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Designer Interview

Brooke Gregson

Otherworldly and unique, Brooke Gregson's dreamy pieces are created from ideas of spirituality, tactility and exceptional craftsmanship

Growing up surrounded by crystals and stones, Brooke Gregson was exposed to the spiritual side of things from a young age. After studying and working with textile design, she slowly transitioned into jewellery design, taking the tactility and her understanding of texture from her background and applying it in jewellery

collections that honour the healing powers of stones and exceptional craftsmanship. Astrology and spirituality are still important to Brooke, whose unique use of outstanding gemstones give her pieces an otherworldly feeling and leaves the wearer with a sense of its protective and grounding powers.

What’s your background and can you describe your journey into jewellery?
Growing up in Los Angeles, you are more exposed to the spiritual side of things. My mother was always very into yoga and spirituality, and she collected crystals and rocks. She would go on trips to Sedona, where you can find rose quartz, agates, crystal phantoms, and she would bring them back with her. It is funny when you look back and ask yourself, ‘how did I get here?’ and it is all of a sudden very obvious, because we literally had a terrace filled with crystals. I was exposed to the spiritual side of rocks and gems through my mother. My father on the other hand was actually a jewellery collector. It was a big part of our family; my great aunt used to collect charm bracelets. My father loved going to jewellery galleries, looking for art deco jewellery, Bakelite, he loved anything that was really unique. He once bought me this Victorian lapis and fire opal necklace, and it was such a unique piece that it took a lot of hard work to find. Jewellery was definitely part of my upbringing, but it didn’t even occur to me that I could become a jewellery designer until I moved to England. 

What did you do before this?
I was an art history major, and funnily enough my first job after college graduating with an art history major, was at the Crystalarium. It is a big crystal shop in Hollywood, and this is when I learned the healing qualities of stones. My life is definitely not linear. After living in Los Angeles, finishing college, I moved to England and started a new life as a textile designer. I went to Chelsea School of Arts studying textiles, and I did work as a textile designer for 3 years. But on the side, I started beading. At first, I could only afford cheaper crystals and I would sell them for 50 dollars to anyone who would even look at them. It was very organic.

When did you decide to do jewellery full-time?
I moved back to Los Angeles and focused on how to do simple metal smithing, taking classes, and upgrading to slightly more expensive stones, semi-precious stones like peridot and apatite. When I started out, it was very cheap, and you could get a tourmaline for almost nothing. It was 3 dollars a carat for something that is now 50 dollars a carat. Today, they are much rarer. I sort of got lucky; I created the astrology collection. It just happened organically. I studied astronomy and then my textile background kicked in, and I had this idea of creating a pendant that mimicked the moon’s surface. That’s when I realised that I could incorporate texture and a concept, creating constellations in diamonds. Having a background in textiles definitely set me apart.

You launched in Los Angeles first?
Yes, exactly, and everyone was doing shiny jewellery at the time. So, this new texture of mine came out at the right time. In 2007, I moved back to London and that’s when I really started to immerse myself in figuring out how to combine textile and fine jewellery. By then, I had upgraded to even more precious stones. I was working with raw diamonds and sapphires, but in unique cuts though. I’ve always enjoyed working with precious gems, but in more organic cuts. When I properly launched in London in 2008, I started the woven gem collection. Again, I think it was just the right time for it. It really caught on well in Europe. Gemstones, gold, and silk for the chain. I look back and I am wowed by how, right out of the gate, I managed to get into great stores. I think it was my west coast sensibility, my love of stones, and their energy. Of course, I tend to go for stones that are good quality, but from my upbringing, being around stones that served a spiritual purpose, I tend to go for stones that have an intrinsic character. I feel like Europe didn’t have a designer like that. Combined with the textile perspective…

"I tend to go for stones that are good quality, but from my upbringing, being around stones that served a spiritual purpose, I tend to go for stones that have an intrinsic character."

It all came together…
Exactly, but it all came together, because it is all my passions. You have to really persevere, because it is rarely instant success.

No, it is always hard work.
It really is. It is about perseverance and being true to yourself. Knowing my strengths though, I’ve learned what sets me apart from other designers. Because it is so competitive, you constantly have to remind yourself who you are as a brand, what your strengths are. Even though, starting out, I used to do my own jewellery, my own link chains, my own metalsmithing, that was my biggest weakness. My strength is designing really. I think it comes from my design and art history background. Therefore, I work with people who are as passionate as me. In London, I found metal smiths who are really passionate about the actual making, and when you bring all of these great minds together; craftsmanship and design, it is the perfect band and you got all the parts working together, and we all have our own passions. I work with the best enamellers and engravers. That’s what keeps me going; you inspire each other. That’s where I am at right now. I am focusing more on really honouring traditional techniques, because it is a dying art, and even though it is much more labour intensive with all the craftsmanship that goes into making my jewellery, it is worth it. It is not easy, but the consumers who like my jewellery, they see the details and they understand the pricing.

But that is what sets it apart, right? All the details, all the hard work that goes into it, the handcrafting…
I’ve always loved gemstones and I’ve always honoured crystals and stones. I didn’t get it back then, but then I turned a corner, and it’s amazing. When you learn more about how long it takes for a gemstone to even want to be made from the earth, it is not easy. Millions of years. The boulder opals, I work with, they literally were formed millions of years ago. It is also kind of a perfect storm, how they were made; when minerals get trapped in the mantel in the earth, and water gets stuck in there, and it slowly evaporates. When you learn more about it, you really start honouring the stones you work with. That’s what it is about for me, honouring the stones and working with craftspeople who have that same ethos.

The meaning attached to each stone, and all the work that goes into it, I think you can feel when there’s so much meaning put into the making of it. The wearer will feel that meaning too.
For me, it has always been about the process, and the energy that everyone puts into a piece of jewellery. It is definitely felt by the wearer, and I have clients who come back to me and tell me that there’s something special about a piece, and when they wear it, they feel grounded. That means a lot to me.

You’ve described the gemstones and your relationship with gemstones, but can you describe how you choose your stones and sources?
I do have a design background, so when I first started, I thought it should come from a design process that I learned in school. I did a collection based on Luis Barragán, who was a Mexican architect, and Nouveau Indian. I did all these drawings, and you dissect it, and you are really strict about the colours that you work with, because of Luis Barragán’s use of colour. I incorporated Mexican muralists, and I tried to be really strict, because in design school, you have to focus on one idea, and then stretch it. But then I realised that sometimes it is good to have your concept, but then be a bit loose. Sometimes, you will go looking for a specific stone, and because Luis Barragán worked with these vibrant colours, I was very interested in just working with fire opal, and raw diamonds, because of his work with stones. Then sometimes, I would find stones that were so unique and special that sometimes I would just have to be a bit loose. I will go to a gem show, and I will come across a stone that can inspire a whole new design. It is important to be fluid.

How about the construction of the pieces?
One of the metalsmiths who I work with is a really amazing engineer. In a way, I feel like I am the architect, and I design it in a certain way, and then he will jump in and tell me that I can’t really put the stone that way, because then people won’t be able to wear it. It is a collaboration, where you can have this design idea, and that’s when you realise that you are not an artist, but a designer. I’ve always wanted to create pieces that have an artistic element, but they have to feel good. If you want people to wear them all the time, they have to be practical and functional.

And how can a stone dictate a collection?
I haven’t been able to work with Tanzanite for a long time, and then this one gem source called and said, ‘look, I just got hold of the most beautiful Tanzanite, and you will just love it.’ Then I had to figure out how to get that Tanzanite into my collection. I think it comes with confidence too. When I first started, I thought I had to stick to certain colours, because they were the ones that worked. The longer you are in it, you realise that sometimes you just become fluid. For me, the more organic of an approach I take to what I do, the better it seems to flow. It becomes more enjoyable for me, and for the people I work with. It is amazing how you have to be very true to yourself. Many years ago, I wanted to do enamel work, but I knew exactly how I wanted the enamel to work with my jewellery. I wanted it to mimic my watercolours. I do a lot of water colouring. I worked with two different enamellers, but they couldn’t create the effect I wanted, so instead of compromising, I stuck to my vision, and waited. Now, I am working with this enameller, and she is the first one I know of who is able to create these ombre effects and do techniques, I’ve never even seen before.  

Which makes it really stand out. Now to something a little bit different, but I think it is important to cover because you have really high standards when it comes to sourcing; the origin of your stones, using recycled gold, etc., it is something that is especially important to you, right? 
When you are honouring the earth, and the stones, you have to consider that. We use 99.9 per cent recycled gold, and it is a really important aspect of my jewellery. It is also important for me to work with gem sources who are not just in it for the money, I don’t like when their stones are just a commodity to be bought and sold. The gem sources, I work with, are just like me. They are passionate about their gems, they source them ethically, and they are part of the Gem Association of America, who have very strict standards. It is very important to me. The longer I am in the business, I have edited my gem sources down to the people who really care about where the gems are sourced, and they have ethical work practices. When you work with stones in the way that I work with gemstones, you have to have this connection. You attract who you are.

What do you perceive the role of jewellery to be today? 
I’ve been really lucky to be in the business for about fifteen years, and I’ve seen something exciting happen. When I first started selling to women, usually they had to talk to their husbands before they bought. Very rarely would I get a woman who would just come in, and if it was over 2000 dollars, wouldn’t have to ask their partner. But now, I feel like women, and people on a whole, they are buying for themselves, to really define their character and who they are intrinsically, and not who they are by what society says they should be. People are buying more honestly, more emotionally. People are taking the time to really know who they are, and jewellery has become an extension of that and that’s really exciting. I feel like women are becoming more independent, and they are really buying something that is an extension of that independence and who they are. And I see that becoming more and more important to them.