I meet Lydia Courteille in her atelier, laboratory, cabinet of curiosities and general headquarters in Rue Saint Honoré in Paris, after a dream day at the Grand Palais for the Biennale des Antiquaires. Knowing that I would never awaken from my never-ending Parisian dream, I nevertheless felt a certain reverential awe at the prospect of meeting one of the most exciting and affecting creators of high jewelry today, widely praised in the jewellery world. Lydia Courteille started making jewellery back in 1985, and her scope was clear from the beginning, taking oversized bijoux from bygone years and reworking it with precious stones. Her mastery of the craft was met with success and recognition, and we have since come to expect fabulous things of her, such as pieces that seem to have sprung from a tableau, a fairytale or a piece of poetry.
And perhaps this is the case, when she tells me that «Jewellery for me needs to be lived like a work of art. You can’t create a piece of jewellery without having a story behind it. Dreams, stories, emotions. You can’t just take a stab at being a jewellery designer; you need culture, lots of culture, and it’s better to come out in plain view when you’ve already grown up. What is creativity? Creativity is that which is within, and in order to create a truly special piece of jewellery you need to demonstrate the ability to select the rarest stones, know how to wear them, create emotion and, above all, have the education to understand a certain type of design».
Courteille’s fantasy world is expressed with articulated, metallic rings, exaggerated cuffs dominated by amethysts, rubellite or Mexican fire opals, and exuberantly coloured chokers in which it is possible to read all the different hues of nature. A great collector of precious stones, her precious ‘plateau’ is easily stained with unusual tints: tourmaline, purple sapphires – her favourite – jade, opals, rubellite, amethyst and enamel decorations.
«The tendency with a piece of jewellery is that it’s a continually growing phenomena, even if rules don’t exist in terms of selling nor in the time taken to create a unique piece. If I like a piece of jewellery then I’ll develop it, but it’s always the stone that gives me the right cue. In terms of trends and communication, digital technology helps to speed things up a lot, I believe, but it’s likewise dangerous because it greatly dilutes style. My gaze is always turned towards prehistory – to fossils, archaeology, history – and my homage to surrealism; for example, Salvador Dalí’s influence is clearly felt in my creations».
Before leaving, Courteille gives me a taste of the upcoming collection dedicated to Chinese kites: a pair of pendant earrings with a tiny dragonfly on top, adorned with sapphires. A preview revealed with great passion, awaiting something even more unique. The element of surprise chez Courteille is always a welcome guest.
Text by Federica Frosini
September 16th 2014