When most artists create a study—a sketch or a mock-up in preparation for a finished piece—it tends to be a smaller-scale version of the final work. Sculptor and jewelry designer Ana Khouri has often taken the opposite approach, first making a large-scale sculpture and then designing a miniature version, in materials such as gold and diamonds, as jewelry. Khouri’s Mirian bracelet, for example, features chunky white diamonds that lie in a circle across the wearer’s wrist, but the shape of it originally came in the form of a curvy iron sculpture measuring about 12 x 20 inches.
Since launching her namesake jewelry line in 2013, Khouri, 41, has become known for her fine jewelry, and particularly for her ear cuffs. In thick precious metals or clusters of sparkly gemstones, her gravity-defying cuffs spiral around the outer ear. Zoë Kravitz, Kaia Gerber and Mary-Kate and
have all worn her designs; in 2019, the Olsens also started carrying them at their The Row stores.
Now Khouri has shifted her focus to the even more luxe high jewelry category, creating mostly one-of-a-kind pieces, including some from uncommon materials such as rosewood and rose quartz. And for the first time, she’s preparing to sell her sculptures along with her jewelry, at the European Fine Art Foundation fair (Tefaf) in New York City in May. Her business model has shifted; these pieces can only be bought either directly from Khouri at her by-appointment space in New York City or at exhibitions like Tefaf. In recent years, she’s also collaborated with the auction houses Sotheby’s and Phillips on shows.
Alex Logsdail, the CEO of Lisson Gallery who’s also on the selection committee for Tefaf, has been giving her advice on how to position herself in the art world. He and his partner, Skylar Pittman, are friends and clients of Khouri’s. “The jewelry’s very sculptural,” he says. “So it’s a natural evolution that she’d start gaining recognition for the sculpture.”
Khouri’s sculptures are made from materials including iron, sand, paint, pearl, gold leaf and aluminum. She’s never sold them or worked with a gallery before. “It was not the right time, there was so much happening on the jewelry side,” she says. For a temporary exhibition, she once loaned the Olsens some of her sculptures to display at The Row in Los Angeles, alongside works by Isamu Noguchi and John Chamberlain, but they still weren’t available for purchase.
While Khouri has never been interested in mass production, at one point her jewelry was available in nine stores around the world, including Barneys before it shuttered. “We didn’t want to do 30 of a necklace or 40 of a ring,” she says. “I remember back when we started at Barneys and Net-a-Porter, [we told them,] ‘We do not produce all the quantities you need. We deliver twice a year, and we do not consign.’ ” This model is uncommon in fine jewelry, where brands usually create a certain number of collections a year, and the retailer pays a percentage of the proceeds only when the items sell. Now the only store where her edition pieces can be purchased is The Row. Khouri’s editions are available in finite groups ranging from two to 15, and start at $7,100. Meanwhile, her high jewelry work can go for far more; a gold, diamond and crystal necklace sold at auction for $8 million.
“What’s special about her pieces is that they take on a new life on whomever is wearing them,” says stylist Karla Welch, whose clients include Justin and Hailey Bieber and Olivia Wilde. “Ana is an artist. When I wear the ring I own, I feel a deep connection to the materials and her respect for the planet.”
The approximately 30 jewelry pieces that will be available at Tefaf include a thick gold cuff that looks like something Cleopatra would have worn; a show-stopping necklace with diamonds dripping more diamonds from a thick double chain; and a hand-carved rose-quartz and crystal collar with a 5.54 carat pink diamond at its center. Khouri has also been experimenting, for example, with rosewood, a now-protected tree species, creating pieces from a vintage chest of drawers that was in her family. “In the end, what is luxury?” she says. “Why are these things not in high jewelry? There’s not a reason.”
She uses only Fairmined gold, a certification from the Colombia-based Alliance for Responsible Mining that signifies traceability and that the metal is from small-scale mining organizations. She works on her sculptures at a studio in Brooklyn, and has another workspace in Manhattan and one in Paris, where the high jewelry artisans she works with are located.
Khouri was born in São Paulo and spent her early childhood in Londrina, a 20-minute drive from the family’s eucalyptus farm in southern Brazil. An outdoorsy kid, she remembers feeding horses by hand and being in trees. “What it taught me was to trust in the world and in nature,” Khouri says. When she turned 10, her family started splitting time between Brazil and the U.S. for her father’s engineering work (her mother is a pianist). She attended school in Coral Gables, Florida, before moving back to Brazil at age 15.
At university in São Paulo, Khouri studied sculpture and graduated with a degree in fine arts. While at school, she staged a show in which four nude models walked around wearing large sculptures of hers molded to their bodies, covering the top of their breasts to their thighs.
An attendee who became Khouri’s first client sought her out after the event and asked if she would make the works on a smaller scale so that the client could wear them as jewelry. The request wasn’t easy; Khouri explains that she had to think of functionality in a way she’d never had to as a sculptor. But she learned how to work with gold, and at a smaller scale. “I fell in love with it,” she says of making jewelry. “It was almost like bringing my [sculpture] work into [a woman’s] body and having it walk around with her as she moves.”
Khouri completed courses at Central Saint Martins in London and at the Gemological Institute of America, the Fashion Institute of Technology and Parsons School of Design in New York. In 2012, the year before she launched her own brand, she moved back to New York.
“New York made me harsh in a good way,” she says. “I was alone in a country, and for my business to work, I needed to be ready for whatever it was, and trust a little bit less that it would happen.”
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