Lydia Courteille: Surrealist At Heart

French jewellery artist Lydia Courteille’s whimsical pieces are not for the faint of heart. With a deft Daliesque touch, her dreamlike creations come to life in a surreal universe of her own imagination. The colourful bejewelled pieces are as radical and audacious as the woman who dares to wear them; unafraid to make a style statement.

A maverick designer who lives by her own rules, Lydia draws inspiration from flora and fauna, landscapes, architecture and historical figures. Some of her collections exaggerate the beauty of nature, others explore dark, morbid aspects of death, bordering on gothic… Nothing is impossible in Lydia’s curious world. 

She started her eponymous brand in 1997, in rue Saint Honoré, just a couple of steps away from Place Vendome, Paris, the most coveted jewellery store location in the world. Today the self-taught artist is sought after for her handcrafted pieces that evoke the joy of traipsing through a mesmerising fairyland.

In an exclusive interview with Solitaire International, Lydia Courteille leads us down a wondrous rabbit hole.

You are a qualified biochemist; but for a long period, you were an antiquarian before you transitioned into the world of jewellery designing. What was the turning point?

I was just lucky to meet people in the antique jewellery business and l decided to change jobs during my maternity leave, and I took to jewellery designing. When l was young l spent most of my free time in Mineralogy at the Natural History Museum in Paris. It was a passion that drove me to where I am today.

Lydia Courteille

Your jewellery collections always have a story hook…

Yes, definitely.  Two decades ago, it was not in the air to build a collection with a soul and an authentic narrative. Storytelling in jewellery was rare then. I began early.

Now, of course, it is fashionable for today’s designers to invent stories around their collection, and often they are so threadbare and unconnected that we do not understand the relationship between the tales and jewels. At times, it makes me laugh.

What inspires you the most?

Everything around me … books, poetry, archaeology, mythology, politics…

A new collection by Lydia is always highly anticipated – one, for its surprise element, and second, the unusual combinations of gemstones that bring the narrative alive. What do you attribute your success to?

l think more than ever collectors want rare pieces and to discover new gemstones, learn stories … They like to be captivated.

However, even if they like the narratives, don’t drown them with too many details. My pieces take them on a long journey to escape reality.

Have you ever been inspired by an Indian theme? 

Yes, of course, you will see it soon.

Has the pandemic and lockdown impacted you as a designer? Have you come up with any creations during this time? 

No, not much. l need a dynamic environment. l have to sell and I need to see my customers. For now, I am staying in touch with them by mail or WhatsApp.

Your collections are suffused with gemstones. How does a gem beckon you? Are you partial to any gemstones? 

l travel a lot and I’m in love with opals and tourmalines.

Tell us about the woman who wears your jewellery –

My clients are audacious, cultivated with a strong personality, and rich…

What are your hobbies?

I love travelling, cooking, archaeology, fashion.

If not a jewellery designer, what would you be?

May be a detective or a doctor.

Crab earrings fashioned with yellow gold, and encrusted with black diamonds, orange sapphires, and fire opals.
Black rhodium-plated white gold necklace set with black and white diamonds, sapphires, and amethysts.
White gold octopus earrings encrusted with diamonds, sapphires, fancy colour sapphires and opals.
A large gold leaf spider embellished with black rhodium, sapphires, green garnets, and moon stones.

Glimpses of the Caravan Collection

The latest collection, Caravan by Lydia Courteille travels back in time to civilizations and empires of Lydia (Turkey) to Little Armenia, from Mesopotamia to Persia, from the road to Samarkand at the Great Silk Road, as seen through the eyes of Marco Polo, Jeans Baptiste Tavernier, Tamerlan, Hérodote. Let the journey begin…

Jember Nasr located in south of Baghdad is a site known for its distinctive pottery style from the period immediately after the Uruk. The Jember Nasr period is recognised as one of artistic splendour, and was known for its temple cities, trade and craft specialisation, and, the increased use of writing and cylinder seals. The magnificent bangle evokes the splendour of the bygone era.

The ship of the desert – the Camel ring crafted in 18-karat gold is decorated with 421 sapphires totalling 6.78 carats, 19 tsavorites and 70 white diamonds.

Samarkand became Tamerlan’s capital in 1369. He was the protector of arts and letters that made the greatness of Samarkand. Most of the architecture that he actually built is still visible in Samarkand. The earrings are an ode to the rich and vibrant Islamic art.

The unique black rhodium-plated gold earrings are dressed up with cabochon sapphires, Paraibas, emeralds, sapphires, tanzanites, and white diamonds.

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