FUTURE/CRAFT: EVOLUTIONARY VISION

Rebecca Hawkins, head of design at British jewellery house Boodles, on merging new technologies with traditional craftsmanship to expand the boundaries of design

27 April, 2020

Founded in Liverpool and a family business for more than 200 years, Boodles (as it is known today) has played the long race to become one of the leading names in British jewellery design. First established in 1798, it wasn’t until the mid-1960s that the brand began to expand its presence, with the opening of a second boutique in the city of Chester, followed by one in Manchester in 1980.

In the late 1980s, Boodles made the transition from regional jewellers to national brand, opening its first London boutique and presenting the ‘Boodles Trophy’ to HRH The Prince of Wales after his team defeated the Boodles team at Cirencester Polo Club. Today, Boodles operates nine boutiques across the UK and Ireland – including its recently redesigned showroom at The Royal Exchange – but has enjoyed the same headquarters, on the corner of Lord Street and North John Street in Liverpool, since 1920.

Overseeing Boodles’ continuing evolution today is head of design Rebecca Hawkins, who joined the company 30 years ago as the brand’s first in-house designer. Hawkins oversees a team of five who design every piece of Boodles jewellery. She attributes the success of the brand to Boodles being ‘a passionate and dynamic company that’s always looking to introduce new ideas,’ and asserts that ‘high-level craftsmanship and attention to detail is paramount within all of our collections.’

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Merging master craftsmanship with a contemporary approach lies at the heart of the Boodles design ethos. Hawkins explains that ‘as head of design, my role encompasses many different elements, but a key part is developing fresh concepts for our jewellery folios and getting hands on designing for new collections and one-off unique jewels. The Boodles design studio is based in Liverpool, however most of our jewellery is developed in London and, sometimes, by specialist artisans outside of London.’

Hawkins says her favourite part of the job is the early stage of researching and coming up with new ideas. ‘At Boodles, we are constantly looking for ways to improve. Never settling for the first design draft or sample,’ she says. ‘Instead, we are constantly evaluating ways to add extra elements of finesse and subtle nuances within the detail – including diamonds on the inside or the back of a piece, for example. Or ensuring the clasp is more than just functional, but an important part of the design. How our client will experience the piece of jewellery – how it feels but, also how it makes them feel when they wear it – is very important.’

Together with her team, Hawkins oversees a diverse range of commissions and bespoke projects. ‘Half of the team is focused on the bespoke side of the business and half of the team is creating new collections and one-off unique jewels in both high design and classical styles,’ she explains. The team’s intrepid approach and determination to realise the original vision of each and every design requires a collaborative dynamic between the designers and craftspeople, as well as the adoption of new and innovative technologies.

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‘The aesthetic is paramount, even if it makes the craftsmanship more complex to achieve it,’ says Hawkins. ‘The design team will work closely with the goldsmith to ensure the original vision comes through into the finished piece of jewellery. Even when using traditional techniques, a new design will often encounter challenges because that exact design has never been made before.’

Two of the pieces in Boodles’ Always a Story collection demonstrate the way a very modern technique was implemented alongside a very traditional technique, in order to achieve the desired results. ‘The brooch Grenadine in Gold uses traditional vitreous enamel to create a painterly effect on the petals of the frangipane flower,’ Hawkins explains. ‘However, to introduce colour to the legs of the flamingo in The Summer Palace necklace, enamel wasn’t appropriate, so we opted for the modern technique of nanoceramic plating.’

Hawkins clearly feels comfortable embracing new technologies, viewing it as something that expands the creative potential of the Boodles design studio as opposed to anything that threatens the traditional craftsmanship for which the brand is renowned. ‘New equipment advances all the time,’ she attests. ‘We will seek out specialists who are the best in their field and are abreast of the latest technology, as well as the time-honoured traditions of a master craftsperson. A great deal is still done by hand, especially in the later stages of the creation process, but we also use 3D printing to create a model early in the sampling process.’

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As a designer, Hawkins is always looking for the next idea. ‘There is a constant drive to find inspiration – this can be found through travel and visiting exhibitions, but inspiration is all around in patterns of nature, art, architecture, words and poetry. So much is about just remaining open and observant.’

For 2020, Boodles has found fresh inspiration from the British film industry, partnering with a number of films that will be released this year. The first, Misbehaviour, was released in March, with Boodles providing all of the jewellery for the film. Pieces from some of the brand’s most iconic collections – including Roulette, Raindance, Knot and Circus – can be seen adorning leading actors Keeley Hawes and Lesley Manville throughout the movie.

Boodles is also the official jewellery partner for the new Secret Garden movie, due for release this summer and starring Colin Firth and Julie Walters. ‘A reinterpretation of the classic British book and film, this felt like the perfect partnership for us,’ says Hawkins. ‘We have designed an entire jewellery collection inspired by the film. Having a shared vision from the outset and getting a fascinating insight into a different creative world was particularly wonderful.’

 

BOODLES CRAFTSMANSHIP AND DESIGN:

Rebecca Hawkins is head of design at British jewellery house Boodles. Learn more about Boodles’ heritage, iconic jewellery collections and high jewellery creations at boodles.com

Our Future/Craft series explores the skill and creativity that lies at the heart of modern luxury, highlighting the stories behind some of The Royal Exchange’s exceptional retailers and their approach to craftsmanship and innovation