The fashion designer Carolina Herrera met the Spanish jeweler Luz Camino 20 years ago, through an agapanthus floral brooch. Ms. Herrera received the large sculpted metal bloom as a gift, and she said it led her to begin collecting work by the Madrid-based designer.
“Whenever I wear one of Luz’s brooches on my lapel, it catches people’s eye,” Ms. Herrera said. “People are intrigued by the colors and materials, and magical quality.”
Unlike most fine jewels, Ms. Camino’s brooches don’t always sparkle with big gemstones and glittery gold. “I don’t like my jewelry to be very shiny, because then it loses the natural aesthetic,” she said, “and I want the jewelry to look as natural and realistic as possible.”
It is not that Ms. Camino, 78, shuns large gemstones, but they rarely are her focus. The Gadea ring, for example, was set with two pear-shape diamonds, of four carats each, positioned so that they face slightly inward and are partially concealed in a sculpted platinum design.
Ms. Camino’s brooch of white resin, enamel, diamonds, tsavorites and chrome diopside, with silver and gold.Credit…Gianfranco Tripodo for The New York Times
Other examples of her work include a vibrant poppy brooch with diamond-tipped pistils (she sculpted the petals from heated resin) and an articulated iris brooch shaped in plique-à-jour enamel, a technique that produces transparent panels, and finished with a sprinkling of amethysts and diamonds.
Ms. Camino creates one-of-a-kind or limited-edition pieces. And while she uses some small workshops in Madrid to do metalwork and to set stones, she personally applies the finishing details to nearly every design, so her output is limited.
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This year marks her 50th in business, yet Ms. Camino’s name isn’t widely recognized. But anyone with a passion for jewelry will know her, said Emily Stoehrer, the curator of jewelry at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and an author and educator on the intersection of jewelry, fashion and design.
“A collector will whisper Luz’s name to another jewelry lover as someone you need to know or collect,” said Ms. Stoehrer, who is also on the jewelry vetting committee of the European Fine Art Fair, better known as TEFAF, where Ms. Camino has exhibited for the past two years. Among Ms. Camino’s collectors is the celebrated Paris jeweler Joel A. Rosenthal, known as JAR. He owns at least few of her brooches, she said, but she won’t comment on the details.
This spring, a wider audience will be able to discover Ms. Camino’s work because of an exhibition at the Hispanic Society Museum & Library in New York City, scheduled from April 6 through May 18. It will be her first solo museum exhibition and her first museum show in the United States, showcasing more than 100 of Ms. Camino’s flower, fruit and figurative brooches, such as Chinese vases, in vitrines in front of large murals by the late 19th- and early 20th-century Spanish artist Joaquín Sorolla that depict variations of the same themes.
Guillaume Kientz, the society’s director, said the works of the two Spanish artists possessed a natural dialogue that was expressed through their heritage and affinity for explosive color and nature. He said he chose to feature Ms. Camino’s jewelry for the museum’s reopening exhibition after a multiyear renovation because “I found Luz’s jewelry incredibly pictorial, very colorful and very impressionistic in the way she plays with the light.”
A flower brooch of sapphires, alexandrite, garnets, diamonds, enamel, platinum, silver and gold.Credit…Gianfranco Tripodo for The New York Times
Pushing the Boundaries
In 1973 Ms. Camino completed her technical training at the Escuela Sindical de Joyería, a trade school in Madrid that has since closed. As a young mother of three, she began her business by making pieces at home, and clients found her through word of mouth. She credits Mr. Rosenthal with inspiring her to push the boundaries of what is possible to craft from metal and stones. Twenty-five years ago, she said, he told her, “Nothing is impossible, and anything can be made.”
His example, Ms. Camino said, began her experimentation with unusual materials like the mineral vanadinite and with techniques to reimagine the natural world in realistic ways. She said she now worked in lightweight titanium to create large brooches and earrings, mindful of the weight considerations, and in bronze when the finish contributes to the design.
“There’s an element of surprise in Luz’s unexpected materials, privileging what isn’t necessarily the most costly, but what adds great beauty to the work,” Ms. Stoehrer said.
Ms. Camino’s floral brooches range in price from about $2,000 to as much as $5,000 while elaborate pieces with large gems can range from $10,000 to $50,000.
Ms. Camino’s inspirations come from her everyday life: her garden, a visit to the Prado Museum or something as simple as a pile of pencil shavings. “I put the twirls of the pencil shavings against my ear and thought, ‘This is beautiful’,” she said. Those discarded shavings became three-dimensional textured gold earrings trimmed with sapphires, emeralds or rubies ($7,000 to $13,000).
Some of the jeweler’s pieces appear to have come out of a fairy tale, such as a life-size enamel brooch of a vibrantly colored peach, pavéd with sapphires. Her attention to detail is evident in the gems sprinkled over the fruit’s carved metal pit.
Why a peach? Ms. Camino said that she simply awoke one morning with the idea and worked on it for nearly a year, persisting until the weight, balance and finish was just right.
Finding beauty in ordinary subjects is what has attracted academics like Clare Phillips, a curator in the Department of Decorative Art and Sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, to Ms. Camino’s work. Ms. Phillips contributed to “A Bit of Universe: The Jewelry of Luz Camino,” a book marking the jeweler’s anniversary that is to be published by Rizzoli on April 11.
“Luz’s jewels reflect and make tangible her unique perception of beauty,” Ms. Phillips wrote in an email. “It is her vision but with a sure touch to the universal and an ability to encompass both the profound and the everyday.”
An ebony necklace with rhodochrosite, sapphires, silver and gold.Credit…Gianfranco Tripodo for The New York Times
Ms. Camino’s imagination also reaches into the cosmos with signature pieces like her diamond Saturn ring, which Tiqui Atencio, an author and art collector based in Monaco, said she wore so often that the original dull finish had acquired a shiny patina. “When Luz saw the ring looking shiny, she suggested I wipe it down with bleach to keep its dark finish,” Ms. Atencio said.
After meeting Ms. Camino at an art fair in Madrid years ago, Ms. Atencio started buying pieces during her visits to Spain or to New York City, where Bergdorf Goodman showcases Ms. Camino’s work each year. Those acquisitions include mismatched popcorn earrings which, like the actual kernels, are slightly different.
“Luz’s pieces appeal to art collectors and anyone with a contemporary eye or an appreciation for artistically made work,” Ms. Atencio said. “Her pieces are original, elegant and artistic.”
It may be Ms. Camino’s golden anniversary in business, but her son, Fernando Tapia, who helps to run the business and collaborates on some designs (when he isn’t working on his own interior design firm, Andina & Tapia, that is) says that no one should expect her to start slowing down.
“It’s not a business for Luz,” Mr. Tapia said. “She makes what she loves, and if it sells, it sells.”