29 November 2019
Lydia Courteille: the life of an antique jewelry dealer
Before becoming a designer, Lydia Courteille was an antique jewelry dealer. In fact, she hasn’t made a complete break with her former job…
“During my time as a dealer, I bought around 7,000 antique jewelry items from private individuals or in sales,” says Lydia Courteille. She learned the ropes at Au Vase de Delft, then set up on her own in the early 1980s. Antique jewelry did not have as high a price index as today, and was really for the initiated. Her store/cabinet of curiosities was groaning with marvels: Art Nouveau brooches, Etruscan earrings, 19th century Indian necklaces and more. She presented pieces by Suzanne Belperron early on, and started the trend for vanitases – death’s heads mounted as rings. At the time, Karl Lagerfeld was one of her loyal customers.
A passion for glyptics
In her former profession, Lydia Courteille dealt in hundreds of cameos and intaglios: stones engraved in relief or hollow relief, particularly in vogue during Antiquity and the 19th century. She developed a passion for them… “When they are exquisitely made, they can attain high prices that only a few connoisseurs can appreciate. A fine museum-worthy four-headed cameo can easily command €30,000.” Her favorites are the most extraordinary: those carved not from agate but from precious stones like emerald, sapphire or rubellite.
Today, Lydia Courteille has turned to design: a Baroque-style design tinged with an 18th century spirit. She avoids natural materials, and often draws on her stock of antique components, incorporating them into her designs or giving new life to the precious stones of a rather dull rabbit brooch. “They ended up on one of my cuff bracelets,” she says. A kind of jewelry up-cycling she also applies to cameos, which she reinterprets by having precious stones carved with her own motifs, such as this two-headed eagle, Catherine II or Leda and the Swan.
Lydia Courteille is the guest of the next Evening Conversation of The School of Jewelry Arts