Lydia Courteille brings an informed background in antique jewellery into her collections, which intertwine eclectic inspirations and offbeat designs for exciting high jewellery pieces. The jewellery designer’s new collection, unveiled at Paris Couture, draws inspiration from the history of the Silk Road and the mythical character of Iparhan, an 18th century princess who, legend has it, became the first consort of a Qing dynasty emperor.

‘This legend is very well known in China and has made its way into modern cinema and fairy tales,’ says Courteille. ‘In my research and design process, I noticed that very few designers have used jewellery and traditional materials as a means to delve into the rich history of China, though its history is as old and awe-inspiring as that of ancient Egypt. This made jewellery such an exciting medium with which to tell this story.’ The collection is a natural continuation of her ‘Topkapi’ collection, which translated the tales of the historic Topkapi Palace of Istanbul into high jewellery.

Jade and diamond ring

In these new pieces, Iparhan’s portrait is exhibited on a ring, framed in diamonds, sapphires, apatites, aquamarines and cavansites. History is a thread that runs throughout, reflected in the extensive use of jade, the cutting of which is a Chinese tradition stretching back 6,000 years. Rings and earrings nod to these ancient traditions, as does a pendant of a fisherman holding two koi carp, his body drawn in watermelon tourmalines, tsavorites and pink sapphires. The precious gems are embraced alongside more unusual materials, such as a dinosaur gembone, which represents the sands of the Taklamakan desert, and darkly coloured diamonds, which draw the Terracotta Army.

‘I believe that nature is generous, and provides designers with natural wonders – stones that are already works of art,’ says Courteille. ‘For this collection, I loved using Deschutes jasper, and Oregon jasper, which helped to create a sense of theatre in my pieces. I was also drawn to the truly ornamental stones that we can extract from the Earth, such as the boulder opal and the rainbow chrysocolla.’ §

Portrait of a Chinese woman surrounded by precious stones
A necklace depicting the Terracotta army in gemstones