Welcome to the world of Paris-based LYDIA COURTEILLE’s curious collections where dreams collide with reality to create atypical but adorable and luculent works of art jazzed up with gemstones and diamonds. Her jewellery cannot but affect you – it is peculiar and adorable, and it either shocks you or amuses you.
The maverick artist brings an antiquarian’s aesthetic to her collection that is often inspired by flora and fauna. However, her nature-inspired creations have a touch of whimsy coupled with the deliberate inclusion of dark elements, thus lending a raw intensity to them.
Notably, Courteille’s jewels are also interpolated with atavistic symbols and skulls as a memento mori – to remind one about the transient nature of life … that everything and everybody is ultimately reduced to dust, and that death is inevitable.
Like a true-blue surrealist, she juxtaposes contrasting elements in the same canvas to
create daring jewels that stay with you for life.
You are a qualified biochemist, so how did this love for antiquities spring up? You were an antiquarian for many years before entering into the world of jewellery designing. Tell us about the transitions.
When I was young I spent my holidays in a huge antique house at Collongesau-Mont d’Or near Lyon, south of France. The owner was a professor at the Beaux Arts. I spent my time watching her drawing and painting. Her house was a veritable museum, it was fantastic! So that is where my love and my fascination for antiques started. It was within me and my education!
And then you again changed the course to jewellery designing. How and when did you start making jewellery?
I started creating my first design in 1987, and then I stopped for ten years. But I always wanted to create again, so around 1997 I began in earnest and that’s how the brand Lydia Courteille started.
Your renditions are very Daliesque and you incorporate elements of nature in a surrealistic manner with curious set-ups. How do you manage to do that?
I make my dreams come true through jewels. I love audacious and nonconventional people such as Salvador Dali. He was a genius! I have always been impressed by him. I remember the first time I saw him on TV. I was twelve years old, he made his self-portrait sculpted in stone, and to figure his moustache he imprisoned a live snake inside. It was so different and crazy. But unfortunately, I don’t know what happened to the snake after the exhibition!
Does your work as a biochemist spill over or help you gain a different insight into the making or designing process of jewellery?
Yes, I think my work as a biochemist has helped me with a logical way of thinking. I manage my creations in a scientific way where every step makes sense.
Your collections, Vanities and the Cabinet of Curiosities, showcase skulls, skeletons, the hourglass reflecting time is running out and everything runs its course. Your comments.
There are so many ways to interpret skulls… it could be death, but also humility like the “Memento Mori”. My Vanities themes were meant to remind that life is too short and we have to seize the day. But skulls could be fun as well like the pirate symbol!
Your collections are replete with gemstones. How does a gem beckon you? And which are your favourite stones?
I choose stones before building a collection, and then I just follow the emotion. The stone really gives me an emotion; it is my source of inspiration. My favourite stones are opals and crystals. I like tourmalines because of their colour palettes. I like amethysts too.
Where do you source these gems from?
From everywhere; it comes sometimes directly from the mines. I love to visit the mines.
We would like to know how you ideate? Are you self-taught?
I am self-taught, and really I can’t explain my way to create something. The piece takes form in my brain, like a natural mix of all I have stocked in my mind year after year…
Are all your pieces handcrafted?
All my pieces are handcrafted. You know creation is a team story. If you have a bad workshop, you can be sure the result will be disastrous. I try to use antique methods and mix it with new technology. I have about 40 artisans working with me today.
How long does it take for you to complete each piece? And how often do you unveil your new collections?
Sometimes it could take a year to complete a piece. I don’t run after money, I just want to create the best design and production.
What is the philosophy of your brand? Are you also religious because a lot of sacred symbols are used in your jewels?
I am agnostic, but I love to explore symbols and what humans put inside their beliefs and why. In an ethnologic way, I try to feel the depth of the human soul.
How was the response to your first collection?
A lot of copying happened after my first collection, and it comforts me that I could continue!
Tell us about some of your latest collections you will unveil this year.
It is a secret! I always talk too much!
Your selection of vintage jewellery is not organic in form, but geometric – a stark contrast in design aesthetics from your surrealistic collections.
I love to buy antiques that I am not able to make or imagine myself. It complements my creations.
What are the qualities necessary to be a good jewellery designer who can come up with standout jewels and surprise oneself and one’s clients time and again? In short, what do you attribute your success to?
My curiosity and the fact that I explore my brain and do not rely on aesthetic tastes or knowledge of somebody else … it’s sourced from my own knowledge and culture.