Colette has been in love with jewelry since she was a child (read my earlier interview here). You could say that it all started with a leaf. Throughout her life, which has straddled France, and Mexico, she was always picking up leaves. She collected them nearly every walk, every outing, and was constantly pressing them. One day, she returned to a book of pressings and found a leaf, so extraordinary in its partial decay, that it was, in her words, “Perfect. It was asymmetric, partially deteriorated, but perfect to me.” That leaf became the design for her logo.
Insatiably curious, and–it turns out–quite adventurous as well, Colette spent two and a half months in Africa, getting inspired for her current collection. A collection which, incredibly, spans 150 one-of-a-kinds. I’m not used to seeing this kind of prolific fabrication from a fine jewelry designer: the obstacles for the actual creation of that many pieces are daunting. I looked at and tried on a number of them at the show. A gemstone expert who started fashioning gems and jewelry at age 13, Colette starts with a sketch, then moves into the metal and stone carving. I detected her attention: each piece was impeccably thought out and executed, articulated at just the right places for movement and fit.
To say that Colette was inspired by Africa would be cliched. Her inspiration went far beyond what you might expect: beyond the landscapes, beyond the fantastic wildlife, beyond the people. She took thousands of photos, and was sketching constantly. The jewelry collection focuses on her interpretations, the myriad details that emerge when you REALLY, fully look at something with your soul.
Interview with Colette Steckel
Colette, global in origin and current residence (Mexico city, Los Angeles, and France), is so beautiful herself, it’s easy to be mesmerized. I fell under her spell last week at the Couture Jewelry Show. Like the serpents in her jewelry, I was totally charmed. We talked about her new collection.
idazzle.com: So you spent two and a half months in Africa. Were you going for jewelry inspiration or was that just serendipity?
Colette: The trip was partly about inspiration and to discover Africa. Mostly it was for time with my family. My kids (ages 22, 14 and 12) were so great, it was a family bonding experience. We went on photo safari, of course, and swam with sharks; it was about being together.
Where did you go?
Oh, many places, Namibia, Botswana…we saw water, the desert, so many climates and different animals…
This jewelry collection is obviously not a literal interpretation of Africa. Can you tell me how your process works, how you got from a family vacation to 150 one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces?
I took literally thousands of photos, and made lots of sketches. I was often drawn to a certain element, something that gave me the feeling of what I had observed. I would focus on the eye of the zebra, tracing its shape; or the curve of the elephant’s ear or trunk. I would take those elements and find a muse for my vision. Then there was the searching for just the right gemstones and how to set them to achieve my vision.
I hear that you were pretty adventurous in your pursuit of said inspiration?
Well…I would sneak out of the camp at night…
You mean past the guards who are armed to protect you from whatever is out there at night??!
Yes, past the guards. I wanted to go out when the lions hunt, you see? It was worth it. I observed how the lioness is the hunter, then everything else takes its turn at the carcass. Nothing is left, even the bones are eaten at some point. I wanted to somehow capture this circle of life, this great efficiency of nature, in my jewelry. So this piece resulted: The Hunt. The bloody jasper stones of the ear pendants evoke the primitive power, the rubies are also just the right shade, like the blood on their coats. In the whole finished piece there is the suggestion of savage grace.
So I’m guessing that even behind these lovely earrings, for instance, there is a story?
Oh yes. As part of our trip, our family swam with the sharks. It was a magical experience. Later, I found these blue stones that, for me, perfectly evoke the cold water. The metal work suggests the shark’s teeth.
This collection can be appreciated on a purely superficial level of its intrinsic beauty, but there is really a lot of meaning behind every piece.
Africa is an amazing place…it grounds you in a way that maybe very few places can. It has a way of stripping away all the excess. Everything is at its most essential level: survival mode. It’s a little bit crazy. Insane. And yet, I saw people, who had absolutely nothing in Western terms, weaving telephone wire into jewelry. To make something beautiful.
The need to adorn appears to be universal…
Yes! And finally, that is maybe what this collection is about…the connections we all have. To the land, to nature, to the most basic elements. To each other.
Thank you so much, Colette! It’s extraordinary to meet someone who marvels at the details, the margins, and brings us this kind of light.
You can find more of Colette’s designs at her website, ColetteJewelry.com, Like her Facebook page here, or contact her studio here. You can also see her designs at several stores in the USA and Mexico, including Fragments at 116 Prince Street, New York, New York, or call 212.334.9588.