And Julie, you hail from the Diamond Capital of the world: Antwerp. Did you grow up seeing beautiful things? I come from New York where we are the capital of things like street hot dogs (lol) Our diamond district is a bit different from Antwerp’s!
Julie De Cuyper: Yes, I was born in Antwerp, the diamond capital. They say every diamond passes through Antwerp at least once! Growing up, I was strongly influenced by my aunt who reinvented the jewellery retail landscape in Belgium almost 40 years ago. Not with diamonds though, but with an innovative brand concept focused on silver and quality jewellery. Her business grew to be one of the most successful jewellery concepts in the Benelux. So from a very young age, I was exposed to the business of jewellery with a hands-on approach and a contemporary mindset. From sticking prices on jewellery as a student working in the shops, I later also joined forces with my aunt, who I consider my mentor, in different areas of her business ranging from branding to production. She also has a very strong sense of style, from fashion to interior design. Combined with her influence and the world renowned Antwerp aesthetics, you can say I was lucky to be surrounded by beautiful things as a kid, which definitely shaped my own vision of what is beautiful.
But having always had a deep craving to explore the world, I wanted to pursue my own dreams and I therefore lived in New York and Asia throughout my 20s and half of my 30s. I later decided to come back to Europe, eventually making Berlin my new home, which is where I launched JUULS JUULS. This summer though, I decided to move again, back to Antwerp, this time with my own family. I am very happy to be close to my roots again. Half of the women in my family work in jewellery now: two are working with diamonds as well. I guess it’s part of our DNA. It’s great to be able to share our experiences together as a family, as we are all very close. So I plan to spend much more time in the diamond district. Although here it is definitely more private and industry focused than it is in New York, there are more and more initiatives to open the district to the public and for it to become more accessible: from interactive exhibitions to guided tours. If you pass by Antwerp, I would love to take you around!
Sara, you have a number of collections. Your current one, in accordance with Juuls Juuls, is entitled Fantômas. Can you explain a bit of the story behind this collection?
Sara : Initially the Fantomas ring was part of my second collection Brume, launched in 2013, which was all about knights and Middle Ages inspiration. I had the idea to create a ring with a “lost stone” inspired by this theme. Seven years later, I decided to give a second life to the design and create a new edition, a more contemporary version in 14k gold which is also more affordable. I spoke to Julie about it and we decided to team up to create a new mood for this one piece. Some pieces are so iconic that they don’t need a whole collection, which I believe is the case of Fantômas. I don’t think our creations should be one-off use, we can always get back to the classics and do a glow up.
Julie, what is it the allure of Sara’s designs to you personally?
Julie: What attracted me to Sara’s brand in the first place is Sara herself! Her strong personality and presence are perfectly reflected in her designs. I love her authentic and organic approach to the materials, and her interest in old-school craftsmanship and jewellery history, yet she also has an ability to transform each piece into a contemporary work of art. When she designs a piece, she knows exactly who it is for and how to wear it. Each collection has its own story, its own vibe, and it ranges from the more dramatic to easier to wear options. Story-telling and a passion for jewellery is where we find our synergy.
What are some moments in the realm of jewellery pieces and looks over the course of history that you both find most iconic?
Sara : I’m personally very much attracted to ancient jewellery and its history and the handcrafted work from previous ages. When you think about it, jewellery has existed since.. forever! Jewellery was a sort of currency to be traded in the market. Every civilisation has used jewellery at some point, and the history of jewellery is so extensive that you wouldn’t believe it if you don’t look into it for yourself! The Egyptian and Greek styles are my big favourites.
I’m also pretty obsessed by Christie’s sales of the most precious gemstones of history. Some pieces come back from sailors and you discover a whole story behind it about kings and queens and wars involving that unique piece. So I guess my last big crush was when I had the chance to go to Christie’s in London to try the Pink Lady diamond, it was the most expensive pink diamond they sold at the time of its sale. When you think about the amount of transactions and the economy around these pieces, it gives you a very good perception of the market. It really fascinates me to see the political and economical side of the industry.
Julie : I am personally not so influenced by the ancient history of jewellery and therefore I don’t have particular moments or iconic pieces to share. I am much more influenced by contemporary designers and recent history. Foremost, I am interested in how the industry transforms and innovates itself today. Last year I had the chance to have a private tour of “Room of Wonders’, an exhibition organised by the Diva Museum in Antwerp for the jewellery designers Wouters & Hendrickx to celebrate their 35th anniversary. This was captivating to me. They hail from the same class as the Antwerp Six, their creativity is inspiring, and to this day their continuous search for innovation in jewellery while staying true to their brand ethos make their collections iconic to me. From recent history, I am quite attracted to YSL vintage pieces and the genius of Shaune Lane for Alexander McQueen. If I had to pick some iconic pieces from today’s contemporary designers, I would look at Ana Khouri, Repossi, Charlotte Chesnais, and Ina Beissner, just to name some of my favorites. Or in the very High-end tier of the industry, the amazing one-of-a kind jewellery designs by the Boghossian family using the inlay technique.
In nature, what do you find to be the most beautiful, wearable items? I love collecting shells, for instance. I also wear the cages to champagne around my neck after a joyous celebration, to remind me of the evening and the reasons for celebrating. Do you source inspiration from everyday mundane items as well?
Sara : I really love Tahitian and Baroque pearls, I definitely got there from my mother, who is also a big fan of these pearls. What I love about them is that none of them are the same: their shape, colours and other properties depend on where they come from. The history of pearls is something I’m really passionate about, but to be honest, I’m really interested in jewellery in every aspect of it. I can go to a market in Saint Tropez and buy silver pieces and mix with my other more expensive heritage pieces. It’s a playground where there’s no rules and you can wear everything as long as you like it and form a connection with it. I think it’s beautiful to wear anything you really like. I remember when I was a kid making my mom a raw pasta necklace… but I don’t think she really wore it…
Julie : I am like you, I love shells and pebbles, I have collected a few throughout my travels (but I unfortunately keep losing them during all my moves.) I managed to keep two pieces from my days spent in Indonesia that are always on my bedside table. Alongside shells & pebbles, I also love crystals. The thought of their positive energy and the idea of them being formed in the earth gives me peace. I love to wear them as necklaces, mainly in the summer, and I always carry some in my bag for good luck.
Where are you finding solace and comfort and inspiration during this time of foundational unrest and lockdown?
Sara : I guess I was blessed by the Gods! Just before the lockdown, I moved to Bali for a few months where I am now based. I feel very grateful and lucky to come here, and it really pushed me to reinvent myself creatively-speaking, from the very fast paced life I used to have in London. Bali gives me a different energy. I’m inspired everyday and it’s giving me insights for my first collection of the next year which is definitely the silver lining of this year to me.
Julie : Although this lockdown year has been very stressful overall, I found my comfort and solace in the amazing quality time I got to spend with my 4 year old daughter. We are also blessed with the upcoming arrival of a baby sister this spring! It gives me so much to look forward to and a good reason to embrace the lockdown…. On the other hand, I can’t wait to be able to wander the world again and meet people. That’s fundamentally where I find my inspiration. But I have many positive thoughts for the future.
For me, I find jewellery to be a talisman that gives me power throughout the day. It extends beyond simple beauty. If I leave without my fingers filled with rings, I feel like my power is not as potent. Do you have any pieces of jewellery that you cannot leave the house with?
Sara : I feel naked without jewellery. I wear it everywhere- from the beach to the grocery shop. Jewellery is like my makeup. I change it everyday. I have very eclectic style – from boyish to classy to bohême – and I mix and match my jewellery accordingly. I love mixing my gold jewellery with fantasy ones. There’s really no rules to me on that. In spite of that, I do have my lucky charm, which I wear on special occasions. It’s an emerald ring my father made for me. The first version of Fantômas is one I have worn everyday for seven years, it’s so easy to wear it, and that’s why we brought it back again.
Julie : Same, I wear all my main jewellery on a daily basis. You will never see me without, they are an integral part of my style and who I am! And there are a few good luck charms that I won’t leave the house without. Call me superstitious, but I say good energy never hurts! I do change up my style and add or remove pieces depending on my mood or the season. Right now, you won’t see me without my Fantômas signet!
What are you looking forward to in the new year? Any plots or plans?
Sara : I feel like this crisis motivates me to create even more and I’m planning to challenge myself to collaborate with different people in the next year, it really pushes my creativity to collaborate. I believe that, more than ever, the exchange of ideas is critical for all of us. I also feel like making more unique pieces and high-end designs for the upcoming collections, but for now I’m also looking forward to just wrap up this year and kick off the new, hopefully with a higher energy worldwide.
Julie : Yes, lots of (hopeful) travel plans and exciting projects are in the works! But right now, I am just really looking forward to wrapping up this year, taking a break with my family for a few days, and welcoming my new baby.