Inside the Jewel Vault with Darren Hildrow
Rocket Man by Walter van Beirendonck
Walter van Beirendonck
Asparagus brooches by JAR, Paris
Nikolle Radi diamond, platinum & gold ring
Moby Dick necklace, Judy Geib
DH - But the world of design. Yes, I was much more into. I got into more, fine art. So, I had a real fascination with fine art. And that started when a friend and me went traveling in Paris, and as a kid, I used to sit in - there was nothing to do in the village - I would sit down and just sit and draw and paint and make my, own little sort of fantasy worlds and pretend that something was actually going to happen in Great Easton in the middle of nowhere. So, it's more drawing and painting then I went to Art College, and studied sculpture and looking more at fine art, and then went to, it was Manchester Met, and did textile and ceramic sculpture. So that was really where my passion initially laid, but it was all to do with the creative.
JCC - You’re kidding.
DH - That was that was my hippie days
JCC - Amazing. And what about your mum or any of the female members, of your family? Were they gifted art wise?
DH - Everyone came from down the Holloway Road in London. My grandmother was a draftsperson in the war, so she was a very, quite an accomplished artist. My mother, I had no idea. A few years back, she got all these old paintings out she'd done a school and they were fabulous. And I was like, oh, you never told me you did art.
I loved making and the jewellery really happened when I came back from Australia, I was there for a couple of years and I came back and, I was 22 23 at the time, I came back in 1999, somebody I'd been to University with, she was working at Erickson Beamon. And, I was chatting with her and she said, oh, She said, It's coming up to Fashion Week and we need someone to give us a hand. D’you fancy coming and helping us out. So I thought, yeah fine, I travelled up to London, went up there, and my initial job was sort of sticking bits of suede on the back of costume jewellery earrings. That was where it started, and that was the beginning of jewellery for me many moons ago.
JCC - But Erickson Beamon was quite a hotspot for the glitterati, wasn't it? It was an unusual spot of you - I mean you could go there and hang out and see all sorts of famous people pass the threshold. So, you've got to have some stories from those days.
DH - Yeah. I have to say that they were probably my favourite days working in the industry, because even at that point, back in 2000, it hadn't become as commercial and, driven by money as it has now, you know the industry. And it was fun. There was still that element of fun. At Ericksons we did jewellery for everybody, from Kate Moss, Michelle Obama's to Lady Gaga, Beyonce. We did all Lady Gaga's face masks, and we used to do the film for Elizabeth, and we used do the runway shows. At that moment in time, none of the big fashion houses realized there was money to be made in jewellery. So, we used to make everything for it. Everyone we had, Rifat Ozbek, Raf Simons, Jil Sander, Roberto Cavalli, Matthew Williamson. All these guys - used to do all their runway shows.
JCC - And no wonder then you'd get so many famous people through the door because they had been working with the pieces on film sets or runways or wherever or photo, shoots.
JCC - Definitely talking to someone not of her generation. Hilarious. So, were you making jewellery yourself then? Were you inspired by all of, the creativity and the blue sky thinking these incredible projects to make your own pieces?
DH - Yeah, well, I used to make for Erickson Beamon, so I made for, all of these different designers and various, everybody just pitched in. It was then we were all made, and we made some fantastic things. It was as big and as bold and as crazy and ridiculous as it could possibly be when we did it, and it was fun.
There's one piece…
JCC - Are we in your vault yet?
DH - Let's enter into the vault.
JCC - Okay. This is the piece that you've selected. This is not a piece that you sent me a photo of, so you're just going to have to paint a picture for us of this amazing piece.
DH - This is the piece that sort of turned me away from making and more into management. Actually, I was making a piece for it was Sahar. She was the lady who created Coffee Republic. Sahar came in with Geri Halliwell, they were buddy buddy. And they came in and Sahar - they were going to this fabulous event, and she wanted something super fabulous to wear to this event. And there was a ball and et cetera, et cetera. So, Vicki called me in and sat down and want to make this piece. We designed this piece, and it was sort of a choker of eight strings of pearls going all the way up her neck. And then it had pearls, swaggered all the way down her arms, going on to her hand.
JCC - Wow.
DH - Really beautiful piece. I got working on this piece. Working on it for days and days and days and days to get this piece done. She came in, she wore it to this event, and then the following week, she came in with the neckpiece, and then with a lot of beads in a bag.
I think it was at that point, Vicki was sort of like “Darren honey. Think it would be good for you to go into the management side.”
DH - Item number two it's a Walter van Beirendonck piece, which I think he calls, Rocket Man. And it's a piece from his Fall-Winter 2010 collection, and it's a piece - it's not necessarily jewellery. Walter is, Walter van Beirendonck. He always used jewellery in all of his runway shows. And when I was with Vicki, we designed, I think, four or five catwalks for him. And he was the most extraordinary mind in that he had such a vision for what he wanted to create. He was super specific. But this piece, which I love, and you can see if, you can Google it. And it's basically a rocket. The front of the rocket goes through the man's stomach, and the back of the rocket goes through his back, and it looks like he's been pierced all the way through with this rocket. But what I love about it and about him, is that he takes jewellery isn't necessarily jewellery in a conventional sense.
People often think of jewellery as being an earring with diamonds or a necklace, something that sparkles. He sticks a rocket through somebody, and that's jewellery.
JCC - This is when I was researching this piece that you sent. I couldn't see what year it came from, but he's very well known for his unconventional and playful statements, isn't he?
JCC - So that's two incredible pieces. You've got one piece that fell apart on the dance floor, and another that is literally taking the image of someone being pulled apart by a rocket. So, can you tell us what's piece number, three, does this lead on in your career? Is it a piece from later?
DH - Piece number 3 is JAR.
JCC - Joel Arthur Rosenthal.
DH - Yeah, JAR. And it’s his Asparagus, and again, it's the unconventional that I love about it.
JCC - Have you seen this piece?
DH - So, he did an exhibition back in 2002 at Somerset House.
JCC - Yes. Yeah.
DH - And going to that was mind blowing. It really was breath-taking, the pieces. And that was my first venture into fine jewellery.
JCC - Really when you could see what was possible with the colours, and form.
DH - I think probably the pieces that really inspire me are people that just go away from conventional jewellery and try and not, try, but they just create something which is radically different. Everything, he does is really just wonderful.
JCC - Well, describe this piece, the Asparagus clips.
DH - How do I describe it? It looks like a piece of asparagus.
JCC - Yeah!
DH - Lumpy piece of asparagus.
JCC - So is it two pieces or one?
DH - It's two pieces. It's a pair of clips.
JCC - And how would you wear them then, Darren.
DH - Probably would put them on your breast pocket. But that's always been my sadness, is being a bloke in jewellery. All these pieces that I love, I can never wear them. So, my wife has benefited greatly from all of mine.
JCC - So you get vicarious pleasure from her wearing the pieces instead of you. So, I could quite see why you've chosen a piece by JAR who is one of the Masters of our age, and has really turned the concept of what is fine jewellery on its head
DH - One thing to say about item 3, ‘cos I was with Vicki for quite a while. But there was always that desire to get into fine jewellery. We had Erickson Beamon and me and Vicki, we created Vicki Sarge together, her new business. And then I moved along to Jade Jagger. And that was my, my first, sort of first foray into fine jewellery. And probably because of the influence of JAR, actually, it did have an impact.
I, think if I probably not seen it, and I just seen another, your general fine jewellery, sort of pave sparkly necklace, heart necklace or whatever. It wouldn't have floated my boat. And I may have just stayed in the sort of costume jewellery because I just liked the expressiveness of it. So, I may well have stayed there. But seeing him and his work, it made one realize, actually, you can do something slightly outrageous with fine jewellery. And Jade. She's done some fairly outrageous pieces as well. Some kind of fantastic and fun pieces.
But she was great I've always got a fondness and soft, spot for Jade. She took me to Jaipur, and we went to Jaipur and sat down. What I liked about Jade is she was very hands-on. She sits there and she chooses the big, chunky, big chunks of emerald. And she will sit there, and she picks them, and she chooses them. And she goes to the guys who carve them, and she has the relationships. So, she doesn't just depend on other people, but she's super hands on with their jewellery. She's very creative. And I just think some people may, think, oh, Jade Jagger, you know, daughter of Mick Jagger. I'm sure she gets somebody else to do everything, and it's not the case at all.
JCC - So tell us about item four now.
DH - So Item 4. Nikolle Radi. Nick is somebody who I work with through Rainbow Wave, and he was one of the brands, which we represented. And I was lucky enough to go to New York several times. Spent quite a bit of time with Nick, and he is one of the sweetest, most unassuming human beings you will ever meet. And in this industry, there is a hell of a lot of ego, and the egos are kind of painful. And Nik doesn't have one. I hope he doesn't mind, he won't mind me telling this story, but there's a wonderful story. When he's first ever order and Twist in Portland ordered from him, and he took the cheque and put it in a drawer and didn't cash it because he couldn't believe it was real.
Ring, diamond gold and platinum, Nikolle Radi
He couldn't believe anybody would actually want his jewellery until they placed a second order. And then he thought, oh, it's real. I better go and cash it. And the check was out of date, so he had to ask another one.
But his pieces. There's one piece which he made, and it's one of the first pieces of his I ever saw, which is sort of a flower ring. And it's eighteen carat gold and platinum.
JCC - And it's this piece that you've chosen.
DH - Yeah.
JCC - Which is incredibly intricate. I'm looking at the image you've kindly sent. I thought at first, how on Earth has that been made? Has he hand pierced out all of this platinum and set it within a gold frame? It is the most intricate and meticulous piece of work I've ever seen. My brain can't even comprehend how many hours of painstaking meticulous work it would take to do that, because there's no shortcut to it, is there?
DH - No, but that's the amazing thing. He spent so long. He's a real craftsman. He's very persistent. If he wants to do something, he will get it done. So, with platinum, because it's got such a high melting point. If you see, basically, it's not pierced out, it's woven.
JCC - So he hand weaves, really? So they're, like, filaments.
DH - It's a long piece of thread. Platinum.
JCC - Wow.
DH - But what happens when you heat up platinum? If you start heating up a piece of wire, platinum wire, you heat it up at one end. By the time you get to the other end, the first end, to anneal it, to get it soft, the other end of something has, gone cold. So, what he did is he created in his showroom an electrical charge, and he attaches, the platinum to an electrical charge. He puts a massive electrical charge through it, which makes it red hot. Then he has to take it off, and then he has to work with it very quickly.
JCC - Goodness, that sounds very dangerous.
DH - It's really dangerous, but brilliant. I love it. And it was just going to his studio and watching him do this was just so great. You know got his workbench, and there's diamonds and emeralds and stuff just scattered randomly, and different pieces made of platinum. It's great fun. Love it.
JCC - Wow. I was doing some research before, we spoke on Nikolle Radi, and I could see that, he was born in what was Soviet era Yugoslavia and growing up in Croatia. His family were jewellers, but he would take apart grenades. That's what it says on a bio page that I found him, taking apart grenades and make the tiny pieces inside into pendants. So now that you've described…
DH - Bonkers
JCC - The fact that he would put a live current through filaments of platinum - just amazing. It is mind blowing, actually.
DH - Yeah, he never told me that. That's kind of wild.
JCC - But this piece that you've selected is a ring, with a central diamond and a very elegant. It looks like a flower, swelling outward. And this, beautiful, pierced side section.
And so that's item four in your vault. Now, we've got some extraordinary pieces. Tell us about item five.
DH - Item 5 is Judy Geib. And strangely, Nik actually used to work with Judy, when he first moved to New York. So, Judy took Nik under her wing, and to help her and he worked with her for years. And actually, Nik's sister actually works with Judy. But Judy, the piece of hers, which I just adore, is her Moby Dick piece.
JCC - This is a recent piece, isn't it? Inspired by the book Moby Dick?
DH - Yeah, it's just the Moby Dick, which they've created. The sort of the actual whale has just got such character to it. It's so cute, but it's sophisticated and cute all at the same time. And that's such a hard balance to get. Francesca Villa does an amazing job with that as well, with getting this thing between something which is kind of cute, but super sophisticated. It's such a hard balance. And I think she's got abalone in there and the opal and this mix of materials, which is just so fabulous. But again, she's a real craft person and I met her in New York, and I was chatting with her. But she does it for the love of it. Yeah, that's what I love about these. I think what perhaps ties all these people together. Maybe Walter, JAR, Judy and Nik, they do it for the love of it. They're artists, they're craftspeople, they love their work. It's not to make money. It's because they do it because they have to.
JCC - And it's their form of expression.
DH - It's a form of expression. And, I love that.
JCC - Well, this is an extraordinary necklace. Is it a silver, slightly oxidized. It's beautifully modelled and as you say, it's very sort of - well, it looks irreverent. It just looks like it's there. And of course, it's here. And then above it are these sculpted waves and then entwining the whole thing together is this like a gigantic bubble of twisted silver wires with a loosely modelled catch at the back. And it looks like it would be worn with a certain amount of panache. I think. When I was reading about Judy Geib, I could see that back in 2017, in an Instagram post, she said that, she'd finished reading the book The Whale, Moby Dick. And she thought that anyone who read, it ought to be given an awards medal.
DH – That’s brilliant
JCC - This would be the grand prize, I think. This incredible necklace. So have you seen this piece yourself in the flesh?
DH - No. And it's something which actually, I was chatting with Nik and Nik was talking to me about it because he, worked on the piece. And then I checked it out. I was like, it's just so much fun.
JCC - Yeah. I was looking at some of the other pieces that she's represented here by Moki Mou in Marylebone, but she's, better known in America, isn't she? Which is where she is.
DH – Yeah in New York
JCC - Her work features an awful lot of gems, but put together in such a way that you wouldn't feel like you were wearing the Crown Jewels. It is very wearable. Her jewellery. It's grand, but it's done with a lightness of touch, so it's luxury for someone who's used to going out and looking amazing, I think, but not overwhelming, not in the Liz Taylor style.
DH - Also, she's, a wonderful lady.
JCC – She’s someone you’ve met a few times?
DH - She's genuine. I had been dinner with her in Paris one time, and she's a genuinely very lovely lady. Lovely.
JCC -So, apart from JAR, who you haven't met yet!
DH - Not sure that’s going to happen!
JCC - These are all people that you know personally and have spent time with?
DH - That may well have an influence as well because I do like working with nice people.
JCC - Well, hence why you set up NouvelleBox. So, tell us, how is that going?
DH - It's going well. It's good. It's something I had an idea for a long time ago. I started working on it back in 2014, and it just got put on ice and did nothing with it. Then when the pandemic hit and everyone was suddenly looking for a way to buy and sell online, I suddenly realized I had something that had been sitting dormant for five years that could do the job. So, I sort of, threw some money at it, turned it around.
And I wanted to get someone else on board. And I spoke with Valery, and Valery jumped on board. And we've got some fantastic, designers on there, some wonderful stores on there, using the platform, and it's just a tool to make life easier for people, really.
JCC - I can't believe this is the first time that anyone's actually done this. Because previously you were working at Rainbow Wave, weren't you? Which had a physical place, and you would have to do an awful lot of travel, I imagine, to attend shows and represent brands. But this works in a slightly different way, doesn't it? Describe how this works?
DH – So, it works - a brand will come on, they'll upload their collections, they will create their line sheets on there. And stores can come in, connect with them in a similar way to LinkedIn. So, the store will offer to connect or request to connect or the brand will request to connect with the store. And if they, both say yes, the store can then see their line sheets. They can go in, raise a PO, place an order. The brand can then raise, order confirmation, invoice and do business online.
One thing we do realize is that people do want to see things physically. There's nothing quite, like picking up a piece of jewellery and sticking it on. So, we are going to have our first physical show as well in September, in Paris. So that will be where digital, meets physical.
JCC – You’ve just celebrated your first anniversary with NouvelleBox, what a whirlwind of a year!
DH – Yeah. Anyway, there's lots of different features which are coming out - coming soon!
JCC - How many brands do you represent, currently?
DH - I think it's around about 34 - 35. So, the interesting part about it is that we don't represent the brands, as usual showroom would. We don't take commission on sales or anything like that. People just come on and they rent the space themselves. So, it's very different to how your normal showroom would work. And that did come as a result of working in the showroom and showing the brands. And one of the brands, I remember when one of the brands was leaving and I said to them, I said, “If you didn't have to pay commission, would you stay?” And they said, “What a stupid question. Of course, we'd stay.” I was like, “Even if you had to pay for the shows and the other overheads?”. “Yeah yeah yeah. Of course we’d stay.” That's interesting.
JCC - Yeah.
DH - And then, that gave the foundation for the idea.
JCC - That was the light bulb moment. They were all the signals. So it's a platform, really, that you host.
DH - Yeah, I actually had cancer in the middle of it, which was.
JCC - Oh, my goodness. I'm so sorry…
DH - It's alright I’m ok now.
One thing that was interesting, I diverge from jewellery. One thing that I found amazing was the kindness of people. I think the word ‘kindness’ is a word which is very undervalued. But what you've realized is, when you really do get slapped down, those people who are closest to you really step forward. And it's the small kindnesses of people, which is so moving and so encouraging, and sort of strengthens you to get through it. Not enormous things - but people bringing round food for the kids. Someone giving you a small donation of cash to get Ubers back and forth from the hospital every day. And it's kind of like, it was so wonderful to experience, actually. So, although it was physically horrific, actually, it really was a horrific experience. Physically. There was a lot of positives from it. You know, you start to realize. You start to realize what is valuable and what is not valuable? Who is valuable and who is not. Start to make a few cuts in your life and draw closer to those people and things which are valuable. So, these painful experiences aren't, necessarily negative.
JCC - Well, I'm so glad that you're fine and on the mend and can throw your full attention into growing NouvelleBox.
DH - Me too.
JCC - Because it's very exciting what you're doing.
So we've got now five pieces in here. So what is item, six? I was looking for a picture or some mention of it, but you haven't sent me anything, so it's a surprise. What is it?
DH - So, item number six… It was actually going to be item number one, but I think it may be good to finish on item number six. So, item number six is when I was a kid, we used to - go on holiday with my parents - to Wales, where it would always rain. I do remember often sitting and eating, sandwiches in the car and just looking at the beach, rather, than actually being on the beach. That was the excitement. But when we did get on the beach, we used to go and sort of look for stones with holes in, me and my sister. And we'd run down and we'd make those into necklaces. So that was really my first venture into jewellery, into something wearable, is my little pebble necklaces. So, I guess that's really where it all began. That was my, first foray into something creative.
JCC - First steps in jewellery. Oh, I love that. So, thank you for saving that really heart-warming piece for the last and no wonder we don't have a photograph of it because it just exists in so many memories of childhood - rain lashed Welsh beaches!
Oh I love that. I'm going to say probably something a bit, a bit drippy or a bit geeky.
DH - I like drippy.
JCC - But you know that wearing jewellery is uniquely human. There aren't any other creatures that go around decorating themselves with things that they, find things that either could be rare or unusual or things that they just like the look and colour or shine, of. But that's how we started nearly 100,000 years, ago. Picking up shells or pebbles with holes in them and stringing them onto bits of some sort of rudimentary thread or string and then draping ourselves in them or sticking them onto a finger. What you've just done there is such a human and touching and beautiful thing. So, I love the fact that you've chosen this because it makes us special. It makes us human. It makes us care and find beauty.
DH - There's one, when I worked with Noor Fares, she got a lady in to teach us all about stones, gemmology. And she was talking about diamonds and sapphires and various things. And then she talked about, your garnets and various other stones, and I referred to them as being “semi-precious”, which is what I'd always called them semi-precious. And she corrected me and said, there is no stone that is semi-precious. Everything is precious. It just depends on how you view it. She said, a pebble to somebody can be something which is precious to them. And that's what when they clicked something in my brain. So, what is precious to you is precious. Just kind of a wonderful way of thinking actually.
JCC - Oh it is, I think that's definitely the way to see life.
So, this is the hard question. We've got these six beautiful objects. We've got the pearls for Sahar. We've got the Walter VB Rocket Man. We've got the JAR Asparagus. We've got the Nikolle Radi ring, Judy Geib’s Moby Dick necklace, which is extraordinary. The pebble from the beach that you found as a child. So, we've got these six items in your, vault. Now, if some awful thing happened, you can only keep one piece. What would it be?
DH - I think it would be Nik, Nikolle's ring, the flower.
JCC - Right. Why?
DH - Why would I keep that? Partly because I, love the craftsmanship in it. But secondly, I think because of him as a person. I think it's the craftsmanship, but also because of Nik himself, that he, is such a wonderful guy. And it's nice to have a memory of someone, as much as having the thing itself.
JCC - This warmth and kindness and gentleness behind him.
DH - Yeah, he's a really super chap. Going to New York, and he'd always be so thankful for everything that you've done to help out with sales and always take you for dinner and always insist on paying, for it. There's a real warmth and generosity to the guy, so it’d be that one, I think.
JCC - Beautiful. Wow. Well, that's so lovely then. This special piece that you've selected would remind you as much as being a beautiful object, it would also remind you of a lovely person and really wonderful soul. That's wonderful. Thank you very much.
DH - It’s been great, thank you very much for inviting me.
LINKS & NOTES
NouvelleBox – The Virtual Jewellery Marketplace - https://www.nouvellebox.com/
Walter van Beirendonck - https://www.waltervanbeirendonck.com/
JAR – Joel Arthur Rosenthal – has no website or contact listing & is only available by personal recommendation by previous clients and appointment only. For background introduction - https://www.christies.com/features/a-collectors-guide-to-jewellery-by-jar-10451-1.aspx.
Editorial note: The exhibition ‘The Jewels of JAR Paris was held in 2002-3 Somerset House London featuring 395 works by JAR in the first retrospective of the designer. The Asparagus Brooches were created in 2008 & exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York retrospective in 2013 https://www.metmuseum.org/-/media/files/exhibitions/2013/jewels-by-jar/object-list.pdf
Nikolle Radi at Mouki Mou London - https://moukimou.com/collections/nikolle-radi
Judy Geib at Twist Online, Portland, Oregon - https://www.twistonline.com/collections/judy-geib