Philippe Pfeiffer: The art of transforming the old into new

The antique and unused jewellery pieces that Philippe Pfeiffer modernises in his bespoke jewellery service can be likened to a Grand Dame actress: although cherished, she may look out of place and go unacknowledged in the wrong context. That is, unless you create a fitting, celebrative new stage for her. In his own words, Philippe Pfeiffer creates a “theatre for the piece to be appreciated to its fullest potential.”

This London-based jeweller possesses an incredibly individual style of creating and experimenting with fine jewellery, and predominantly produces his own original designs alongside his custom work. During the process of redesigning a piece, he is required to understand not only the individual, but also the best way to repurpose and showcase their precious jewellery that is no longer being worn.

Philippe Pfeiffer's workbench at his London atelier

“I understand that all of the jewellery that people bring to me to redesign is sentimental. So, I want to offer them something unexpected and completely unique, rather than a piece created in the same way that any jewellery designer could do. For one piece, I will take a bracelet apart and incorporate all its gemstone components into a new design, but for another, I will set a brooch into carbon fibre to make a statement cocktail ring out of it…”

During my recent visit to Philippe Pfeiffer’s charming atelier at 52 Artillery Lane in Spitalfields, I had a chance to see some of his clients’ treasured jewellery pieces, which the jeweller is in the process of transforming from something old into something new.

Philippe Pfeiffer

Katerina Perez: How did you first embark on this bespoke service?

Philippe Pfeiffer: I remember clients coming to me with all kinds of pieces and saying "just melt them down", but I thought "why melt away all of this lovely workmanship?" For me, giving an old piece its new life is not a process that I think about, it just happens. It’s like a journey, but you don’t always know the eventual destination while you are travelling. 

KP: For you personally, what is the driving force behind creating modern pieces with antique components? 

PP: Often, when jewellery designers give new life to an old piece, they simply repurpose the stones, whereas I often appreciate the antique design and try to  keep intact the elements of that particular piece of jewellery. I like to make jewellery that’s modern, but I can appreciate the beauty, the delicacy and the craftsmanship of an old piece. Rather than destroy that, I want to underline it, to accentuate what it is and why it looks the way it does. But I like to keep what it was as part of the piece; I don’t want to steal that from the past.

KP: Indeed, when others redesign jewellery, they often only utilise the stones. But the thing with antique jewellery design and craftsmanship is that once that design and craftsmanship is gone, it’s gone forever!

PP: Exactly, which is why I do not simply work with the stones, I keep the design element intact and add a bold setting to it. I think of it as putting the sentimentality - whatever that piece means to you - on a pedestal. 

KP: So how do you work with the client to decide on a design? 

PP: I’ll show them the portfolio of my bespoke work, and we discuss what they like, what they don’t and what will work for them. From that I start to build the ideas around their personal piece for them to approve. It’s a delightful process.

After spending time with Philippe, I realise that this jeweller doesn’t simply turn old jewellery into new pieces; he transforms unloved sentimental items into exciting, show-stopping talismans.

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