As you all know, June is synonymous with the stunning natural beauty that is pearl.
To celebrate this gloriously sunny month, we met up with one of our favourite pearl designers, Claudia Bradby to find out how she found her way into the industry and what her favourite pieces of jewellery are!
Q: When did you enter the world of jewellery?
A: It all started when I was given a piece of jewellery by my husband when we lived in Hong Kong , which just wasn’t really me. I couldn’t find anything in the shop that didn’t feel like a rather generic piece and I just found myself from that point on gravitating towards designing my own collection; I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
This was shortly after the birth of my youngest son, 18 years ago. However it took being taken on by Liberty of London in 2003 to really feel like I was a jeweller. Before that time it felt like a cottage industry, experimenting with ideas, but also allowing me time to learn and find my network of makers and suppliers.
Q: Did you always know you wanted to be involved with jewellery?
A: It was serendipidy. My degree was in French, Economics and Philosophy, and my first job was working for a Literary agent, where I found a love of reading but I realised I found the creative and the business side equally fascinating. When I got married, aged 25, to a journalist I realised we would most likely travel the world so I re-trained as a primary school teacher. When we moved to Hong Kong I loved exploring the markets and found the energy of the city very inspiring. I particularly loved the gemstone and pearl market. Holidays to Australia cemented my love of beaches and a laid back luxe style. After the botched jewellery gift I made up a necklace of pearls on knotted leather for a visiting friend’s birthday – and she really loved it. When I was next back in the UK I researched pearl jewellery, in London department, and jewellery, stores and could not find much in the ready to wear/silver section. What was there was again very generic, slightly old fashioned pearl jewellery that really was not my style. I spotted a gap in the market for well designed, thoughtful, and unexpected pearl jewellery.
Q: What led you to pearls as opposed to other gemstones?
A: I just loved them from the off – not just their beauty and flexibility, but they have the most amazing history, being the oldest known gemstone, and the iconic women, and men, who have worn them fascinated me. The story of Mikimoto developing the cultivation of pearls, and these being banned from import into Europe, and then being allowed has democratised pearls in a way that was not so much true of gemstones when I started out.
I don’t think good design should be unaffordable and I found pearls adapted to my design aesthetic more naturally than gemstones – I love the shapes, the lustre, the femininity, the natural beauty of them. The fact that they are grown by nature, albeit with a small bit of human intervention, and need little further interference bar a bit of cleaning and polishing makes them very individual and unique.
Q: What is your favourite jewellery piece?
A: My current crush is my cirque lariat. It encapsulates everything I aim to achieve in my design. At the centre is a beautiful, naturally pink pearl, hand selected by me for its clean skin, weight, and size. And the design can take you anywhere, at anytime. It can be worn over 4 different ways and is more useful than I imagined. I had thought it wouldn’t go with simple shirts, but wearing it as a traditional lariat works a treat – perfect for going to work, out to lunch, evening drinks. I am wearing it to the royal wedding so it can step up to more formal occasions and it channels a really lovely 70’s vibe so I always feel a million dollars wearing it. I love the femininity of the piece, and the sensual feel of putting it on and wearing it. The stud earrings that match it are one of my go-to earrings each day. A fabulous combination of a pearl drop/hoop and stud!
They always get commented on. If you mean which ‘type’ I am never without my pearl ear cuff!
Q: What is your favourite collection that you have designed?
A: That is a bit like being asked who your favourite child is….. I am quite influenced by 70’s fashion – I love the laid back glamour and chic of that time, so I think both the cirque collection, and my couture collection are my favourites. The latter really took us forward as a pearl brand and my biography necklace again can be worn casually over a simple grey t-shirt, but also on the red carpet. I was lucky enough to go to the premiere of my husband Tom’s film, Shadow Dancer (we discussed the plot on honeymoon – and still work together on his writing), and I wore the biography necklace down the red carpet. I felt amazing in it (I did say that if I ever walked down the red carpet to the premier of any of his books/scripts I’d eat my hat – I have yet to do that!).
Q: Who would you say are your biggest influencers in the industry?
A: That is a really tricky question. I admire many jewellery designers, particularly those who are happy to take risks and really believe in what they do. I love Robinson Pelham jewellery for all that and they design really interesting fine pieces. I love working with jewellery stores who really know and respect their customers, as I believe that we are only as happy, or successful, as the relationships we nurture and cultivate. I think there is a 360 between us all that is vital to keep flowing – designers really value and need good retailers; good retailers really value and need good designers. And we all need to make sure we can reach our customers with gorgeous jewellery that has resonance beyond the obvious. Some of the trade publication editors have a strong influence on me as they both enable us as a growing business to talk to the industry, but also shine the light on the really interesting and important issues facing us all. It is important to feel part of a bigger whole, and there is still so much to learn.
Q: What has been the most exciting part of your career so far?
A: I think being taken on by first Liberty, then John Lewis were real highlights, and being shortlisted 2 years in a row for Jewellery Designer of the year has been thrilling. It was pretty special to see Dame Helen Mirren in my earrings in Harpers Bazaar, at the polo and various other places, as well as Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. Although of course she was simply an accessories designer when we met, it was fabulous to have worked with and got to know her when she was at Jigsaw.
Q: Where do you see your business in the next five years?
A: I would like to think we can do for pearls what Monica Vinader has done for gemstones – show them in a new light and create highly desirable jewellery. So I would like to be stocked in all the key jewellery stores, and be the pearl jeweller of choice for customers. And also break through to people who don’t think they like pearls – I have two colleagues who work with me who say they would never have been seen dead in pearls – until they worked with me. As a real foodie, and passionate cook, I would love to create a lifestyle store/space to show the jewellery, but also be a community hub where we could run work shops and have visiting designers do pop-up shops. But that is a whole other idea!
Q: What piece of jewellery do you never leave home without?
A: My wedding ring, my ear cuff and one other piece – either a pair of earrings, a necklace or a bracelet; depending on what I am wearing, where I am going and what mood I want to be in!
Q: Who would you love to wear a piece of jewellery you have designed?
A: That’s easy, Meghan Markle. I think her jewellery style is very aligned to our pearl edge and beachcomber collections. I can totally see her in our star pieces, layering or not. She has a pared back style that really fits my design aesthetic. I believe that less is more and aim to pare back designs to the absolute beauty and simplicity of the piece. This seems to allow the wearer to style the jewellery themselves rather than the jewellery wearing the owner! But to be honest it is always thrilling to see people wearing my designs – I had the most lovely pieces of happenstance last week. I invited my new (female) neighbours around to meet some of my girlfriends in the village where we live. One of the women was wearing a vintage piece designed by me – she had no idea. She had bought it 10 years ago from John Lewis, for her wedding, and was still wearing it. Her husband had recently bought her some of my jewellery, too. That was really lovely – what are the chances of that happening??