Style icon Paloma Picasso has been creating jewelry for Tiffany & Co. since 1980, famously reinterpreting Xs and O’s in bold silver and gold and celebrating the raw beauty of colorful stones in her modern-looking Sugar Stacks rings. Her newest collection for the jeweler, Olive Leaf, is more naturalistic than what has come before, with prices ranging from $150 for a thin silver ring band to $975 for a silver cuff to $100,000 for a diamond and white-gold bib.
Picasso, 64, is married to French osteopathic doctor Eric Thevenet and splits her time between Lausanne, Switzerland, and Marrakech, Morocco. She recently visited L.A., giving us a chance to talk with her about her inspirations, her design process and her famous father Pablo’s influence.
How long has it been since you were in Los Angeles?
A long time. We used to come here once a year during the summer and we would spend a whole month. Then, when we bought our house in Marrakech, we started spending every summer there. But I’ve missed California, so my husband and I are taking time to drive up the coast to San Francisco and back.
What inspired the Olive Leaf collection?
Our garden in Marrakech has an olive grove, and it was obvious that one day it would have an influence. The olive grove has 76 trees, which are at least 300 years old. And it is what attracted us to buying the house. An olive tree never changes, meaning that the leaves never fall off. It lives with you, and you have the beauty of the trees all year long. And when you get olives, you can make your own olive oil. We make about 100 liters [around 26 gallons] each season and give it away. In the collection, I tried to echo my feeling about the olive tree and how the leaves shimmer in the wind. There’s something dainty and delicate about them, but because of the size of the leaves, it’s still a big statement. I wanted to bring that quality to the pieces, and it took a lot of work, particularly the structure of the branch holding the leaves. Hopefully, it looks kind of free-form, like it grew by itself. But on the cuff, for example, we did about six different versions with different variations of openness and spacing of the leaves before we got it right.
What is the significance of the olive?
Often when you see a dove, which is a symbol of peace, it’s holding an olive branch. Olive trees are also linked to peace, which is something we all need more of today.
There are lots of oval shapes too, starting with the pendant.
Very often I work with round shapes, but I felt I wanted an oval this time. After I designed the collection, when I was in the garden, I realized that I wanted an oval because it’s the shape of the olive. Things always happen for a reason!
What was the design process like? Did you start with photographs of the garden?
No, I think you have to let things sink in and then transform themselves. By the time you draw them, then they will be your own. I sketched the leaves.
Are you ever influenced by your father’s work?
At age 9, I thought I could design better than him. He had two Matisses in the house, and I thought I would copy them. Then I copied one of my father’s paintings. Then I copied a “Tom and Jerry” cartoon. I went to show my father my work and asked him, “What do you think?” He said, “It’s not for me to tell you what I think. It’s for you to decide. You have to be pleased with it, and by the way, you don’t have to copy anyone.” But no, I would never interpret his designs. He actually made jewelry too, but just for his family and friends. While he was at the dentist, he noticed all the things they were doing with wax, and asked if he could use some of the molds. That’s how he made jewelry, thanks to the dentist.
What is it like to look at one of his paintings in a museum?
It could be a portrait of me or a painting I saw him paint or something he did at 20 years old but that I saw in our house growing up, so there’s always a personal side to it. But still, I feel I owe it to him to look at his paintings as being done by Monsieur Picasso, not my dad.
Men’s jewelry is a fast-growing category, and I know you have designed quite a few men’s pieces. What inspires you there?
Lots of things. One thing every man loves is cars. In Los Angeles, we visited the Petersen Automotive Museum, which was very inspiring. My husband and I used to do classic car rallies (I was the co-pilot, he was the driver). And I think aesthetically, car design is so interesting — the dashboards, the steering wheels and the beauty of the mechanics. I don’t know how any of it works, I don’t want to know, but it’s inspirational. I have created key rings and cuff links with a mechanical look. Some of them unscrew and move.
Does your husband wear jewelry?
Not really. He wears the wedding band I designed for him. But he thinks I should work on it and that it’s an interesting thing for me to reflect on. And it’s fun to be able to work on something like the Olive Leaf collection, which is delicate and airy, and something totally different that attracts men.