CYNTHIA BACH’S FLARE FOR COLORED STONES AND REGAL IMAGERY CAPTURES COLLECTOR ATTENTION
By Lynn Morgan
She always dreamed of being a jeweler. Today, Los Angeles-based designer Cynthia Bach has realized that ambition and more. She wants to be known as “America’s Crown Jeweler.”
That’s appropriate, since her design career began with a collection of tiny crowns.
“In the 1980s, when I was studying jewelry in college, I met my husband, Jim Matthews,” Bach recalls. “He’s a master jeweler, and I apprenticed with him as a bench jeweler. We got hired by Van Cleef & Arpels in Beverly Hills for their in-house workshop. It was wonderful. It was like becoming a part of history, part of a legacy.”
When the famed jewelry house was sold, the new owners shut down their West Coast production facilities, leaving Cynthia wondering what her next chapter in jewelry would be. As it turns out, both history and legacy would play their parts.
“I designed a small collection of brooches, all crowns,” she explains. “Some were miniature replicas of historic crowns. Others were fantastical, purely the products of my dreams and imagination. It was one of the greatest moments in my life when Neiman Marcus bought the entire collection.”
Crowns became, and remain, a recurring leitmotif in Bach’s designs, making her work both highly recognizable and highly collectable. She designs contemporary fine jewelry that is handcrafted in the most ancient techniques of goldsmithing, infused with rich historic references while remaining modern in style and conception.
Regal imagery, often interpreted in a cheeky and playful way, permeates Bach’s aesthetic. In addition to crowns, scepters, royal orbs and symbols from heraldry like fleur de lis, shields and crosses appear in her work.
“Scepters represent worldly power,” she explains. “The orb represents power in the universe, like the ‘divine right of kings.’ There are over 400 different styles of crosses, and I’ve incorporated some of them into my designs.”
Bach’s delightful designs, says Jill Burgum, director of fine jewelry at Heritage Auctions, are attracting a growing number of collectors. “Cynthia Bach has a great eye for colored stones, and that, combined with her taste, creates very special pieces,” Burgum says. “Her jewelry makes people happy. They smile when they see it.”
Bach works mostly in 18-karat gold, with a few pieces in rose gold or platinum. Her metalwork is intricate and ornate, resulting in settings with satin finishes, or richly textured pieces, inspired by lavish fabrics like jacquards, damasks and brocades. These metal sculptures are adorned with colored stones like redbellies, amethysts, dermatoid garnets, Tahitian pearls and rare Paraiba tourmalines. Diamonds are used as accent stones, providing unexpected flashes of brilliance and light.
She draws inspiration from her travels, visits to museums and flea markets and her own collection of antiques and vintage clothing, chalices and monstrances salvaged from old churches.
Her unique style has won the jeweler a myriad of admirers, including celebrities like Salma Hayek, who wore a Cynthia Bach platinum and diamond tiara bracelet as a hair ornament at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. The Smithsonian Institute later acquired the piece for their permanent collection.
Bach also created an Academy Awards red-carpet moment for Cate Blanchett in 2000, working with fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier for an unforgettable look. The result was a suite of gold bangles and bracelets inspired by Indian royalty. The pièce de résistance was a dramatic gold neck piece that slithered down the star’s bare back. It electrified the fashion world.
Action star Samuel L. Jackson is also a fan. “I make pieces for men, too,” says the jeweler. “Sam wears one of my ‘King’ rings. It’s platinum with diamonds, very heavy, masculine and commanding. He loves it.”
Bach’s jewelry inhabits a realm suspended between myth and modernism, as contemporary and wearable as it is fanciful. “I like drama,” she says. “I want to make every woman feel like a princess.”
LYNN MORGAN is a Los Angeles journalist who writes for The Intelligent Collector magazine.
Editor’s Note: Cynthia Bach jewelry is featured in Heritage’s Jewelry Signature® auction scheduled for Sept. 26, 2016, in Beverly Hills and online at HA.com/5248.