With a name that means light in Lebanese, Georges Daou established Daou in 1930. In 2014, his grand-daughter Dalia Daou relaunched the brand for a new generation of stylish trendsetters. Based in London, she has carried on the Daou heritage with colourful statement jewels, but at the same time skilfully brought the brand firmly into the 21st century with her own unique aesthetic inspired by art and science.
Did you always know you wanted to pursue jewellery design as a career?
I always loved to create art and objects of all kinds, and I studied art and sculpture early on. After I left school, I followed my other fascination, science, but then returned to creative arts and jewellery. It has been informative to my designing, and also on the business side, to have had experience in other fields. But fine jewellery is so meaningful to me - to create a tangible, lasting treasure is quite special.
To what extent do the Daou archives inform the jewels you are creating today?
The influence is more intrinsic than deliberate. It's funny - I often design first and then find heritage pieces that have similar features afterwards, as was the case with the Sparks and Spark Cluster Heritage earrings. Certainly I am informed by the use of interesting colourful stones and combinations, and the innovative sculptural design details of Daou jewellery - which is to be beautiful from every angle.
Is Daou still a family business?
Absolutely. It was touching to see my father's reaction when I first exhibited at International Jewellery London, especially after all his support. My brother Adrian is also very involved with his own background in fine jewellery retail and GIA education. You will see him at every show I do - we work so well together.
In its former heyday, Daou jewellery was worn by style icons such as Brigitte Bardot and Grace Kelly. Who would you most like to see wearing your designs today?
Daou jewellery is modern and elegant, and designed with thought. I design for anyone who appreciates beauty in design, and for women who are all of the above but also innately powerful and a little unexpected. Angelina Jolie, Taylor Swift or Queen Maxima of the Netherlands would be wonderful contemporary versions of the fabulous past Daou clients.
What challenges have you encountered reviving a heritage jewellery brand?
There have been some challenges with balancing the story of Daou's glamorous history as a jeweller to the likes of Brigitte Bardot and Princess Grace of Monaco, and the fact that I am a new designer and we are a new brand in the UK. On the one hand there is an expectation that our positioning should be more like one of the perennial houses; on the other hand, I want to communicate that while I am a new designer with contemporary designs, the brand has a meaningful and valuable history. Daou has such a special heritage to revive and it feels a lovely responsibility to do so.
Which are your fondest memories from growing up in a family of jewellers?
Being surrounded by art and creativity has been such a joy, especially sketching with my father as a child at the kitchen table and learning to appreciate all types of art. And, of course, when we look into the archives, so many pieces of a style and scale you rarely see today. I was also very lucky to receive beautiful pieces for special birthdays!
You studied Physics and the History of Science Medicine and Technology at university. How do you incorporate these disciplines into a creative industry like jewellery design?
There are a number of ways in which the sciences I studied come up in my work as a jewellery designer, and some of them specific to creating jewellery. Most obviously in gemmology, when I analyse gemstones using techniques learnt at the GIA, it was using all the theories I have previously learnt at university. I actually loved being back in the lab! Similarly, I have an appreciation for the practical strengths of the materials I work with to inform the designs. I also reference fascinating light effects, colours and patterns, as well as geometry and inspirations from physics. Attention to detail and creativity in thought is also common to both disciplines.
Given your international background, where do you call home?
Oh, I am born and raised in London! London is home. I just have an international outlook and feel at ease spending time in different places and cultures with friends and family all over. We definitely have a Mediterranean romantic spirit in our family, and the more down-to-earth side comes from my Mum's Dutch family.
Do you design all your jewels?
Where do you look for inspiration?
Inspiration comes from all over, more so than going in search of it. I am quite a keen observer, whether I am in a museum or climbing over a fence in the countryside and catching sight of a petal. Seriously, anywhere! For instance, the Sunset Sunrise designs are inspired by both the obvious sunlight tones, but also the impressionist artists' painting techniques, and the effect of light refraction through crystals. The début Star was a reference to light, as Daou means light. Light is a recurring reference in all my collections as I find the varied and wondrous effects mesmerising, and often this is even more enhanced by my scientific understanding of these incredible phenomenons.
Describe your studio.
Bright, colourful, filled with art, and always with different bits of activity around, paint here, jewels there, paperwork and magazines in that corner...
What is a typical day in the life of Dalia?
There are periods of time that are more focused on the next big project, whether it’s a new collection, preparing for Fashion Week, or working on PR, and there are the varied tasks such as designing bespoke commissions and meeting stores and journalists. Usually these things are all going on simultaneously so each day is different.
Which gemstones excite you most?
Aesthetically I am drawn to gemstones with beautiful plays of light, such as opals and moonstones, which are so captivating. The endless colours of sapphires and rubies is also remarkable, as well as the whole spectrum of faceted transparent coloured stones where light enters and refracts every which way. Truly they are all beautiful and the thought of them being formed in the whirling bubbling foundations of the earth is mind-blowing.
How does the way women wear jewellery today compare to your grandfather’s era?
I think the difference is regional and age based, as well as temporal, but it is so hard to generalise that I couldn't define today's jewellery wearer in a specific way. One or two special pieces are worn continuously or someone may have a bracelet “arm party” and a curated ear full of jewels. Pieces worn today are more delicate and minimal than in the past, whereas in my grandfather’s and father's day there would be more large pieces worn together, as well as a rotating wardrobe of bold jewels worn by day, including brooches. What they do have in common though is the need for jewellery that is comfortable to wear, however creative or bold the design.
Which jewellery designers, past and present, do you most look up to?
I admire many jewellers, each creating their own original designs, and I know now how much work goes into it all. Of course I very much look up to my father and how he became renowned for his endlessly creative, colourful designs - innovative, full of life and ahead of his time. Verdura was another creative force for me. I have so much respect for my contemporaries as well and we have a great community, especially when we all show together at Fashion Week and International Jewellery London.
What is next for Dalia and the Daou brand?
I'm currently working on a new collection for the next Fashion Week in September. Showing there last season was a great setting for the contemporary fine jewellery designs and Daou is beginning to be recognised by the LFW guests, press and stylists. Plans are to develop a selection of luxury stockists of Daou jewellery and to reach more clients both there and independently. I am also excited to be short-listed for New Designer of the Year at the UK Jewellery Awards and will find out in June following our presentation to the committee.