A new diamond-setting technique — Plevé — blends high-tech materials with the handcraftsmanship of an artist. Ron Rizzo, Plevé founder and creative director of Pluczenik, explained the new technique and how he came to invent it to chief curator and storyteller of the Diamonds.com Collection, Amber Michelle.
“It was a classic case of necessity breeds ingenuity,” says Rizzo, who began developing the new setting shortly after the U.S. was hit with the recession in 2009.
He looked at his inventory of loose diamonds and wanted to use what he already had because he didn’t want to buy any new stones. “I spilled the diamonds on to the table and I had rounds in different sizes and I had all kinds of different shapes and I couldn’t calibrate them. Then I patted a few stones down and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if I could use them in a random pattern?’’’
Following through on his idea, and after a lot of trial and error, Rizzo developed a lightweight, high-tech, clear ceramic in which he could set the diamonds. In terms of construction, Plevé is similar to a mosaic. “I started by pouring the diamonds into the ceramic, then I flattened them so that there were no gaps between the stones. The challenge is to lay in the stones with no gaps. They need to be girdle to girdle. The ceramic acts as a bond,” explains Rizzo. “When you look at the finished piece, it is like looking at a painting.”
The pieces are all handmade in 18-karat gold and diamonds by artisans in New York City. “There are no metal prongs in the setting. Plevé breaks all the rules of building jewelry, from diamond sorting to setting,” says Rizzo. “The key is mixed shapes and sizes. We have artisans who build a piece of Plevé. We have art students, illustrators and a graduate gemologist from the Gemological Institute of America. There needs to be creativity. I teach the artists how to pick up diamonds and they look at the size and shape for the piece that they are working on.”
The process starts with an assortment of stones and a layout for the pattern. One of the benefits of this technique is that it doesn’t require a particular shape or size of diamond so a broader range of stones can be used. Rizzo notes that there is a very mathematical formula for creating a piece of Plevé jewelry. He likens the technique to playing with a Rubik’s Cube — it’s challenging to the mind to put a piece together. “We have a palette of stones and a pattern that we use and then we build the individual piece for that pattern. We have certain anchor stones so that we can replicate the pattern; there is a formula with repetitive stone weights.”
The New York City workshop currently is comprised of four Plevé artists and three jewelers who work using traditional jewelry-making techniques. The traditional jewelers will add a diamond frame around a piece or put on ring shanks, earring backs or other findings, while the artists design and set the mosaic of diamonds for each piece.
Once Rizzo had the formula for the ceramic perfected, he started working on the U. S. patent process. The name Plevé came about when Rizzo was doing research to find a name for what he was doing. “We weren’t naming a collection, we were naming a technique,” he says. “I was researching names and I came across the French enameling technique ‘champlevé.’ I liked the sound of Plevé. I googled it and it didn’t exist as a word, so I trademarked it. I also liked the way Plevé looked on paper.”
The finished piece of Plevé is intriguing, with a texture and pattern that is not generally seen in diamond jewelry. Because Plevé is a surface design, the pieces tend to be bigger. “Because the pieces are bigger, it allows the design to breathe,” concludes Rizzo. “That is when I appreciate what Plevé is about. The technique brings out the magic and allows the vision to come alive.”