Join us for our weekly BAJ:Insight on the latest industry trends by Rachael Taylor, a freelance journalist who writes about jewellery for a number of titles, including The Financial Times, The Jewellery Editor and Retail Jeweller. In her 10 years reporting on the industry, she has travelled the globe to visit key industry fairs, descended a Fairtrade gold mine on top of a Peruvian mountain, toured silver jewellery factories in Thailand, and regularly has access to the most sparkling jewels and people in the business.
One of the first questions you will be asked as a designer is ‘where does your inspiration come from?’. This little probe will start during your studies, as lecturers try to decipher the thought process behind your sketches, and will continue right through your career.
It is a question I find myself asking most designers I meet. Though a completely banal and hackneyed query, I force it past my lips each time as the resulting conversation usually gives a worthwhile insight into the creative process and the designer.
Unless, of course, your answer is ‘nature’ or ‘circles’. I realise these are much-cherished themes in jewellery design, but do try to be a little more creative with your explanations. Are the shells you’ve collected along the shore meaningful because they connect you to your childhood and a simpler time? Are the circles symbolically linked to your state of mind when designing? These extra insights matter, and their exposure can often be the making of a collection.
A good example of this is the Insolence collection by Chaumet, released during Paris Couture Week in January. Without the preamble, it’s a fairly nice collection of jewels with bows on them. Nothing extraordinary. Yet talk to the designer and you’ll discover that the realisation of those bows has been done in a way to make them appear looser than usual. Bows in jewellery traditionally represent strong bonds of love. These loosely tied bows carry a sexual subtext that says their wearer is looking to make fast and easily undone connections (as well as the more obvious suggestions that clothes, like the bows, are ready to be shed at a moment’s notice).
“Bows in jewellery traditionally represent strong bonds of love. These loosely tied bows carry a sexual subtext that says their wearer is looking to make fast and easily undone connections “
But where to start your inspiration journey? Some designers look to themselves first – things that are meaningful or important to them (like those seashells). Karl Lagerfeld, who this week plans to unveil a costume jewellery collection with Swarovski, takes a more literal approach by modelling a lot of his recent successful designs on himself (his fluffy mini Karl Fendi bag charms were genius).
Others look to the past. Another collaboration of sorts announced this week was between British jeweller William & Son and Queen Elizabeth I’s ruff. The design team followed in the footsteps of many art and design students by scouring the halls of the National Portrait Gallery for inspiration. This tiny detail picked out by an expert eye has been beautifully transformed into a lavish collection of diamond and aquamarine jewellery.
Another popular source of inspiration is pop culture. Emoji-inspired jewellery is a great example of this, with brands like Alison Lou perfectly capturing a moment in time. And whenever a big movie hits cinemas there is usually an official (and a few unofficial) jewellery collections that follow, such as Alex Monroe’s new Beauty and the Beast line. Creatively mirroring the here and now always feels fresh and new when done right, but this is a long-standing practice – think about Andy Warhol’s soup cans. And just like those cans, the kind of designs that get it right will hold an appeal long after their subject falls from the zeitgeist, and could well go on to become inspirations of their own in time.