With breaking waves and the uninterrupted bright blue sky overhead, designer Susie Stenmark’s base in Palm Beach, Sydney is idyllic. She’s naturally enticed to the water’s edge, but colour, not just fronds, sandscapes and sunsets, is just as potent an inspiration. To dart one’s eyes over statement Stenmark jewellery brings cheer and confidence, which immediately piques the viewer’s attention.
“I am continually amazed at the power of colour to make us feel and behave a certain way,” she says. “Colour theory, whether in food, clothes, interiors, nature or a gemstone, has a significant effect. And so I start designing by thinking about a gemstone colour and imagining its echoes, contrasts and resonances.”
Today, Susie is wearing her Sun Ray earrings, which are simple yet enlivening next to her face: “They do as much for me as putting on makeup.” The motif derives from her favourite - and, in fact, first - piece, her Sun Ray ring. The talismanic concept came to her on an exotic trip: “I was in India buying gems and revelling in the overwhelming sensory experience, when the idea of the sun as a source of life stayed with me.”
Her favourite coloured gemstones are orange sapphires and yellow diamonds, which she favours because they pair so attractively with her preferred material, yellow gold. Enamel also makes an appearance in her jewels, which she uses for an infusion of saturated colour that is impossible to replicate with gemstones. She loves rubies, sapphires and emeralds also, but is just as likely to extend her palette with garnets and tourmalines for their wide range of colours.
As a creative enthused by the iridescent and original collections of iconic jewellery makers such as Fulco di Verdura, Jean Schlumberger and James de Givenchy, positioning Stenmark as a laidback Australian brand is a misnomer. Instead, her larger-scale jewellery has a bold and classic European execution, and there is a Francophile esprit at work too. Susie was head of communications for Chanel’s Australian office prior to launching Stenmark jewellery in 2011, and the French Maison’s dedication to creativity and excellence has left its imprint. “I am making the kind of jewellery that I wanted to wear myself, pieces with impact and a generous, sensuous volume,” she remarks. “It is very rewarding to be able to create something of beauty that has meaning for a woman and that will endure.”
Working in high fashion helped Susie to understand not only the world of luxury but a woman’s emotional response to clothes and beauty. A woman’s style or mood, hers included, is key to her creative process. “A favourite piece of jewellery is meant to adorn, to beautify and, for me, be a source of confidence and strength to match my fashion look.”
Susie admires the gusto for jewellery that icons such as Elizabeth Taylor expressed daily and, whatever the hour, she embraces wearing jewellery in all settings, even when at home alone. “All fashion looks are enhanced by jewels, but in fact, the more formal the occasion, the fewer jewels I wear. I like to go against the grain a little - for example, I only wear pearls very casually, say with a T-shirt.”
Like Susie, the Stenmark woman is assured, especially of her unique sense of style.
“I design for a woman with a rich and informed aesthetic, who is playful and likes glamour.”