In a bold and exciting new move, leading South African auction house Strauss & Co has diversified its sales offerings by launching the Strauss & Co Shop at www.straussart.co.za.
The Strauss & Co Shop offers art, jewellery and objects available for immediate purchase online outside of the regular Strauss & Co auction calendar. Items sold through the Shop are available for a limited time and on a pop-up basis only, and are carefully selected and curated by Strauss & Co’s team of specialists.
In the first of many upcoming creative collaborations, the shop will debut with a partnership featuring local jewellery designer Taz Watson. This local creative has been commissioned to conceptualise a unique range of handmade, heirloom rings, necklaces, earrings and pendants that are inspired by spirituality, joy, nature and the inherent beauty of African gemstones. Strauss & Co has also teamed up with one of South Africa’s most recognizable faces, Jo-Ann Strauss. Perhaps most well-known as a philanthropist, brand ambassador, a consummate host and winner of Miss South Africa in 2000, she has long been a fan of Strauss & Co as well as Taz Watson.
“I started my journey into the world of art at a Strauss & Co auction that I had been invited to.” says Strauss. “I had never before taken the opportunity to delve into this fascinating world, and felt such a connection. I’ll never forget the thrill of bidding in my first art auction. Strauss and Co is a company that has fascinated me for various reasons, and the fact that we share a name is beautifully serendipitous.” enthuses Strauss. She also feels a particular affinity with Watson’s range of designs. “The jewellery range designed by Taz Watson resonates with me because of her elegant and joyful use of colour. She paints with stones in an eloquent way. The collection’s title Man in the Moon also carries a special meaning for me.”
For millennia, people have drawn on charms, amulets and special gems for both protection and comfort during times of hardship. Vanessa Phillips, Strauss & Co’s joint Managing Director, noticed a distinct trend in clients requesting special semi-precious stones of vibrant colour and custom-designed jewellery pieces after the Covid-19 pandemic peak. “It was almost as if they were searching for their own private talisman.” says Phillips.
Tim Watson, Taz’s father, has worked with Strauss & Co doing appraisals of diamonds and gems. “Part of my passion and interest has always been unusual jewellery and fine gemstones.” Tim says. “The reputation of Strauss & Co, what they stand for, I realized there was a possibility of expanding and using my company’s expertise to assist them in opening a new avenue in fine jewellery. It’s been a natural progression for Taz to be involved in design.” Phillips immediately saw the value of the collaboration and its potential to meet the new demands of Strauss & Co clients. “It’s an adventure we see as an opportunity.” she says.
Taz Watson is a creative force to be reckoned with. She comes with a long list of impressive jewellery design accolades to her name, having studied in New York and California at the Gemological Institute of America, and she is the founder of Kiira African Fine Jewellery. The Watson family has been in the gemology business for generations, so it’s fair to say that a love of gems runs in her blood. “I collected gemstones from a very young age. I could name them all as a child.” she says. For Strauss & Co, Watson has crafted characteristic ranges of jewellery that celebrate nature and the allure of local semi-precious stones: Man in the Moon, Rainforest and Ombré. “Meaning behind jewellery always drives my designs. My inspiration always comes from different places.” says Taz as she speaks to the creative influences behind the three collections. “I always want the jewellery to embody a kind of meaning”.
For the Man in the Moon collection, Watson harked back to the ancient Greco-Roman art of intaglio gem carving, where stones are painstakingly carved into human and animal forms and often carry personal significance that is transferred through generations. She has used moonstone, tanzanite and aquamarine accented with tourmalines and pearls to evoke the mysticism of the moon, a celestial body that cultures all over the world have revered for thousands of years. It was this romanticism and the fable of the Man in the Moon that prompted the collection. “The moon is quietly spiritual. People ascribe their own meaning to it.” she says. The collection features delicately etched 18kt gold settings with an unmistakably Mediterranean aesthetic. The kindly, rotund face of the moon smiles up at you from each piece. “I think about longevity in my collections. This will hopefully last generations and be passed down to a great-grandchild one day and still be relevant. People will find their own meaning in these pieces.”
The Rainforest collection was born from the lush, semi-tropical climes of The Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. Watson spent time wandering through the exotic, steamy undergrowth alongside these renowned falls and was immediately drawn to the beauty of the unique botanical specimens that call this humid environment home. “It was the flame lilies and the rainforest around the waterfall that got me excited.” she says. The collection boasts intricate organic forms hand-carved from tourmalines. Each piece is entirely individual, using hand-selected, ethically sourced gemstones from Watson’s grandfather’s private collection. They can never be recreated.
Giving gemstones the chance to sparkle by paring down silhouettes and celebrating simple shapes and brilliant colour gradients is what has inspired the Ombré collection. Watson takes immense pride in the considered thought, intention and care that has gone into producing each piece. “What’s so special about this collection is that we’ve really perfected the ombré, taking gemstones from light to dark in a seamless way. It’s all about the celebration of the gemstones.” Time is taken to hand-select, sort and place every gem so that it brings out the beauty of its neighbour. It is a painstaking process that contributes to the value of each piece.
Responsible jewellery production and contributing to a circular economy with zero waste is what motivates Taz Watson. Over 50 years of family connections in the African precious and semi-precious gems industry means you’re assured that any piece you buy has been crafted by local manufacturers using materials that have been sourced ethically. “We work with people close to the source.” Watson says. “I’m very passionate about gemstones. They are what drive my designs.”
Keep an eye out for the second launch in the Strauss & Co Shop calendar, that will feature a compelling connection between art and jewellery.
The Man in the Moon, Rainforest and Ombré collections have launched and are available for purchase at www.straussart.co.za.
Because every piece is hand crafted, these collections will be available for a limited time only.
Biography Taz Watson: Fine Jewellery Designer
As a fine jewellery designer I am totally captivated by gemstones and diamonds. My grandfather and my parents were gemmologists and avid gemstone collectors, so the love of these gorgeous minerals runs deep in my blood.
Growing up in the industry I would sit for hours playing with gems and crystals. I started my collection at the age of 5 and still have my favourite fool’s gold, pyrite and amethyst crystals. As a child the highlight of my day was to visit my father’s office to examine the different gemstones under a microscope, getting lost in the little worlds deep beneath their surfaces. I was mesmerised by the stories of how gemstones are formed, their properties and why they are all different colours. I co-designed my first collection with my father when I was only 10 years old. I well remember experiencing the thrill of seeing a piece of jewellery come to life. We made little gemstone animal charms and I was allowed to choose the colours and weigh in on the designs. I kept scrap books of all the jewellery I loved, meticulously cutting out and pasting illustrations and articles from magazines. This became my first design ‘bible’.
Although I have been a creative spirit my whole life and my love for gemstones started at such a young age, it took me a few years to find my way into the industry. Having embarked on a career in psychology initially, it was only after I qualified that I realised I was on the wrong career path. I subsequently moved to the USA to attend the esteemed Gemmological Institute of America (GIA) studying Jewellery Design (JD), Jewellery Manufacture (Graduate Jeweller GJ), Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Gemstone and Diamond grading. Since then I have co-owned a jewellery brand in Canada, been a designer and buyer for jewellery stores all over Southern Africa and the Seychelles, worked in retail doing both custom design, sales, merchandising and sales and finally, in 2018, starting my own business. I have never looked back.
My passion is to design pieces using unique gemstones and combining them in fun and surprising ways, incorporating whimsy into the pieces so that they are playful and unique. I particularly love using hand-carved gemstones – they bring so much character and depth to the pieces. I am also inspired by antique jewellery, incorporating aspects of historical jewellery making into my designs in a contemporary way. Nature is a recurrent theme in many of my designs – I love incorporating unusual colour combinations or forms that exist in nature.
I enjoy creating jewellery that is one-of-a-kind or part of a limited edition. I think it is important for the wearer to know that the piece is unique. I am very much an artist in that sense – my joy comes from designing something beautiful and unusual. I like to have fun with form and colour, designing special pieces that please both me and, hopefully, the wearer.
Biography: Jo-Ann Strauss
Jo-Ann Strauss is one of South Africa’s most recognisable faces in the media landscape over the past 2 decades. After winning Miss South Africa in 2000, she finished her business and law degree and hosted and produced television in South Africa and Germany. She has hosted international events and delivered keynote addresses at prestigious events on 6 continents. She has been the brand ambassador of Lufthansa, Samsung and BMW in South Africa and has sat on the boards of Media24, M&C Saatchi Abel as well as the advisory board of one of Africa’s top business schools, the University of Stellenbosch Business School. She served as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and has even designed a clothing range which raised funds to feed over 8000 families. She has four children aged 7 and under with her husband, an orthopaedic surgeon. She strives for balance in everything she does. She produced #SocialStar, a media property that enables young influencers to carve profitable and sustainable businesses in the new sphere of media. She has almost 700 000 followers across the most popular platforms. Her innate sense of style has earned her a number of awards and magazine covers. She is passionate about entrepreneurship and creating an environment in her home country which helps people grow their own businesses. She is mentoring 50 women who she has given online bursaries to. They are studying through two of Africa’s top business schools.