It takes more than just jewellery making skill to turn rare (and sometime outlandish) sea creatures, crustaceans and centipedes. Not everyone can create pieces that one would fancy and still look like a wasp, but jewellery designer
Gaelle Khouri has a knack for not just capturing the wearer’s imagination but also casting a spell. Currently shuttling between Beirut and Paris, Gaelle grew up in Tripoli, a city in the north of Lebanon, where the perception of success is dictated by academic fields. Though she loved jewellery, but she studied economics at the New York University. But fate had different plans for her. The city of dreams and hopes enabled her to think out of the box and gave her strength to deviate to express her individuality through her creativity. Taking the first step, she interned at fashion brands Oscar de la Renta in New York and Elie Saab in Beirut. What followed was a sparkling trail of perseverance and success. Gaelle spoke to us from her studio in Beirut about where it all began and where she plans to take her brand.
What is your earliest memory of a jewellery?
I was about nine years old when my mum took me to a jewellery store to buy a custom made gold bracelet for me. We spent some time at the store choosing the elements to attach on it. I lost it later only to wake up feeling terrible. My mum—who has a scary sixth sense—dreamt that it was under my brother’s baby seat in the car and she was right. I cannot describe the joy I felt when I saw it again. My mum gave me an important life lesson that day when she told me to never get attached to material things. I live by it.
When did it occur to you that jewellery designing is your calling?
It was seven years ago while working as a senior economist at one of the top financial institutions in the MENA region.The transition did not happen overnight, but was the most natural step for me. After moving back to Beirut, I undertook extensive private jewellery lessons and launched my eponymous jewellery brand in July 2015.
What did you learn in your formative years?
The jewellery industry in Lebanon is notoriously secretive and closed, privately controlled by a small number of families, making it very hard for an outsider to penetrate. This proved to be a difficult obstacle, though over the past seven years I have developed a network of highly competent artisans and trustworthy stone suppliers. I would work closely with artisans at my workshop, absorb their knowledge and skills, and learn about the various metals and precious stones.
What inspires you?
Creativity for me stems from the inside, not outside. Inspiration is not what I see, but what I experience emotionally. The pieces I create are sort of my inner voice, they are a tangible form of my emotions. What is outside, like nature for instance, is simply raw products to help translate those emotions. I have been influenced by Italian architect Renzo Piano, Jean Tinguely’s sculptures, and writings of Michel de Montaigne, Hegel and Nietzsche.
Take us through your design and creation process.
Ideas and figures of potential pieces come to me quite randomly—mostly when I go to sleep. I always keep a pen and paper on my bedside table to sketch an idea. I think the fact that I don’t have a formal training in design has given me some freedom of creation. Once I have sketched it out from different angles on paper with a pencil, the production starts. The first phase is carving, where I carve the design on wax to express all the intricacies and movement of the design in the most artistic yet realistic way. It is then moulded on metal that also co mes with its own set of challenges. The difficult part is to ensure that the idea and concept translate into a wearable piece. Here, the technical part and mechanisms need to be well studied and production done with the utmost level of expertise.
Some designs are crafted from a mix of metals and it is important for the finish to be neat and the combination of metals to be clean. The next step is stone setting. I pick the stones with unique colour, size and best quality. I then decide on the most aesthetically-pleasing way to set them to compliment the design. All the pieces are handcrafted on wax first, like a little piece of sculpture in my workshop in Beirut.
What materials do you use mostly?
I use gold, silver, bronze, wood, sterling silver with precious stones. I have always mixed metals in my work. For example, for my first collection, I mixed 18k gold with treated bronze to create a contrast between the shiny gold and matte. Earlier, it was to limit the cost, given that I was and still am self-funded, and cared more about the design and creative aspect of the pieces, than the stones and metal colour. It is only later that I realise that the contrast adds an artistic layer of mysterious charm.
How do you think people’s perception, understanding and expectation from jewellery changed?
The industry is changing a lot mostly led by the radical change in consumer behaviour. I think we live in a fast forward time, where people’s lives are constantly exposed through social media platforms, hence their need to constantly change their wardrobe. This puts tremendous pressure on designers and fashion houses to create more and more often. To add to the challenge, designers have to create at a lower costs as people are willing to invest less on an item to buy in higher quantity. The existing strong competition on the market along with the growth in fast fashion brands, force selling prices down. Also, today people are diversifying their spending on experiences such as traveling than products.
At the same time, people are becoming more knowledgeable about jewellery and diamonds. They ask about the quality and quantity of diamonds set on a piece. They double check prices at different stores. So, the challenges are many, and pressure is there for designers whose creativity thrive on a peaceful environment.