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Designing in metal more precious than gold

What would you -- or more aptly what would your friendly neighborhood jeweler -- do with a matchstick metal? If it's silver he might simply drill a hole in the top and hang it on a chain.

If it is, on the other hand, a matchstick of platinum, a metal more expensive than gold, a metal enjoying a well- orchestrated fashion revival here, he might indeed be put on his design mettle. It' worth taking a bit of trouble when the stuff is platinum, and it's even more worth it when half a dozen other jewelers are tossed the identical challenge: Make something exciting out of this.

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Never say London jewelers aren't inventive. Nine were given this assignment and each also assigned a fashion editor to work on design with . they had one-half ounce (specifically, 15 grams) of platinum to use.

How did it work?

The cool blonde from South African wanted earrings with an ivory look which hadn't involved hunting and hurting the animals of her homeland. A cream acrylic married to platinum was the answer -- in fan-shaped earrings.

The chic redhead from Vogue wanted one smooth streak of curled metal on each ear -- something timeless, unfussy.

A Russian wedding ring was the romantic choice of a Sunday newspaper bachelor woman. Her assigned jeweler carved out curled strips of earring as well, exactly echoing her own pageboy hair style as it moves. It looked like he had six square inches of platinum to play with instead of the simple matchstick.

The fashion writers, far more accustomed to the intractable ways of clothing designers, were fascinated at how each jewelery creator kept his or her own handwriting clear, yet so vividly incorporated the mood of the client. A most vivid example was the look of old Celtic jewelery as one finds it in Dublin's National Museum, caught by Gilian Packard for Irish Deirdre McSharry, editor of cosmopolitan in London.

For the dashy, quick-witted fashion editor of Country life, never yet seen in a skirt, the design was a bold geometric ring, a neat flat slab across the top. Another writer, a convert to sailing and therefore involved in pulling ropes on her holidays, loved the theme of braiding and ropes in her platinum jewelery. Mario Saba (A Londener raised in Rome who trained with Bulgari) managed to scoop both a ring and a brooch centered with rope-twists out of his tiny matchsticks.

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One magazine writer cheated a wee bit. The rules said the ring must include no jewels but she persuaded her teammate to insert a favorite blue stone she'd been hoarding.

Since platinum can be hammered thinner than any other metal and retains enormous strength, these pieces of jewelery, all the writers feel, will be heirlooms-with-a-story. And the jewelers themselves, hitherto not all platinum fans, have been intrigued and stimulated by the challenge as well.

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