Claire Nouvel is a young French-born, but South Africa-based jewellery designer who is deeply inspired by African culture and uses that inspiration for the creation of her unique, contemporary jewellery pieces, each one celebrating the local metals and materials used and preserving their integrity and authenticity.
LoA met with Claire Nouvel, the founder and creative force behind Tilt Handmade Jewels whilst she was exhibiting at the Kamers2015 show in Johannesburg, South Africa. Her work stood out as it not only reflected her inspiration from African culture, but also visually incorporated it through the use of indigenous South African fabric designs in her jewellery pieces, making them truly unique.
"I am originally from France but I went to live in the Congo a few years ago and I started making jewellery with the local people who were involved in various types of crafts in the community……This is how my own personal journey into the world of craftsmanship began."
So, tell us how you got started as an entrepreneur and a designer of handmade jewellery?
It is actually a long story - I am originally from France but I went to live in the Congo a few years ago and I started making jewellery with the local people who were involved in various types of crafts in the community. I was really interested to see what I could do with these local people in terms of understanding and learning their crafts, utilising wood, metal, fabric, etc. and then producing high quality, unique craft pieces for sale. This is how my own personal journey into the world of craftsmanship began. My original idea was to start a fair-trade company where we could sell locally made goods produced in the Congo. I then moved to London, taking my experience of this unique craftsmanship with me and in particular, my love of handcrafted jewellery, which I also learned from those communities in the Congo.
During my time in London, I took some evening classes in contemporary jewellery making and started to make individual jewellery pieces of my own design. So, when I moved to Johannesburg in South Africa three years ago, I heard about a great jewellery studio in my local area and looked to learn a little more about the craft of jewellery making there, which was a great experience. I have always been inspired by local fabrics designed and produced in Africa, in particular Shweshwe, which is a printed and dyed cotton fabric produced in South Africa and manufactured in a variety of colours and printed designs, characterised by intricate geometric patterns. I started to design jewellery pieces made from silver and brass but incorporating actual pieces of Shweshwe fabric. I also continued my love of wood as a material for jewellery making, originally inspired by my time in the Congo, and have continued to make jewellery pieces using wood also.
"I like the materials to speak for themselves in each piece I design and for that to be the focus of my work."
How would you describe your design style at the moment?
My main interests throughout my different jewellery design ranges is to try and explore the use of the raw materials in the most interesting ways, whilst keeping the material rough and authentic. My design approach is to always look at pieces in an abstract way, rather than depicting images or forms in my work. My inspiration always comes from the materials themselves, whether I am using wood, fabric or metals, and I particularly enjoy playing around with the way I can use metal in my designs. I like the materials to speak for themselves in each piece I design and for that to be the focus. I am not too polished in my work, I like to leave things rough in order to leave the pure essence of the material in tact.
How are you currently marketing your jewellery?
At the moment, I am mainly retailing to a South African marketplace and my work is being sold in two shops in Johannesburg. However, in terms of my planned marketing strategy going forward, I am not particularly keen on producing large volumes of work solely to mass retail, although from a business perspective there has to be a balance in order to be sustainable. I would also like to spend more time on creating bespoke pieces of jewellery for individual clients and for galleries that showcase my work, and who approach me to create specific series of jewellery pieces for display. I would like to explore more of this type of creative work in the future. I love the uniqueness of doing bespoke, commissioned work for clients. Looking even further into the future, I would also like to explore the possibility of showcasing my work abroad and seeing if retail opportunities can be opened up in different countries.
"I have always been inspired by local fabrics designed and produced in Africa, in particular Shweshwe, which is a printed and dyed cotton fabric produced in South Africa and manufactured in a variety of colours and printing designs characterised by intricate geometric patterns. I started to design jewellery pieces made from silver and brass but incorporating actual pieces of Shweshwe fabric."
What have been the biggest challenges to you in starting this entrepreneurial journey in jewellery making?
Time, for sure. Designing and creating jewellery is very time-consuming and that is a big challenge for me, whilst trying to run the business and build the brand at the same time. At the moment, I still design and create every individual piece myself, but going forward I may have to look at bringing someone else on board to work with me. However, I do not believe in employing cheap labour just to make money, so any decision to bring someone else in to work with me in the future would be an ethical decision based on training and paying someone properly for their work and contribution to the business. This also ensures that my work and my brand ethos remains authentic.
What advice would you have for other young women who have a huge interest in, and passion for, jewellery design but are perhaps hesitant to become an entrepreneur and follow their dream?
If you can travel and find inspiration first for your work, it will encourage you to become the most creative person you can be. That is important, particularly here in South Africa where there is the space for people to really explore their own unique creativity and design jewellery pieces that are young, fresh and different. The marketplace is ready for that here.
Contact or follow Claire
Why LoA loves it….
There is something really fresh and unique about Claire Nouvel’s work and design philosophy and her determination to keep the focus on the integrity and authenticity of the materials she uses and is influenced by is really refreshing. At LoA, we particularly love the way Claire integrates the beautiful Shweshwe fabric into her jewellery pieces, creating pieces that celebrate everything that is good about South African culture. --- Melanie Hawken, Lionesses of Africa founder and editor-in-chief