Jewelry Journey Podcast
Sharon: Welcome to the Jewelry Journey. Today, my guest is designer Sylvie Corbelin, known for her imaginative and fanciful designs. Her work regularly appears in the international fashion press and has also been showcased in books highlighting today’s most admired jewelers. She’ll tell us about her jewelry journey today. Sylvie, welcome to the program.
Sylvie: Welcome from Paris.
Sharon: Glad to have you straight from Paris. Can you tell us about your jewelry journey? If I remember, you started out in the antique business selling pieces of antique jewelry. Did you always like jewelry?
Sylvie: First of all, I have to start at the beginning, I think.
Sharon: Yes, please.
Sylvie: I’m a very French girl. I was born in Bourg-en-Bresse, a small town in France close to Lyon. Bresse is very well known for its poultry and is very famous for it.
Sharon: Oh, wow!
Sylvie: My father is French and my mother is Italian. Since I was 10 years old, I assisted my mother with her work as an antique dealer, buying and selling. I discovered the beauty and value of the objects, the antiques, and that’s how I started my training without realizing it. Over many years, I had no idea what the jewelry world was. I love objects—the ones you find in cabinet des curiosités, rare, singular things. I love singular things; for example Carl Branch or things from Tapanis, or strange stones or ebony, nothing to do with jewelry. I also was in love with glassware and lights, giving many colors and shapes to a simple piece. I love this color, this translucency, so it probably helps for one to love jewelry. I don’t know when exactly, but it started this way. The real decision to work in the jewelry industry came later in my life.
Sharon: You’re a gemologist, right?
Sylvie: Yes, a gemologist. I was studying law and philosophy, but my mother said it was not enough. Philosophy is not a job, so she asked me to study gemology. Around 15 years old, I read a book, which was very important for me, written by Joseph Kessel. I don’t know if you know Joseph Kessel. He was a very important journalist in France and also an academic and writer. He wrote a book named “Mogok and the Valley of Rubies.” Its story brought me to the very heart of the most precious gem, and it opened the door to adventures and to the freedom that my profession has bestowed on me to this day. I remember a passage in the book, where the negotiations for the purchase of royal rubies were done with hands. He did it under a sheet. The price was agreed upon by touching each other’s fingertips, away from all indiscretion. I kept this book in my mind and deeply in my heart, and when my mother said, “Well, Sylvie, you have to find a good job,” I went to Lyon and studied gemology, because it seemed to be interesting to my heart. I didn’t know what the stone really was. I didn’t see a lot of jewelry before, but it started this way. In 1985 or some time then, I got my degree. It’s a long, long time ago.
Sylvie: I graduated in 1985.
Sharon: Working with all the beautiful stones that you do, I’m sure that’s come in handy. Were you working with antique jewelry? What got you interested in jewelry then?
Sylvie: It was interesting. As I said about the glassware, it was a question of light. The lights of stones are particularly—when the light is beautiful, when the stones are very translucent, it’s magic; the light is playing, and it’s magic. You can stare at the stone for hours and hours. It’s a way of life. You don’t become a jewelry dealer when you’re born. It’s all life. It’s step by step. It started with antiques, and afterward it went on with antique jewelry. It was a center for antique jewelry. I buy and sell very beautiful and bizarre jewelry, and I bought a lot of loose stones. Because I was a gemologist, I looked for strange, loose stones. I didn’t like to buy traditional, commercial stones. I bought everything nobody wanted.
Sharon: Did that get you into designing? You had the stones, so did you start to design around them?
Sylvie: I had quite a lot of stones in my safe, so it started this way. I was wearing some; I built some jewelry around them and I was wearing it for me, just for me. I was still an antiques dealer, but when I was wearing my own jewelry, the ones that I created, people wanted to buy it. It started this way. So, I sold one; I’d create a new one. I wore it. I wore it again. I sold it again. It started this way, step by step.
Sharon: It’s such a big step to have your own jewelry design gallery and shop. What motivated you to do that?
Sylvie: What is motivating me?
Sharon: Why did you go out on your own? What happened that you said, “I have to open my own jewelry shop”?
Sylvie: Because I am a free-minded, very independent girl. I never had a boss over me. I can’t stand orders. I’m very indefinite, and I never worked for someone except for me. This is my character; you cannot explain it. To stay in the present, you have to work hard, and so I’m a hard worker.
Sharon: You work in very unusual materials. What inspires your designs? Do you look at the gem and then an immediate design appears to you? Or is it the other way around, you design something and then you look for a gem?
Sylvie: There are two ways to create. One way is to design. You create from nothing; you design. The other way is to create by buying a stone. For me, I can do both, but my favorite is to start by buying the stone. I see something and immediately my heart is taken, and I buy the stone or I buy the lot. I can buy 100 carats just for one stone. It’s a lot. I take this stone, and it’s like you’re falling down the same way; it’s something electric, the stone and you and your heart.
Sharon: For instance—people listening right now can’t see it—right now you have a beautiful neckpiece on with a lot of stones. Did those stones talk to you and say, “This is how we should be put together,” or did you say, “I’m going to do a really fabulous neckpiece”?
Sylvie: I said that it would make a marvelous necklace. It’s not exactly this way. About this necklace, I wanted to make it—I do jewelry for me first, and I had a beautiful abalone. It’s the mother of pearl inside the shell, the shell abalone, and I had very dark purple, pink, reflective abalone. I’m very fond of the reflection of the moon on the sea, and I liked this very much. It the same if you paint. I make a painting with the moon. The moon was of abalone, and I had a lot of diamonds of different sizes, different cuts, different quality, different colors, and I put all the diamonds in like a knife. I’ll show you. Do you see it very well or not? Voila!
Sylvie: These are abalone, and you see the reflection of the sea.
Sharon: Yes, I thought it was gold. Is the abalone set in gold?
Sylvie: It’s all set in vermeil. It’s about 300 grams of vermeil. 300 grams of vermeil is half a kilo of gold, so it’s too much. It’s not 300; it’s 200, but gold is much heavier than vermeil. I chose vermeil not because it was cheaper; I chose vermeil to be comfortable to wear it.
Sharon: Right, that’s marvelous. People must stop you on the street and say, “Oh my gosh!”
Sylvie: Yes, I wear it quite often on the street. I always wear a scarf or something, but when I pull off the scarf and when I see my friends, yes, they say that.
Sharon: You recently started working with bamboo. You made bamboo earrings.
Sylvie: Yes, the bamboo earrings. You asked me questions about the earrings.
Sharon: You said—and maybe I’m just believing marketing material—but you said that earrings hold a special place in your work. You like to do earrings.
Sylvie: Of course I like to do earrings because I love faces. It fascinates me. I love to create earrings, which are jewels that not only highlight the face of the wearer, but the person that sees them. This is the only jewelry—maybe except for the necklace—that you cannot see. When you wear rings, you’re wearing something for you. When you wear earrings, it makes your face beautiful. It gives you the light, and this is for the one who looks at you.
Sharon: That’s interesting.
Sylvie: This is why I like to make earrings. I’m also very interested in working on pendants and movement, and earrings are the best jewelry to experiment with this. Most of the earrings you see are straight and rigid. Earrings should be only movement.
Sharon: Your recent collection had bamboo earrings. What made you decide you wanted to try working with bamboo?
Sylvie: I composed a bamboo necklace and about three pairs of oversize earrings. I called it the “Jardin Suspendu,” suspended garden. It’s a reference to the Gardens of Babylon. I called this “Jardin Suspendu of Babylon” because I put a lot of insects, flowers and leaves on the bamboo hoops, and so it reminded me of Babylon and the gardens. I’ve never seen Babylon, and nobody has seen the Babylon Gardens. I imagine they could be this way. And bamboo material, it bends but never breaks. I always like to mix symbols and jewelry. Each piece is adorned with animals and flowers, with a lot of diamonds and precious stones, but behind these there’s a symbol. In French we say, “Je plie mais je ne casse pas,” “I bend, but I don’t break.” It’s the philosophy of now. You have to write that to yourself at this moment.
Sharon: Yes, it’s a very interesting time. We are all having to adapt. When did you move into the Marché Paul Bert? When did you move into what we call a flea market?
Sylvie: I have been at the flea market since the last century. I’m an old dealer. I started with the Marché Paul Bert in 1985. I set up shopping at the flea market when I was a very young dealer. I started with antiques, not very much with jewelry, but many people don’t know that the flea market attracts exceptional clientele that is knowledgeable and often ahead of the latest trends. I couldn’t think of a better place to set up my boutique, where to this day I present my creations. Marché Paul Bert is very, very well-known, and this is the place where I met you.
Sharon: Yes, and you’re still in the same place, right?
Sharon: You have a beautiful—I’ll call it a salon and gallery. It’s more than a flea market stall. It’s beautiful.
Sylvie: The flea market is open two days per week. I’m more a designer than a dealer, so this is enough to open my shop.
Sharon: What advice would you give jewelry designers who are just starting out? You’ve been so successful in taking risks. What advice would you give jewelry designers who are starting out today, young jewelry designers?
Sylvie: You want to know my advice for a young jeweler?
Sharon: Or for emerging jewelers just starting out.
Sylvie: As I said, we don’t have advice, but beginnings are always mysterious and some qualities have always been indispensable. I think the first one is to be passionate. You have to be passionate, determined and disciplined. Discipline is the mother of success. It’s a word of Aeschylus. The builder must be determined in his project, and he is the one who finds no excuse not to move forward. You also have to be organized, but not narrow-minded because you need to dream. It’s necessary to combine planning and dreaming. Don’t be afraid of running out of money, which happens very often. The department store buyers don’t buy; they use consignment and pay with long terms, so you have to be tough with money. You need self-confidence. You have to know how to accept defeat and failures and bounce back from them. It’s also necessary to know how to accept criticism and never get discouraged. When everything seems to be against you, remember the plane takes off facing the wind and not with it. This is a phrase of Henry Ford. I remember this, a phrase I heard when I was very young. A designer has to be creative. The most creative people succeed, I think. We are not talking about a new Picasso, but we’re talking about doing things differently from the others, always according to one’s own thinking. What else? Make your own decisions. Make the decision to make decisions. Accept that you will make mistakes when faced with these choices, but one thing is certain: always act. You have to have a lot of quality to be independent now, especially when you are a woman.
Sharon: Do you think it was harder for you because you are a woman?
Sylvie: It’s harder, yes. Originally jewelry was a men’s job. The business of stones was only men. The business of art was only men. The business of jewelry design was only men, except for a few women, but who else? Paloma Picasso for Tiffany, and she was Picasso’s daughter, and well, it helps.
Sharon: I’m sorry, who’s Picasso’s daughter? I missed that.
Sylvie: Paloma Picasso, who came later, much later. Women rose in the jewelry business not so long ago.
Sharon: Right, O.K. Where do you want to go from here, Sylvie? Is there a next step?
Sylvie: The next step is because I’ve worked hard, I built my activities step by step, as I told you at the beginning. I design about 50 different models per year. Most of them are one-of-a-kind, with very few being limited editions, and each design is very different from the others. So, I propose a universe composed of jewelry, but also of culture, writing, music, reference to the world of art. I want to grow, but without getting fat. It makes my development very selective. I choose my collaborators with a lot of invention. I happen to be respectful of my work, my investment and my collectors. I am lucky to have a smart, stylist and loyal clientele, local and international. It seems that they’re seeking a kind of intimate experience in my universe. I don’t want to betray their trust. To respond to your question, growing without getting fat. Those matters are not the main goal for me.
Sharon: I love how thoughtful you are about each thing. As you say, disciplined about your choices and what you want to do. It’s a good reminder not to spread yourself too thin. Sylvie, thank you so much for being with us. It’s such a treat to talk with you.
Sylvie: Thank you. I remember very well when we met a long time ago.
Sharon: Oh my gosh, it was a long time.
Sylvie: Six months. I’ve been blessed with a good memory.
Sharon: For everybody listening, we’ll have some pictures of Sylvie’s work when we post the podcast. Hopefully we’ll have a picture of this glorious necklace she’s wearing. That’s it for today’s episode of the Jewelry Journey Podcast. You can download this wherever you download your podcasts, and please rate us. We’ll be back next time with another jewelry industry professional who will share their experience and expertise. Thank you so much for listening.
Sylvie: Thank you very much Sharon and the American people.