Head of Design at Boodles, Rebecca Hawkins is responsible for bringing each new collection to life. We talk to the creative mind behind this very British brand to find out what it is about Boodles that keeps her passion for jewellery as fierce as ever.
You’ve been working for Boodles for more than 20 years. What is it about the company that has earned your loyalty for so long?
Boodles is a very dynamic company with a strong desire to be always moving forward and an openness to new ideas, which makes it a great environment for a designer.
How has the jewellery industry changed in that time?
It has changed enormously in the last 20 years. There have been huge technical advances, which have had a major impact on the design process. Beyond that there has been a renaissance of exuberant creativity within luxury fine jewellery that both embraces these new techniques and also celebrates its traditions, seeking to connect with and further the age-old craft of the goldsmith.
How has your approach to design changed?
My natural approach to design is very instinctive and organic but I have learnt to combine that with a more structured and intellectual approach when the project demands it. My awareness of the unique qualities of fine jewellery has grown - its emotional significance, ability to tell a story and capture a memory make it so intensely personal to the wearer.
Which aspects of your job as Head of Design at Boodles are you most passionate about?
I love looking for new concepts, researching new themes and layering ideas together for both myself and the team. Most of all I love the creative process and the moment when the idea in your head starts to take shape on the page. Another exciting moment is when I see a new piece of jewellery completely finished for the first time.
You have worked with many rare and valuable precious gemstones. Which are your favourites and why?
I am more drawn to the pure beauty of a stone than its intrinsic value, although of course in many cases these two things are inextricably linked. I love the ethereal qualities of fine moonstones, the iridescent and shimmering colours in a peacock Tahitian pearl and the deep, rich inky blue of a tanzanite. In design terms, diamonds are invaluable. They bring light, definition, drama and sculptural form to a piece of jewellery.
Prism is Boodles’ boldest collection yet in which you have moved away from the more traditional gemstones and opted for colourful, lesser-known peridots, beryls, tourmalines, rubellites and tanzanites. Are your customers becoming more knowledgeable and daring in their tastes?
Customers are definitely becoming more knowledgeable and confident. Colour is very personal and expressive; vibrant colours in particular bring an immediately sense of energy. In the case of Prism they create a mood which is both sophisticated and fun.
Boodles was one of the first luxury jewellery brands to launch an e-commerce platform. Do you think bricks-and-mortar boutiques are under threat from online shopping?
No. Whilst it is a very important platform I think having boutiques with a physical presence is vital and will remain so. Fine jewellery is such a special and individual product, and having a boutique gives the customer the opportunity to talk in person to an expert, to feel and try on different pieces of jewellery, to hear about the inspiration behind the design and to enjoy a very special buying experience.
One of the questions being asked in the industry right now is what can be done to attract Millennials to diamonds. Are diamonds falling out of favour with the younger generations and design becoming more important?
Design is undoubtedly becoming more and more important, but one of the functions of design is to make things which are relevant to how people live their lives. Diamonds have an attraction which has lasted centuries. What is important is to find fresh ways to interpret diamond jewellery, infusing it with a youthful sensibility.
The Oppenheimer Blue diamond just became the most expensive polished diamond in the world when it sold at Christie’s Geneva and Boodles has just launched a collection devoted to rare coloured diamonds. Why are coloured diamonds in such demand right now?
Coloured diamonds are so rare and people are realising that the earth isn’t going to keep giving them up indefinitely. They appeal to the inner collector in all of us.
Your most recent launch was the Sophie collection, a tribute to the model-turned-best-selling-author Sophie Dahl, who appears in your advertising campaigns. How did you go about capturing the essence of Sophie in the jewels?
I started with the concept of an “English Rose”, creating a silhouette which is both heart shaped and petal shaped. I then introduced mother of pearl in both white and a soft blush shade, suggestive of a flawless and luminous complexion.
Your inspirations are far-ranging, from nature and ballet to art and music. How much time is spent discussing ideas and designs before a collection goes into production?
We discuss concepts and designs at various stages throughout the development process, particularly at the early stages; it is very free flowing and impromptu. At the later stages it is a much more structured review of the final designs and samples.
Your award-winning Raindance ring, first launched in 2000, is on show as part of the V&A’s permanent jewellery collection. What is it about the design that resonates so strongly with your customers?
I think there are many factors. The styling and quality of the materials give it a discrete luxury which is very relevant to 21st century lifestyles. It has a timeless character and life-affirming theme so is chosen not just as a dress ring but also as an engagement ring or wedding band. The diamonds are set in a bezel which maintains a purity of shape - it is a setting technique that is ancient but also feels very contemporary. The raindrops represented by diamonds appear to have fallen at random but are carefully choreographed to create an arrangement which is both asymmetrical and balanced and I think this brings freshness to the design. Whatever the factors it certainly seems does seem to resonate strongly. I met a lady at one of our events who had just been given a Raindance ring. She was so excited about it and she told me how she had had a picture of it on her fridge for five years.
If you were allowed to take home any piece of jewellery you have designed, however extravagant, which would it be?
If we still had them it would be the pair of platinum and diamond set bracelets in a sleeping beauty design from our first Wonderland collection.