Fascinated with the world around her, Los Angeles jeweller Daniela Villegas’ design aesthetics are inspired by the beauty of the unexpected. “By putting elements of the natural world into jewellery, you can take the power of Mother Nature everywhere with you, like a sort of talisman,” she says. Taking both real creatures and precious reincarnations of them, Villegas fabricates charming, technicolour pieces of fine jewellery. The Mexican designer embraces her love for nature in the materials she uses, mixing precious stones and luxurious metals with organic elements such as beetles, porcupine quills, feathers, shells, pebbles, and wood — with 18k gold in every colour and glittering gemstones.
In one collection called Rebirth, Villegas looked to animal skeletons for “[symbolising] the sound foundation required to shift and adapt promptly to the new realities we engage.” Balancing both meaning and creativity, she incorporates light-hearted whimsy into each piece. The Rebirth collection features moving parts and gemstone eyes made from hand-carved lost wax moulds. From a pair of 18k yellow gold Butterfly Fish earrings with colour-change sapphires and tourmalines, to a Marlin ear cuff with a diamond eye — the jewels are strangely elegant in their delicate, bony details.
In another series called Peru, an entirely different range of creatures threw up unusual muses. The Alpaca ring is the standout piece from the collection — a large 18k pink gold piece crafted in the shape of the sweet-faced animal, which Incas held sacred. Fittingly, it wears a majestic yoke of multi-coloured sapphires around its neck, while it wraps its long golden legs around the finger. Other pieces in the capsule collection include Ceremony rings and cuffs rendered in 18k yellow gold and enamel with scarab motifs — a recurring motif in the designer’s repertoire — and modular earrings that take their cue from the flora and fauna of the area.
Since launching in 2009, Villegas’ name has become synonymous with insect jewellery, transforming tropical crawlies into bejewelled bugs. “For me, bugs aren’t creepy at all. There are millions of different species, so I’ll never get sick of using insects,” she says. Her latest collection, Backyard, celebrates the world of insects and their integration and balance with the environment. Besides centipedes and flies, the centrepiece motif is the beetle, a figure that Villegas holds dear for its sacred symbolism.
She sources most of the colourful critters from Asia, incorporating iridescent beetle heads with matching gemstones. “Some of those parts are super strong so I don’t even have to do anything to them to set them into a piece,” she says. One conversation-starter is the Devi ring, featuring a cat’s eye tourmaline gripped in a miniature insect’s pincers — a design that reappears in both the Milda and Selby necklaces. In another piece, a sculptural gold centipede design — symbolising protection and psychic exploration — shows off diamond and sapphire accents.
Bringing a layer of playfulness to the equation, the theme of love has most recently informed her insect-inspired curios. Villegas injected a dose of Latin love into new pieces for the Backyard collection for the upcoming Fall season, mixing her colourful creatures with the striking arrows of Cupid’s bow. In one pair of earrings called Flechados, golden arrow-pierced tourmalines dangle below tiny bugs of blue sapphire and pink rhodolite. Necklaces with names like Crossing Paths and Be Love are inspired by Cupid’s romantic mischief, where gold arrows are interspersed with precious stones and poised in different directions, as Villegas’ personal ode to love.
Throughout history, jewellery designers have sought inspiration from the animal kingdom. But there is something effortlessly authentic about Villegas’ craft — her work seemingly an extension of herself, rather than a career objective. Though she stayed relatively under the radar, the luxury world is sitting up and paying attention. This April, Salvatore Ferragamo launched an eight-piece jewellery capsule collection with Villegas. Taking inspiration from a quote from the late Italian designer on the natural world, Villegas sketched designs similar to the colourful birds that feature on the brand’s iconic silk scarves. Centred on parakeets, parrots, and birds of paradise to rounded bird cages, the series evokes ideas of exploration and inhibition.