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Designer interview

Charles de Viel Castel

Rooted in the natural world, CVC Stones creates uniquely tactile pieces of jewellery

CVC stones transcends traditional jewellery with handcrafted one-of-a-kind pieces featuring diamonds set in organic stones collected from the world’s most beautiful beaches. Rooted in the natural world, Charles de Viel Castel’s venture into jewellery began when he inherited a single loose diamond from his late grandmother.

The desire to preserve this one stone, led him to another, and the grounds were laid for his contemporary brand of future heirlooms. With a raw romance to his work, Charles de Viel Castel’s uniquely tactile pieces of jewellery exude character and emotion.

You come from quite a different background to jewellery design, can you describe your journey into jewellery?
It was sort of completely by accident. It happened because my grandmother on my father’s side passed away and left two diamonds; one for my cousin and one for me. The one I got wasn’t set, it was a loose diamond, so I had to decide what I was going to do with it. I was single and working in finance, so I had nothing to do with jewellery, but I decided that I wanted to do something creative with it. So the idea came by thinking about ways of mixing it or taking the diamond and setting it into something organic, something natural, and I thought about wood, and then eventually the idea about the pebble came up. When that idea came to me, it was just an idea and most people probably don’t actually act on those kinds of ideas, but I decided to try and push it a little bit further. So, I set out to try and get somebody who would drill the stone and set the diamond. And then I had to find the chain, and then I had to find a bail and design it and design the stone itself, so I sort of did it just as something I was exploring. Eventually, I ended up with five or six small stones that I had done as trials. And I gave one to my mother, and my aunt, and my cousin and my sister. They all loved them and couldn’t believe I was doing this and thought I should do more. And that’s how I, by accident, ended up doing this.

How long did it take to get there?
It took a year and a half. When I first started, it was very hard to find someone who would even listen to me about drilled stones. I went on 47th street and they were all like “we don’t do this” and “why would we drill stones?” That was difficult. When I worked with my diamonds, I started buying them in New York but to get the right prices, I ended up finding someone in Antwerp in Belgium, and then the chain took a really long time too. I traveled to the jewellery fair Baselworld in Switzerland and I found a German supplier of chains that I liked. The combination of all these things took a really long time, but I kept going because I enjoyed doing it.

Have you always been creative or was this your first venture into something creative? 
I think it was my first venture into something creative and definitely in that kind of way, but I really do think that we are all creative one way or another, you just have to be curious. In this case it was probably about perseverance or just bringing the experiment into development. And it was very important to me not to show it to anyone before it was finished. Because I also knew most of my friends and family might discourage me because it wasn’t something that I was supposed to be doing. I waited until I had a finished product to show them.

Maybe we can talk a little bit about the stones themselves? How do you pick your stones?
Originally, my idea was to pick up stones from specific beaches that were sort of magical beaches and that I either had an experience in or that had a connotation that I liked. But then reality hit, and you are actually not allowed to pick pebbles up in random beaches. There are certain rules about certain places where you can and cannot pick up stones. And the second thing was that some of the most beautiful beaches don’t have very nice pebbles. Some of these white sandy beaches don’t have pebbles. So what I do now is I have stones I pick myself and then I have a whole bunch of stones that people I work with pick for me. It is a very unusual group of people in the sense that some of them don’t even know what we do with the stones. We have a character called Milie In South Carolina who I have never met, but she only goes out and pick stones when it is a full moon. Then we have people in Europe in the Mediterranean, in Argentina, all the way to Asia. Another group of stones I get is from people who want to do custom pieces. We have a lot of people who pick up stones from beaches that matter to them, and I love doing that. It shows an extra dimension about the sentimental value of those stones. And I have friends who bring them back now too. It is a strange network of people and unusual characters.

"I really do think that we are all creative one way or another, you just have to be curious."

What is your relationship with nature? I think I read somewhere that you spend a lot of time by the sea?
Moving out to the country, which is by the sea, has been a really wonderful way to discover nature. I am a city boy in the sense that I grew up in Paris and lived in New York. But what’s been really interesting in discovering nature is spending all these seasons outside. I go for long walks with my kids. They love to be outside too obviously, so I guess I have gotten much closer to nature now than I was when I first started CVC stones, and I don’t know if one fed the other or if it was just a happy accident.

Back to the people who you work with; how do you find the right people? The right people to find the stones and the right craftsmen to create the jewellery itself?
It is interesting. My partner in CVC Stones is Cristina, and honestly, she is the diamond in this operation. She was working with me in finance and she actually worked with me on something that had nothing to do with the stones, but I told her about it, and asked if she could help me. So, she is someone who has also come onto this journey with no prior experience and she really learned everything herself. And then when it comes to the people we work with, the setter is someone who has been working for 40 years in the diamond district, it is a very delicate trade because the stones can break quite easily, so it is very difficult work. Then we have our pickers who are people in all places of the world. It is a very small group and I think not knowing everything from the beginning has helped us. It is just the two of us in New York and the setter that has his own business. So we are a very small team and I think that has helped us. When I went to my first meeting at Barney’s, I think if I had been a jeweller by trade, I would have been much more concerned and worried about making the meeting happen in the right way, and here, I sort of had no expectations. I did not feel too much pressure to perform. It wasn’t my job, so it made it quite different. And it also meant that people helped me a lot. I am very grateful for the help I got from my fellow jewellery makers as well as people in the press or in stores that we sell in. They were all very supportive and guided us and helped us and gave us advice and introduced us to different people that then helped us, so I think it is a very nice group of people and I am very grateful for the ones who had experience and shared it, in a really nice way.

Do you think coming from a different background, also helped you not be confined to the same restrictions, in a sense, of what fine jewellery can be?
That’s definitely true, I didn’t have a perfect idea of what was what. It was an experience of discovery because every step was new and difficult and had a bunch of challenges. I think, because I wasn’t designing it to be a product and to be something that was sold, it was literally sort of a test to see if I could do it, and what it would look like to use the stone with my grandmother’s diamond. It had no time constraint, and I wasn’t on a deadline. It really was something that I could do at my own pace and I could wait for the right things to come along. I knew I didn’t want to launch or do this with the wrong chain, and I wanted to design a bail that was very specific, I wanted the stones and designs to look a certain way. Still today, I design every one of the stones that we do, and we do not produce that much, because we want to keep it reasonable in the amount that we produce. We like the fact that everybody has a stone that’s unique and different from everybody else, so it’s a different rhythm than if I had to push by the business side of things.

I guess that also takes out the pressure of doing collections for instance? Since everything is unique there is no such thing as repeating something?
And it gave a bit of frustration in the beginning, because retailers would ask if we were coming to Paris or New York to show what’s new. And even in the subsequent product that we developed, we did a lot of the settings after the traditional stones and we would come out with them when we would come out with them, and show them to our partners and share them on instagram, and that was the way our seasons worked and I think it was awesome to knock that pressure. And the idea behind the pieces is that they are timeless and organic and you want to keep them forever, so it doesn’t really matter if it came out in the spring season 2019.

I am quite intrigued by the contrast between the organic pebble and the precious diamond; something that’s cut and something that’s natural, so how do you feel like these two types of stones speak to each other?
It is interesting, because I too always thought of the diamond as the precious stone because it shines and it is valuable, but I somehow believe now that the precious stone is actually the pebble. They are the ones that are really hard to find in terms of finding the right ones. I spend a lot more time looking at pebbles. I probably get sent tens of thousands a year. Not all physically, I have this format where people send them to me in these A4 pages, white pages on a computer, and they line them all up and I pick the ones that I like, and they send them to me, and out of those I will pick maybe 5 to 10 per cent. So stones that actually end up becoming jewellery is probably one in a 100 or even less. So for me that has become the precious stone. If I find someone new, who I didn’t work with before or someone comes up with pebbles that I have never seen before, which are beautiful, it feels a lot more like discovering a treasure than if I need to find a specific diamond somewhere. That is somewhat more of a commodity. It is interesting to see how that dynamic has changed, and I think combining them has been a way to elevate both of them, and to remind us that they both come from nature. They look very different from one another, and I hope that they complement and elevate each other. And I think people, in this day and age, like to have something that reminds them of nature. You can wear it with a very beautiful dress and you can wear it with a sweater and a pair of jeans. The idea of being able to mix it with whatever you are wearing and to be able to wear it all day and all evening, I think that really resonates with people. Each stone has a name, we name each one, so we really try and personalise them as much as possible, and I think people value the fact that no one else has the same.

I think that also answers or speaks to my last question, which was what the role of jewellery is today? Can you elaborate a bit on that, because I think that is an extension of what you just said.
I am part of a large group of independent small designers that have emerged in the last few years. I think this movement, that happened well before I started, but which I am part of, of independent designers coming up with original ideas, has been able to have a voice and become relevant in places where we’ve never had access to before. We live in a day and world, especially with Instagram, where you have access to many people without having to travel. Jewellery is taking an interesting turn, and people don’t actually want the brand, they want something that is special and unique, something that other people don’t have and in our case, I think the organic side and natural side is a very big component.

And to conclude, what is your absolute favourite beach in the world?
I like waves, I like beaches that have a bit of movement and tide, so I have to admit that right now I have to say the Hamptons where I am, I think the beaches here are quite spectacular, so I would say the beach that’s down the road from where I am now. It has brought me a lot of joy in the last year especially during these difficult times. To be able to go there and be close to the ocean.