Fresh cut: jeweller Sophie Bille Brahe cultivates Karen Blixen’s floral fascination
Copenhagen-native and jewellery designer Sophie Bille Brahe takes a swim in the North Sea every afternoon. ‘It’s where I feel most inspired,’ she says. ‘To me, the calm Danish coastline is characteristic of the clean, Scandinavian subtlety I aim to capture in my work.’
Until now, Bille Brahe has scarcely deviated from fine, minimal lines. It comes as a surprise, then, that her latest collection is inspired by flowers. Five pear-cut diamond petals encase a striking yellow diamond flowerhead at the end of the Canary Marguerite necklace. The pavé diamond stem of the Pellegrina earring is topped by a five petal flower of brilliant-cut diamonds.
‘For me, flowers represent new beginnings,’ says Bille Brahe, ‘and this collection is a fresh start. It’s more “classic”, using larger diamonds – with my own twist, of course.’ Her gold-set flowers are reminiscent of Robert Mapplethorpe’s poised Y series, or the horticultural prints of German nature photographer Karl Blossfeldt.
Sophie Bille Brahe and collaborator Emelie Johansson, who helped pick organic flowers for Bille Brahe’s pop-up jewellery boutique in Copenhagen
But it's the somewhat unlikely figure of author, and keen florist, Karen Blixen (1885-1962) that compelled Bille Brahe to enter this floral phase. She has been visiting Blixen’s seaside manor since childhood, and feels a deep affinity with her. Now a museum, the residence is filled with flower arrangements rendered in Blixen’s signature style. Bouquets of colourful daisies, tulips and wild grasses fan out dramatically from shallow porcelain vases.
‘The way Karen Blixen stripped tulips!’ enthuses Bille Brahe. ‘She removed all of the leaves, leaving one, very modern stem. She arranged flowers in the same way she lived her life – something I’ve always wanted to do in my jewellery. I want to leave the materials to stand as much as possible on their own.’
It’s a philosophy that has influenced Bille Brahe since she was ten, and started selling jewellery to her mother’s friends – delicate wire earrings tangled with beads, and brooches made from mirror fragments. Even then, she was fascinated by materials, yet didn’t want to over-manipulate them. She has carried this respect into her work with gold and diamonds. ‘I want my jewellery to tell a story – but it has to tell it quietly, as pared back as possible.’ Her floral collection whispers.