Shore touch: Rebecca Hawkins, head of design at Boodles
by Edwina Ings-Chambers
Tides and coastal landscapes have inspired Rebecca Hawkins’ latest Boodles fine jewellery collection, says Edwina Ings-Chambers...
Oh the life of an ocean wave, particularly one that has been realised in all its glory in platinum and diamonds by Boodles. The creative powerhouse behind the Tide, and the other eight suites of jewellery that make up the Poetry of Landscape collection, is Rebecca Hawkins, Boodles’ long-standing in-house head of design. The gently spoken 52-year-old is Boodles’ driving force. She’s held the role (which is only her second job) for the past 27 years and is the woman responsible for creating the distinguished house aesthetic, turning Boodles into a top ranking player in the high jewellery stakes.
She has some stellar achievements to her name. One of the rings from the house’s signature Raindance collection resides in the V&A’s permanent jewellery collection. “It was one of the highlights of my career,” she says demurely about the accolade. “I wear my Raindance ring every day. I like to have pieces I can wear all the time.” She means it. When we meet she’s also wearing a Sophie ring and bracelet, a Circus necklace and two of her own pieces: a simple emerald cut diamond bracelet and a Tahitian pearl drop on a long chain.
Yet she, like the brand, is sophisticatedly understated. Perhaps that’s why it’s so popular with those low-key intelligentsia A-listers, such as Emma Thompson, when they take to the red carpet. Or why the cerebral and beautiful Sophie Dahl (pictured top) is the house muse with her own line.
Despite Hawkins’ obvious skill, it seems to be oddly tricky for her to give a simple strapline definition of their aesthetic. Circular and scalloped shapes, double strands that separate and come together, brilliant cuts in bezel settings, an approach to objects of inspiration that’s more abstract than figurative: these are all house characteristics she trots out, but essentially “it’s fairly intuitive” work and, after all this time, is second nature to her.
Nature itself is a recurring theme. “This whole collection is based on the British landscape and different aspects of it seen through my eyes as I’ve travelled around, taking photographs and sketches as I’ve gone,” explains Hawkins in her studio in Liverpool, the place where this still family-owned firm has had its roots since 1798. This is common practice for her as she has a well established habit of collecting imagery wherever she goes on the off chance that one day it will inspire her design process. Often her travels take her to a coast at home and abroad, particularly because her son is a keen surfer, though she’ll often try to combine the trip with a dose of culture. For this project she was “also seeing through the eyes of Britain’s finest landscape artists and, in particular, Paul Nash. I’ve always liked his work”.
It was a Nash woodblock of waves, which “had a very stylised graphic element to it that I thought would translate well into jewellery”, that especially resonated with her. Hawkins “wanted the design to have a landscape element but very specifically the shoreline, something that connected with the rhythmic pattern that the ocean leaves behind, so as it comes in it leaves that ripple line [on the sand].” The sweep of the lines mirrors how the tide will often approach at an angle; the outer curves of the pieces – from the necklace to the cuff, rings and earrings – seem to drift one into another as if they possess their own ebb and flow.
All the pieces were made at the brand’s London workshop, which is based above its Bond Street boutique, and the Tide pieces took about 1,000 hours to make. The necklace proved to be the most challenging, clocking in at around 400 hours of precision work on its own. “It was all made by hand and was the most complex piece of the entire collection as we had to get all the joints built up bit by bit on a bust so it could keep the exact patterns,” says Hawkins. It was important the necklace shouldn’t just look like water but that it should also feel like it. “As the design is about the ocean I didn’t want it to feel solid when picked up.”
So, do the faces in the workroom fall a bit when she turns up, sketches in hand? “I tell myself they like a challenge,” she laughs. She admits to being a perfectionist. “If a stone or motif is repositioned even by one millimetre it can make a big difference to the design’s harmony.”
And the challenges come thick and fast. A high jewellery collection such as this is released bi-annually, but many other special designs and additions to signature collections will drop in throughout the year. They often have a water theme too. Take last year’s Prism, which was inspired by the sails of boats in the wind and the abstract work of Sonia Delaunay, with the nautical nuances translated into colourful stones including vibrant yellow beryls, lime green peridots and fiery pink rubellites. For yachting folk there’s the Knot collection too, which is inspired by a classic sailor’s knot.
“I love water as a theme because I feel it’s ever changing, it’s always reflective of its surroundings,” says Hawkins. She’ll most often use white diamonds to convey the watery aesthetic: “You get that sense of reflection. [It’s about trying] to create that iridescence and light.” And when the design demands it she’ll also deploy those more aquatic associated blue and green stones such as aquamarine, tanzanite and tsavorites.
Pink diamonds, however, are something of a house trademark. “We’ve always loved using them. Nicholas Wainwright [he and his brother Michael now steer the firm] has been a fan for as long as I can remember so we’ll often include a little highlight of pink stones [on a piece].” It appears that to sparkle is a very Boodles pastime but, just like their creator, these unique pieces always do so naturally without ever becoming too ostentatious.