Looking at jewelry artist Zoltan David’s website is a little like being in a make-believe, fantasy world. As you scroll through, stunning images transition on the screen — set on a black background, extremely rare and precious gemstones shine out at you, accompanied with elegant, exotic sounding names, like “Flowerfly” and “Byzantine Suite.” The pieces displayed on the site showcase the wide range of the designer’s talents, and up on the site, they stand alone — striking and powerful looking. But they are also somewhat disconnected from reality — no models are pictured wearing the pieces, and no stories or text, aside from the name of the piece, accompany them.
Anyone who has spent time with the Austin-based designer, who says that every one of his pieces is being given or received as a gift of love, knows that all of Zoltan David’s work has a rich history and afterlife. Recently, CultureMap set out to get a closer look at some of Zoltan David’s most impressive pieces, and chatted with the artist about some of the personal details that make up the distinct narratives of his featured work.
The Marquesa, a luxurious necklace of natural colored diamonds set in palladium, started out as nothing but a potpourri of very rare diamonds — about 125 of them, ranging in different graduated tones of orange and violet colors, and worth over a million dollars. After a trip to Houston to meet with the client, who was looking for a beautiful necklace featuring the entire diamond collection (she had been referred to Zoltan by the diamond dealer, who worked frequently with Zoltan), Zoltan ended up back at his studio in Austin with the diamond collection, a vote of trust and confidence from the client.
What designers typically do with such a collection is what Zoltan calls “pizza jewelry” — “they throw it all onto one form sort of like a circus or a carnival of color,” he explains. “The problem with that is that each one of these diamonds, even though small, stands alone as extraordinarily rare and special — if you throw them all onto the same pizza pie, you’ve lost the value of it all.”
So instead, Zoltan came back to Austin with the diamonds, undid the knot that they were in, and spent the first few days simply looking at the diamonds. “I kind of pondered the project and I knew it was going to be a necklace, knew it needed to be unique, needed to showcase each diamond on its own,” he says. On the fourth night, Zoltan figured it out: the design popped into this head, and gave him the direction he needed.
Often in his work, Zoltan finds himself balancing the wants of the clients with his own artistic vision. After he worked out the mechanics and the rendering, he brought The Marquesa necklace design back to the client in Houston, who loved it, but wondered if maybe the orange diamond he had put in one corner would be better in the opposite corner. Gently, Zoltan urged her to stick with his original design by pointing to an original Picasso painting hanging in her front room and asking, “Does anyone ever look at that painting and say, wouldn’t it be better if Picasso had painted this a different way?” “I get that completely,” the client responded, and Zoltan headed back to Austin to make his design come to life.
At other times, Zoltan’s creative process requires him to seek out more input and collaboration from his client, as was the case with a recent engagement ring he designed. His client, an engineer/builder, wandered into Zoltan’s Oasis boutique at the suggestion of his bride-to-be, who had mentioned she admired Zoltan’s work. Impressed with what he saw, the client asked about the designer, and was surprised to find out he was local. He drove immediately from the Oasis to Zoltan’s flagship gallery in the Hill Country Galleria, where he introduced himself to Zoltan. Before either of them knew it, the client had picked out a 3.5 carat diamond and hired Zoltan to design a ring for his future fiancée.
A few weeks later, the two met again when Zoltan presented him with a design for the ring, which was based on everything the client had told him about his future bride. “We had a long discussion about hair color, skin tone, height and weight, etc.,” says Zoltan. The client looked at the design — which featured the diamond in black metal with a rose gold inlay, and asked Zoltan, “What would it look like if instead of black it was all rose gold with a platinum inlay?” Zoltan rendered up the suggestion and they looked at it together — “that’s perfect,” said the client, “that’s exactly her.”
Now, Zoltan enjoys seeing for himself just how perfect the ring design is — every few months when she brings the ring in to be cleaned, he catches her stealing glances down at her hand and grinning at the ring, chatting about it nonstop.