Fashion

In conversation with jewellery connoisseur, Valery Demure

We caught up with her on a recent trip to India

On the morning we were supposed to meet, Valery Demure walked in looking a vision in white. Each piece of jewellery she wore had a story to tell — from the heavy metallic neckpiece that she carried with ease, to the rings that sparkled on her fingers — and Valery narrated them with childlike excitement. Our conversation reinforced everything I had ever read about the jewellery maven - that she has an unparalleled eye, and recognises and nurtures design talent (through her eponymous agency launched in 2005) above all else— Monique Péan, Alice Cicolini, Melanie Georgacopoulos, Alexandra Jefford are her favourites. Someone who has always been vocal about her displeasure towards plagiarism, she strives to build an industry that protects and preserves craft traditions. 

2018 has been noteworthy for her— she launched a curated fine-jewellery shopping concept Objet d’Emotion, at PAD London, this year. She was also able to realise her 30-year old dream of visiting Rajasthan, in 2018. Precious gems, embroidered shawls, a custom-made sari for her daughter, and an itinerary for next time — that’s everything she’s taking back with her.

Excerpts from our insightful conversation:

ELLE: How did the visit to India finally pan out this year?
Valery Demure: It was an accumulation of things: I celebrated a big birthday this year, I also lost my dog. I needed a different scene. I wanted to meet craftsmen: Europe has started to feel a little soulless as everything is so globalised and I thought okay, let’s go and get some nourishment in India.

ELLE: What did you buy on your travels?
VD: I bought six antique skirts, some hand-embroidered shawls, and a sari for my eight-year old daughter which we got made by a tailor in Jodhpur. We went to a beautiful little perfume stall in the city to buy essential oils and perfumes. I obviously got some jewellery and stones, like spinels and sapphires, from Gem Palace. I had a rose motif ring made bespoke with white chalcedony by one of the last surviving minakari artisans in the region, named Assat Kamal. We also came across a beautiful company making handmade paper, so we’re planning to collaborate with them for packaging tissue paper. There was a man in Udaipur creating exquisite miniature paintings, and now we’re bringing back eight of them to London. I’m amazed by your craft, as I knew I would be.

At the perfume stall in Jodhpur

At the perfume stall in Jodhpur

ELLE: You are a fan of bespoke. Would you ever consider designing for others as well?
VD: No, I don’t really design, except for myself. Because we give so much guidance, it becomes a part of what we do. Essentially, it is like creative direction. If a collection comes to me, I can tell you what I would have done differently. I adapt, I mix my expertise and selling skills with the design. We’ve worked on a couple of lines where we were instrumental in the branding, marketing and even shaping of the collection.

Wearing her bespoke rose motif ring

Wearing her bespoke rose-motif ring

ELLE: On what basis do you decide which designers to represent and work with?
VD: So many designers approach us, you have to see whether they are serious about what they do, realistic about the market and how difficult it is. We get a lot of kids out of school who think fashion is glam. You also have designers who have been there for some time and the market has shifted so much that they have revaluate what they are doing. Some jewellers do very nice work, but they are not savvy with the market, they may not be on Instagram. Design often gets diluted when other influences start showing in a creator’s work. When a designer’s work shows me his soul and DNA, I am then interested to consider the line. We do consulting but if I feel we won’t have an effect, I won’t go ahead with it. 

ELLE: How would you compare the European jewellery market with the one in India?
VD: Let me give you an example—when you buy a dress from Sabyasachi, you’re not going to wear a tiny little piece of jewellery with it, you’re going to wear something heavy. Indian jewellery is exquisite, like the enamel work on the back of your earrings—you can almost wear it both ways! You also have beautiful stones, women wear a lot of diamonds. Europeans wear much lighter jewellery. A French woman will have a Cartier bracelet, maybe a little piece from Van Cleef & Arpels. Your jewellery is cultural, while ours reflects a sort of Protestant Catholic attitude where you don’t show your wealth. In Europe as well with the younger generation in the USA, we no longer have jewellery in the safe. We wear it, where maybe in India you have jewellery that stays in the safe until special occasions.  You seem to be a culture of occasions, weddings, family celebrations, we don’t have that so much in Europe.  

The necklace she purchased in Rajasthan and sported at the interview

The necklace she purchased in Rajasthan and sported at the interview

ELLE: You have always been a supporter of craft preservation. Tell us more.
VD:  I bought a beautiful embroidered shawl in Rajasthan for 200 pounds. The same vendor also creates similar pieces for larger international brands where it retails for over 4000 pounds. Who here is making the profit? It’s very easy to calculate. These craftsmen are exploited and working in poor conditions which is how massive that profit is possible. We should make sure these men and women are better paid, empowered and that this field is made lucrative for upcoming generations too. Going a bit further with that, we need to educate people to understand, that this scarf I purchased, for example, wasn’t cheap at all, but it has taken two months of eight hours of embroidery a day to make. People don’t realize that certain things take time and that makes them very precious. When you go to Balenciaga to buy a T shirt for three-four hundred pounds you’re being ripped off completely, but I didn’t feel ripped off here.

With the handmade shawl she purchased

With the handmade shawl she purchased

ELLE: Do you buy a lot of jewellery for your daughter?
VD: Noor Fares gave her a few earrings that are pretty. She also got her first pair of bespoke earrings from Alice Cicolini.  Last year I bought two tiny pink sapphires in Sri Lanka, and got peacock hoop earrings made for her. I’m building a tiny collection for her, but I also want her to appreciate the craftsmanship, so I show her sketches and take her to workshops so she can actually see artisans working on their bench.

While she was picking the fabric to customise a sari for her daughter

While she was picking the fabric to customise a sari for her daughter

ELLE: Which is the one accessory every woman should own?
VD: A brooch. Whatever you wear—a nice coat or jacket, having a beautiful broach is like story telling. My grandmother would always wear one on her coat. It is funnily enough the piece we sell the least in the showroom.

ELLE: What is your favourite piece of jewellery?
VD: It has to be my engagement ring. It was about 12 years ago, my friend Vicki Sarge was developing a range of fine jewellery and I went to visit her when she launched it in Paris. I remember seeing these rings which looked like little pebbles. I tried the rose-gold version on, and I fell in love. I didn’t go for a traditional diamond solitaire. I always wondered if it would age but it hasn’t—I still love it and it’s special that my friend designed it, there are very few of these in the world.

Enjoying the hospitality at her hotel in Rajasthan2

Enjoying the hospitality at her hotel in Rajasthan

ELLE: How should an Indian jewellery designer grow internationally?
VD: He should first travel there to understand what women want and wear, visit a few trade shows and showrooms. He will have to do heavy research because if something works in India it will not necessarily work there. Internationally, be it the USA or Europe, the stones are not everything, design is important. Otherwise you end up being that little brand that’s exotic, but you won’t be selling. A tourist who comes to India will only buy a piece of jewellery as a souvenier, but not to wear everyday. So as a designer you don’t want your line to be a cliché of your culture.