William Ehrlich’s jewels are not for shy, retiring types. They are big, bold statement pieces, no two exactly alike: a look-at-me rose pin with pink sapphires and gray diamonds for petals and oval hunks of chalcedony for leaves; a wide crocodile-skin cuff decorated with mother-of-pearl, diamond and sapphire pomegranates; a ring dominated by a cabochon ruby the size of a ripe strawberry.
Ehrlich, an architect by training, a real-estate developer by vocation and a collector by passion, considers his jewelry designs an amalgam of decorative and fine art, both of which he has acquired for decades. Studying the gems displayed in the glass vitrines at Jason Jacques’s gallery on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, where they recently featured in a solo exhibition of his work, Ehrlich compares them to wearable sculpture and suggests pairing a dramatic piece with more minimalist clothing. “It’s almost like hanging a wonderful painting in a room with nothing else,” he says, speaking barely above a whisper.
That Ehrlich showed his jewelry in Jacques’s charming gallery, which deals in decorative arts, is particularly apropos. Their association dates back more than 20 years, to when Jacques, barely out of his teens, was striving to become a dealer and Ehrlich was already a noted art collector. They met in the Paris flea market. Jacques, a Chicagoan, had become enchanted with the French ceramist Clément Massier, dropped out of college and moved to the City of Light to hunt for the 19th-century master’s treasures.