by Gabriel Bell
"It's really hard to put pearls on a man," says jeweler Philip Crangi moving over to a display case of his own designs, "but let's try this." Leading his hand through delicate, web-like pendants, his fingers come to rest on a small, embellished black pearl. He affixes the bauble to his ear and turns to a mirror. "Oh, yeah," he smiles, "that works."
For the last decade, most of Crangi's experiments have worked: pearls arranged in coral-like patterns, studded "leather" cuffs forged out of blackened gold, even "buffalo-style" hoop earrings for the Park Avenue crowd. Currently, his independent workshop is crafting minute lock pendants, near-microscopic skulls with razor-sharp daggers for his Giles & Brother charm collection, a line that swings between cute and cutting. With carefully engraved plaque necklaces reading GIN or RYE and delicate fleur de lyse clasp bracelets, the collection appeals to hardened hesher boys and girls as well as those with more delicate sensibilities.
But Crangi has more than stag horns and shamrocks on his mind. Growing up around Boca Raton, Crangi balanced a "south Florida, polo-heavy childhood" against an early education in the rarefied styles of European handicrafts provided by his parents (both Art History professors). After earning a degree in gold-smithing and furniture restoration from the Rhode Island School of Design that focused on the arts of the Renaissance, he apprenticed under the legendary jewelry craftsman Ted Muehling. Consequently, it's no great surprise to see that Crangi merges disparate motifs, historical influences, and styles in his windowless Chelsea studio. While his Eris earrings from the Steel and Gold collection throw off unavoidable Hellenistic allusions, they also suggest a 20th-century Calder mobile. The graceful hoops from his Venetian collection conjure images of Casanova's Renaissance hometown, as well as Brancusi's shapely statues.
Such mixing and matching extends even to Crangi's use of materials. His Academy collection, a diffusion line of hammered bronze, combines rose-gold with baser steel. The effect, says Crangi, is an effortless "everyday easy" vibe. "It creates a curated look. Just one piece can give off the feeling of wearing a whole collection." Even one of his most basic pieces, a simple band of stainless steel, has an inner lining of 24-karat gold. "The use of steel and gold together and individually is all about transformation," he says. "We're making the industrial transcend the source material. It's like alchemy, turning something base into something of value."
Such hidden treats are a hallmark of the young designer. For instance, the most impressive aspect of the large, dark oval rings of his Mara collection isn't the massive letters or symbols gusseted in gold across their faces. Rather, it's the gorgeous gold latticework mountings that aren't even visible when the rings are in use, which sets them apart. Says Crangi, "the true thing of value, is concealed against your skin," a secret pleasure only the wearer enjoys. Crangi notes that since he appropriates from so many genres and eras, "no one can claim these styles as their own."
Ironically, it is exactly this lack of ownership by any time, place, or person that Crangi feels allows the wearer to truly own a piece. Consider the creation that is the jeweler's touchstone. The first piece he ever created is a simple ring decorated by only a hoop of gold, has no stone, no semi-precious focal point. "Your finger becomes a gem instead," he says. Crangi mentions the talismanic power of jewelry, noting, "The idea of the heirloom is how jewelry works best." Indeed, almost every one of his pieces, particularly the charms, appears to be a treasured object looking for a family.
But, turning back to his politely punk line of charms, Crangi balances his sentimentality with appropriate cheek. "I like the idea of women's jewelry that looks like she stole it from her boyfriend," he says, the little, purple pearl still resting in his ear.
With mystical symbols, hidden latticework, and secret gold linings, designer Philip Crangi re-thinks the wearable heirloom.