It’s always fascinating to learn why it is that we gravitate toward certain aesthetics, and where that connection stems from. The jewels we adorn ourselves in speak volumes about who we are, and the parts of ourselves we choose to to express. A designer who beautifully embodies one end of the jewelry spectrum, Claire Aristides creates pieces that are grounded in fragility; boldly alluring stones, delicately set in beautifully petite bands.
Claire joined us for lunch at one of our favorite Sydney venues, Bar Machiavelli to talk about where her love of fine jewelry comes from (interestingly her mother's bold, ornate, artful jewelry collections!) the trends she is seeing in engagement jewelry and proposals, and shares some insights into the daunting task of choosing that perfect engagement piece…
Lets start from the start. Where did the Aristides Fine Jewels story begin?
I started my training in an area in London where the traditional jewelers are based. Then when we moved back to Sydney, and while pregnant with my first son, one day I just said to my husband “I’ve actually been working on something at the same time as being pregnant, I’ve got an event and I’m about to launch a cocktail ring range next week, I’ve already got a launch party booked!”
I started originally with the cocktail rings of different shapes and different gem stones which had different meanings. People could pick their own settings, which type of gold they wanted, diamonds and so forth.
Soon enough, our baby came and things started to naturally progress. As I had a small child, I focused on online which meant launching a more traditional collection of earrings, bracelet, necklace and rings. It really just evolved from there.
Where did your fascination of jewelry come from?
It’s a huge cliché but I would say my mother. My family were expats travelling with my dad’s work. We lived in South East Asia and my parents would do a lot of trips. My mum would bring back different pieces of jewellery from all the places they went. I have memories of her coming home wearing an ivory elephant with a diamond eye on a pendant chain. As well as tigers eye beads that she would wrap around as bracelets. I remember she had a red jewellery case which she would carry on the plane with her jewels. As much as it’s a cliché, personally, expressing yourself through jewellery has definitely come from mum.
It’s interesting, as your jewellery is so tiny and delicate that you would say your mother's ornate and bold taste was your founding influencer. That’s quite a juxtaposition...
I think what she fused in me is having a key piece. For instance, the tiger's eye bracelet, it was a fairly classic, long necklace but it was all about the stone. The concept is still very much about the stone, or about the setting or the gold. She also taught me the sentiment of jewelry. My dad would always buy my mum jewelry for different occasions or for when he went away. And she would also buy it to remember the places she had been.
Most people want fine jewelry for weddings, gifts for their hens, a gift for the bride etc. We are all buying jewelry for a reason, so it’s very important and very special.
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That must be such a fulfilling part of what you do, knowing that your piece of jewellery is going to mark that occasion and will remain with that person and their family for a long time.
That puts a pressure on you. It’s not disposable fashion jewelry so it’s very meaningful when they want it. People take a lot of care in making the decision on what to purchase. There is alot of planning, like a wedding they are always so organised.
Do a lot of your clients gravitate toward traditional stones, or do you find yourself educating people about the myriad of different choices there are?
This year I introduced the Aura collection which is all gemstones. I’ve found that people are very, very interested in the meaning of the stones and what that stone might mean for them. Other than that, most people want diamonds, especially black diamonds, they are popular right now.
What part of the process do you love the most, is there a particular moment in your line of work that's etched on your mind?
I really, really enjoy working with the man who is going to propose. I find that he is often really confused, wants to impress his special lady but is really nervous. He wants information because he wants to make an informed decision. So, I really enjoy doing the very best I can for them, asking lots of questions and requesting to see pictures of her.
So how do you replicate that experience on line?
We do a lot by appointment. And we utilise Skype a lot. I have done quite a few engagement rings that way. They just really want someone who understands and can talk and ask questions. For the Skypers- although they want to do a virtual chat, you still need to still offer that personal connection so they feel they can ask questions.
Tell us about your bespoke process…
So we generally we have an initial appointment with a customer. We start with a lot of drawings and sketches to understand exactly what they want. From there we give them an idea on costings and timeframes and a technical drawing is put together. Sometimes we might need to source the stones or the diamonds and timeframes can vary. With fine jewellery, nothing is done quickly. However we can turn things around in two weeks, which for some people sounds like a long time but its actually really fast! The whole bespoke process is very, very personalised. There are a lot of conversations, a lot of emails, a lot of phone calls to make sure that everyone agrees on what is going on.
Do a lot of couples visit the store together these days to purchase engagement pieces? Do women ever come in on their own? Or is it still quite traditional?
Yes we do get a lot of couples. The girls who come in on their own are usually just doing the research and asking for quotes so they know what’s realistic and within their budget.
Does that make you think that romance of selecting a ring has been lost a little bit?
With my girlfriends, often their partners suprised them, and they are now all getting their rings re-done. So that’s not really romantic in some ways. Maybe people are getting what they want first time around now. It’s a bit more perfunctory to start with but the proposal is always still a surprise.
Lastly, what is a piece of advice that somebody has given you that has stuck with you all of your life?
Go with what feels right, go with your instinct.
See the full collection and shop online via the Aristides Fine Jewels website.
Location: Bar Machiavelli, Rushcutters Bay, Sydney NSW