The Art of the Accessory

Designer Catherine Zadeh

I started with jewelry for women," says designer Catherine Zadeh. "A friend commissioned me to make some pieces for his wife. They both liked them so much, he asked me to design some cuff links for him. He asked for some more, then a few more. Eventually he'd ordered twenty pairs. It was a great encouragement to me."

Born in Iran and raised and educated in Paris before moving to New York, Zadeh still makes each piece as though it were commissioned, using artisanal methods to produce unique works of quality and understated elegance. In her collection of men's cuff links, shirt studs, and belt buckles you don't find a lot of fussiness and foppishness. Instead you get sleek geometric forms emerging from an aesthetic grounded in respect for craftsmanship and simplicity of design.

"Usually people view men's jewelry as either too conservative or too decorative and gaudy. I wanted to bring a more elegant style to men's accessories, which should be fashionable, sophisticated. If you take a simple design and give the surface a matte finish, you create something a bit different, a bit more urbane. It also becomes easier to wear, because it can be a bit more casual." And indeed, Zadeh's collection transcends fashion: One of her buckles with an alligator strap can be worn as easily with jeans and a white linen shirt as with a decidedly cosmopolitan suit; any of her cuff links add a grace note to the most casual or most formal outfit.

Zadeh's creations blend contemporary design with old-world methods of manufacture: Starting from wax models and molds made from her sketches, craftsmen forge, assemble, finish, and polish each piece by hand. Cuff links are done in sterling silver and 18-karat gold, belt buckles in sterling and 14-karat gold, with either a subdued satin or a glossy finish. The pared-down purity of the pieces makes them substantial without being clunky or heavy. There is an architectural element, but with a tone more sculptural than industrial. The historical references are to the Classical and Art Deco, both periods in which abstract rectilinear shapes predominated. A simple sterling pilaster banded with gold; a cylindrical column, more Doric than Corinthian, merely scored at the ends for a point of detail; a satin-finished, flattened pod of silver—designs for those whose jewelry statements whisper their success.

New to Zadeh's collection this season are bracelets of water buffalo horn. Fibers from the horn are stripped away and woven into lightweight bands, which are then polished and attached with 18-karat-gold clasps. There is more art than ornament here; the bracelets are chic and urbane rather than trendy.

"There is both an emotional underpinning and an intellectual presence to these pieces," says Zadeh. "I've been very much influenced by the Art Deco movement, because there was an intelligent refinement and elegance to the aesthetic. Understatement and simplicity are more sophisticated than heavy ornamentation, because you've got to think your way through to the pure appeal of the form, to the abstraction of beauty. And that is where the intellect comes into play."

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