jasper necklaces

   “I work with a lot of symbols,” says Comolli. “My signature shape is the drop. It is the symbol of the ocean, the holiday feel that I always have in my head. I try to incorporate these familiar symbols throughout the collection in many different things so you can wear them all together.”

   Her designs, unlike those from many high-end jewelry houses, are not dictated by the stone, but rather driven by design. “A lot of times I have a design in mind and don’t know what the gem could be to meet that particular idea.”

   This is what leads Comolli on the more “adventurous” part of her job: sourcing the stones. “I was always interested in exotic gems, so I go to the [market] fairs in Bangkok, Hong Kong and Vietnam, and to the mines in Cambodia and India to see what kind of raw materials they have. You can’t build a collection with just one gemstone; you have to be sure you can source it. So I go to the source, look at the rough and then have my carvers carve it to see if I like it for the collection.”

Tamara Comolli at the Hong Kong gemstone market, African sourcing booth.
Comolli sourcing some gems from the African sourcing booth at the Hong Kong gemstone market.

   This has led Comolli to far-off locales in search of the right stone for her vision. The latest collections, India—named for the source of her raw material and available in April—and Ocean Jasper took her to India, Indonesia and Madagascar. Her travels brought about some rather interesting materials to incorporate into the brand.

   The India collection features a recurring leaf mosaic that has been hand-carved from chalcedony quartz in Jaipur that is available in just about every color imaginable. Some of the pendants are cinched by similarly colored leathers, while others delicately hang from rose gold chains, giving them an earthy vibe.

India collection - from Tamara Comolli - handcarved leaf pendant made from chalcedony quartz

India Collection – Chalcedony Carved Leaf Pendants

   The other portion of the India collection incorporates the heartwood of oud, or agarwood, the most expensive wood in the world (a quick search on eBay shows high-quality oud/agarwood/aloewood going for upwards of $640 for 80 g—roughly a quarter of the cost of gold—a lot for wood). Most commonly used in incense and perfumes, this exceedingly rare wood is an indigenous evergreen tree from Southeast Asia containing a fungus that triggers a response from the tree to produce a dense and dark resin within the heartwood. The wood darkens from a light beige to a dark brown to even black while adding density and imparting a rich, musty scent that has been used in incense for centuries. When sculpted and polished into beads, the exotic wood’s deep color adds warmth to Comolli’s mala bead rendition. And when punctuated with rose gold accents and inlaid with diamonds, it gives new meaning to the ancient practice of japa—this is truly wearable luxury.

India Collection - Tamara Comolli - agarwood mala bracelet with gold pendants and diamonds

Agarwood Mala Bracelet from Tamara Comolli’s India Collection

   The Ocean Jasper collection embraces Comolli’s boho-chic sensibility. The multicolored chalcedony stone found on the Madagascar coast is speckled with orbicular structures, making each polished piece unique, even if cut from the same raw material.

   “It has this wild pattern; no ring looks the same, but it is still the same material. It is quite luxury hippie,” says Comolli of her Ocean Jasper collection. It breaks from the constraints of fine jewelry with a little gypsy flair. “A ring itself doesn’t say much, that’s why I think jewelry needs to speak to you; I think fine jewelry needs to tell a story.”

Ocean Jasper Collection - Tamara Comolli

Pieces from the Ocean Jasper Collection.

   This speaks to Comolli’s overall philosophy about wearing jewelry and the art of design. Her collection is internationally established, she has a team of more than 30 working with her in the studio, and she works hand-in-hand with some of the world’s best goldsmiths and gemstone carvers. Still Comolli goes about her designs with the passion and zeal of someone in a start-up. She’s not creating jewelry for the sake of continuing the brand, rather for getting to the heart of why people wear jewelry in the first place.

    “I look at women,” she says. “I see my clients and see what they wear, what they need. This is why my collection is very large, so I have something for someone who likes pearl earrings, someone who likes diamond solitaires, and someone who wants a funky leather, cowboy-ish piece. Ideas always strike with a necessity for the women I see.”

   It’s what makes her designs so exciting, and why so many have gravitated to this free-spirited, gypsy style. Luxury as wearable art—a notion that clearly works.

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