Parisian jewellery designer Lydia Courteille's career was by no means mapped out for her. A graduate in biochemistry, it was a strange twist of fate that saw her become first an expert in antiques, fêted by the international fashion pack, then a jewellery designer. Her thirst for knowledge and passion for gemmology has made her one of the most original designers at work today. If you haven't already visited, the next time you are in Paris, stop by her boutique on rue Saint-Honoré to experience the magical world of Lydia Courteille first hand.
Describe your style of jewellery design and what makes it different.
My style is rich, baroque and unique. My jewels are oversized, always colourful, and often infused with a touch of humour.
How did you become a jewellery designer?
Completely by luck. As a teenager, I spent all my free time in the mineralogy department at the Natural History Museum in Paris, but I’m actually a graduate in biochemistry. In 1980 I bought a vintage diamond watch from an antiques dealer. One day it fell off my bathroom shelf and into water. I returned to the shop many times to try and get it repaired, but it never worked again. However, I became friends with the owner and ended up getting a job there, where they spotted my potential working with jewellery and gemstones before I did. I could never have anticipated that a 1930s watch would change my life.
After that, I got my diploma from the Gemmological Institute while still working in the shop and then, in 1987, I opened my own antiques business. I quickly became an expert in antiques and caught the attention of Franceline Prat of Vogue France and Vogue Italia’s Anna Dello Russo, who became my best clients. Alongside the antiques, I was also making jewels for myself. When people asked me how I saw my future, I always answered that I wanted my own line of jewellery.
You are well known for your whimsical style. Where do you head to for inspiration for your magical worlds?
My jewellery is inspired by knowledge. I love fairytales, archaeology and history. The past is full of legends and fantastic stories - I don’t think I ever grew up! I travel a lot and visit museums wherever I go. I love nature and learning about ancient civilisations.
Your use of gemstones is as bold as your designs. What do you look for in a gemstone?
When I choose gemstones, I never search for them - I let them find me. They talk to me. If I feel emotion, I buy them.
Your boutique in Paris is an eclectic space filled with the weird and wonderful. Is the environment in which your jewels are sold important to you?
I love antiques and cabinets of curiosities. I think my space encourages people to dream. When you come inside my shop, you push open the door and pass by a mirror, just like Orphée searching for Euridice. When a client steps inside my boutique, it’s like they are entering my life.
Which pieces of jewellery best sum up your style?
Definitely my Amazonia collection, for which I earned both a Couture Design award in Las Vegas,and the Champion of Champions award in Hong Kong, and the Scarlett Empress collection.
Which designers do you admire most?
I love the jewels of Yprem and Karl Lagerfeld. From the past, Suzanne Belperron, Sybille Dunlop and Paul Flato.
What advice would you give to aspiring young jewellery designers who are just starting out?
Take the time to develop your own DNA and respect those who have taught you along the way. Remember that time is your friend, not your enemy. Never go too fast or your luck with burn out.
The nature of your business means that you often travel the world. What is your favourite destination and why?
I love India and its melting pot of cultures. I’ve also been in love with Egypt forever, and Peru, which is so mysterious.
Name some of your favourite places in Paris for work, rest and play.
I’m lucky, I feel good when I’m in my boutique. When I need to rest, I head to my house in Provence.
What could you not live without?
Books and gemstones, of course. But I couldn’t live without my friends and family also.