Slender, elegant-looking and mustachioed, French designer Elie Top is a true dreamer and inventor who uses gold, silver, diamonds and gemstones to create distinctive pieces that seamlessly blend the old and new. Styles reflect his passions for classical architecture and Art Deco sensibilities, along with his wide-ranging interests in astronomy and engineering. “My work,” he says, “is a mix of poetry and mathematics.
The designer grew up in Northern France and moved to Paris to study fashion design. He landed his first job working as an illustrator in Yves Saint Laurent’s studio, where he collaborated with Alber Elbaz, later following the designer to Lanvin for over a decade.
After 15 years of working for others, Top decided it was time to establish his own style. “At a certain point, you need your own voice,” he says. “I didn’t know anything about fine jewelry, but I knew that working in precious metal would allow me to make the precise and refined designs that I couldn’t create with costume jewelry. And, I wanted to make something personal.”
When he began his own business, Top was inspired by what he refers to as his “childhood obsession” of sketching the Gothic churches, Baroque castles and the industrial landscape around his home. “When I was a boy, I made small, very precise sketches with measurements.”
Without any formal training in fine jewelry, Top was free to explore new jewelry ideas without any restrictions of what could and couldn’t be done. His precise sketches, similar to those he had done when he was a child, conveyed his imaginative ideas to the skilled craftsmen with whom he closely collaborates to execute his jewelry.
“I was obsessed with trying to create a jewel that women could wear in different ways.”
Top, whose chic Paris studio is located near Place Vendôme, spent nearly two years working on his first collection in 2015 and has been hailed as one of jewelry’s visionary designers ever since its launch. Dubbed Mécaniques Célestes, its series of futuristic-looking rotating orbs encased in jeweled pendants and rings boast names including Pluto and Flying Saucer. Burnished in silver and gold, many pieces literally hold secrets; their flip tops open up to reveal a diamond or gemstone inside.
“I was obsessed with trying to create a jewel that women could wear in different ways,” says Top. “When the orbs are closed, the jewels look futuristic and more industrial. But when they’re open, it tells a different story with a precious gem. It’s a different way to wear a large diamond that is both cool and subtle.”
The dual concept design was inspired by the round metal sugar bowls with flip tops that are found in most French cafes. What appeared to be a simple design turned out to be so complex to create in jewel-form, that to develop and refine his concept, Top looked to a catalogue of astrological clocks and celestial measuring instruments from the 17th and 18th centuries.
The result was exactly what defines Top’s signature style: the sophisticated yet playful, and the always unexpected.
Top’s use of mixed metals with distressed finishes make it hard to distinguish whether pieces are new or old; his jewels often appear as if they have been worn for years and impart a subtle appearance, even when it comes to large-scale and bold designs. Top also often references ancient themes, such as heraldic shields and intaglios by way of pearls, gems and diamonds (an Art Deco nod).
Now, during a period when collectors are seeking more meaningful jewelry, Top’s designs are especially well-timed. It’s jewelry with history, story, technique and craft. “Women want something that means something and is lasting,” he explains. “But they also want to enjoy it and wear it all the time.”