Jewellery can be a talisman, an amulet, it can be an expression of wealth and power, it is currency in gold or cowrie shells or the embodiment of a culture and nation. Jewellery is a holder of memories, an heirloom passed through generations. Self-expression, taste, style, culture, joy and love can all be held in a jewel.
As a child I collected shells, enamelled coins, froze flowers in resin all as part of a self-expression and the search to find beauty through nature and my own creativity. Later I became fascinated by the beauty of painting and study art history where I particularly loved Dutch still life and Renaissance portraiture. The items that the artist immortalises in paint are chosen with such care: each contains its own symbolism and message about the person who commissioned the painting to the person viewing through the lens of time.
So after a stint working at the Guggenheim in New York, I returned to London and answered an ad in the paper. I found myself at De Beers working with diamonds and some of the best jewellers in the world. I loved art directing photo shoots, I relished talking to designers about their inspiration and so I turned my museum exhibition skills to exhibitions of jewellery. I realised that we were selling a dream of love, symbolised in the diamond engagement ring and that dream had evolved over the centuries. In 1475 when Costanza Sfortza married Isabella D’Este with a diamond ring it was a symbol of power and the marriage of states more than a marriage of love. Their ring no longer exists but is well documented and so I had one made for the exhibition I started working on and one for me! This rough diamond ring is still one of the most precious pieces in my private collection.
And so started ‘The Power of Love’ an exhibition and small book that still travel the world on the history of the diamond engagement ring. Maybe I’ll tell you more of that story another day. I was also very lucky at DeBeers to work with some of the best students at the best art schools from The Royal College to St Martins but none of them had worked with precious metals or stones – so I put them all together. As a result of these collaborations many of those designers have gone on to be great jewellers today. One of these collections was auctioned by Christie’s at Harvey Nichols where I met my next boss and so spent the next 10 years working in the fashion industry.
Fast forward to 2016 when the idea of Quince was cooked up over lunch with an old friend. She offered to introduce me to a wonderful workshop in India with some very talented artisans, so I packed the kids and a bag, left hubby at home to look after the dogs, and we headed to Maharashtra for half term.
I now have a couple of different groups of artisans with slightly different skills who are wonderful at helping me realise the jewellery I want to create for Quince. It is important to me to support these wonderful crafts people, to continue the skills of the goldsmith that stretch over time and culture. I want women to feel empowered to buy their own jewellery and get great joy from wearing it. I am less interested in those pieces bought often by men that end up in the safe. Jewellery does still carry all the symbolism of historical jewels, but I also believe it should be worn and bring pleasure.
I hope you find a jewel to bring you joy, Karen x