I recently discovered the work of jewelry designer Marc Alary at a show in New York, and was very much drawn to the his mostly wildlife-inspired and mobile pieces, and the passion with which he spoke about them. “I’d like my menagerie to be interactive,” says Alary. “I hope people will not only wear my jewelry but run their fingers over the zebra's patterns, play with the moveable limbs of the monkey, spin the panther ring for good luck, or because they are lost in thought. Animals are very comforting to us, they are our friends and protectors.” Marc Alary's pieces are filled with childlike wonder, crafted out of the finest of precious metals and stones, all made in New York City, and are subtle and wearable. Let me share with you my tête-à-tête with the French jeweler.
Marc Alary, face obscured with a wooden hand filled with his rings (portrait by Robbie Fimmano)
You spoke about childhood and the comforting nature of animals as the inspiration for your collection. I was obsessed with animals as a child. What was your favorite animal growing up? What are your favorite animals now, and why?
I grew up with two dogs that were following us pretty much everywhere, I guess they were so comforting in the fact that I knew they were here for me at all time should I needed them. Something I also realized pretty young is that you can be surrounded by your owns (humans) that talk your own language but still you can feel quite alone at time, a feeling I never sensed when I'm around animals. I like to think animals understand our state of mind. There is something incredibly soothing about animals, it is really hard to really define what it is. But when you think about it, we tend to give stuffed animals to kids and baby when they are growing up, we rely on those animals as they were alive to protect us and to be with us while we grow up.
For me it is the same with my menagerie of precious animal, I rely on my monkey necklace and panther ring for protection. I think I just love animals, it is something inside me. Maybe for their wilderness? I just like the way they are, how perfect they are, the variety of each animal. The way each of them are different but adapt perfectly to their environment. I also believe in Talismans and animal being protectors of us. That is why I like to carry them with me on my neck or around my finger as good luck charms. For me they are my protectors.
monkey pendants in yellow and rose gold by Marc Alary
As for my favorite animal when I was a kid, I think I would have loved to have a panther, as it is majestic and incredibly beautiful. As for now, I'm not sure I could answer what would be my favorite animal, I think I like them all, each with their individual character, whether it is their particular anatomy, their colors, their skins or feathers, the fur, the prints. I just love the variety, so all of them!! Though I might have soft spot for monkeys!
How do the French like to wear jewelry? Do they like to pile it on? Or wear just one special piece?
Well, I guess the thing with French is when it comes to fashion there is not much rules, it really depends what you like and what you believe. Some people are very traditional with their jewelry, they like to wear one special piece very dear to them and that will be the special touch to a lot of their different outfits or style, it will somehow the common thread to all their styles. Those people will be able to mix their special piece of jewelry with very dressed up traditional outfit as well as with very casual outfits. Some people also start to wear one piece of jewelry and they will never be able to take it down for many years or even to change it. There is a lot of mystic beliefs when it comes to jewelry and even more with precious metals and precious stones.
an assortment of Marc Alary's rings: the panther, the leaf, and the articulated monkey in various metals and stone settings
Some other people like to pile it on, in general I observed that the people who can pile their jewelry have more 'natural dispositions' (if I can say) to change or switch jewelry more often, but there is always exceptions to the rules.
In my case, I used to pile it on for a while, never too much rings though, it was more pendants on a single chains, I use to like make groups with themes. Now I'm more into the idea of wearing between one to three pieces, I always wear my lucky charm panther ring, I have been wearing it since I first designed it two and a half years ago, I traveled to many places with it. I also usually wear my monkey, and from time to time I accentuate those two pieces with another more complex piece, whether it is my articulated monkey ring or articulated elephant caravan ring or something else.
The leaf ring is the one Marc Alary piece I covet the most. He made them to represent the four seasons (portraying summer, laid on top of spring, winter, and fall, respectively). I think the spring leaf ring in white gold with green diamonds (!) is immensely exquisite.
Who are the jewelry designers you look up to?
I'm very classic in my tastes and usually like old designers, one of my very favorite being René Lalique, his jewelry and work was simply stunning. I like the work of past designers, cause they use to take the time to work on piece and mostly their work was dictated by the idea of creating something beautiful and truly unique rather than selling, but I guess it was also a different time, as back then most piece of jewelry created was made after private commission. Though I think it is definitely possible to achieve commercial success and at the same time doing something truly creative and beautiful. I also like the work of Faberge, for the quality of their products and some of the stories they were telling through their pieces. One of the jewelry designer I really like, but he is mostly famous for his art is Alexander Calder, his pieces and his work was absolutely genius. Otherwise I don't know much about other designers, it isn't that I am not interested, I just avoid looking too much around me so I don't get my head polluted by other ideas. I usually try to find my inspiration somewhere else, clothes. toys, everyday objects, books, music... Still I absolutely recognize the talent of the people working for huge companies like Cartier, Van Cleef and Arpels, Chaumet, Boucheron.
Alary's articulated monkey ring in yellow gold would add just that little hint of whimsy to ruffle up a trim navy suit.
How do you deal with the rising price of gold and diamonds?
That is a tough question, cause it is a real problem for us jewelry designers.
At some point the price of the gold doubled from what it used to be a year and half ago! So it definitely makes our work really difficult. Personally I'm not interested in doing much smaller piece in order to use less gold, I'm not saying it is a bad idea, not at all, it just isn't part of my vision as a designer for now, I'm much more interested in finding some other alternatives, which I'm working on at the moment. What I tried to do is to stick to what I believe: working on some truly original designs with real integrity and an authentic story behind it (and you have to be honest about this, I really dislike people who try to create that feel of authenticity when it isn't true) I want my design to show my passion and dedication to my work, last but not least, you have to try to give the best quality to serve your designs. I think customers are very sensitive to those things.
for the ladies in your lives (or men who like their earrings dangly): Marc Alary monkey earrings with citrine bananas
What piece of jewelry do you wear everyday? To special occasions?
I wear my panther ring, I always have it with me, wherever I go, even when I'm traveling or doing exercises I never take it out. I also usually wear my monkey pendant everyday. To special occasions, depending on what clothes I'm wearing, if it is a bit casual, like a nice t-shirt with a jacket I wear my regular monkey pendant. If I'm wearing a buttoned shirt with tie, I will probably wear a monkey pin on the collar of my jacket, very chic! Then I have a couple of Rings that I wear alternatively, to suit my mood or the event, it is the one truly great thing of being a jeweler you have a wide collection.
Marc Alary wearing his monkey pendant in a self-portrait for The Dandy Project (New York City, 10/26/2011)
photographs via Marc Alary