02.02.2015 - Dries Tack

A newcomer on the Belgian jewelry scene, Axelle Delhaye crafts sustainable and delicate pieces, which manage to be playful and intimate at the same time. Patiently searching for antique gold in Belgium and Europe, she assembles her jewels in local ateliers, using laser technology to striking effect. Working exclusively on one-off designs, she defines herself as a “treasure maker”, combining fragments of the past with an informal touch. Despite being a young brand, Axelle Delhaye has already been snapped up by the likes of Icon in Brussels and Irina Khä in Liège. We caught up with the soft-spoken designer in her Brussels apartment, discussing her love of Victorian history, the secretive world of jewelry and why gold is the only way forward.

Your work references the Victorian era. Where does the fascination come from?

Victorian society was extremely codified and there was a prudishness brought on by Queen Victoria, which lasted during her entire reign. What was interesting at that time was the fact that jewelry expressed the mood of the moment and what kind of situation you were in as a person. It was a way for people to communicate without words, each symbol and stone delivering a specific message. There was not a lot of gold around and people mainly used 9 and 14 carat. Later, gold mines were discovered in South Africa, which changed the way jewelry was made.

What about diamonds?

It was a similar process. They became more frequent towards the end of Victoria's reign, as electricity gradually appeared within modern homes. When candles were still lit, women needed to wear more noticeable jewelry in the evening, making the use of diamonds more attractive. When the English discovered Japanese culture and its civilization, insects became prominent figures within jewelry design. The meanings attached to all these symbols are amusing and curious at the same time.

Why did you decide to work with antique gold?

As a child, I was always surrounded with antiques and my grandmother -who made ceramics- had incredible taste, as well as a strong personality. Her objects were beautiful, but I was inspired by how she mixed everything together, finding her own style. I guess her free spirit is reflected in some of my designs. It's not about nostalgia for me, I just love the idea of creating connections between past and present. The narrative dimension of jewelry really appeals to me.

You've already got some reputable stockists here in Belgium. Why do you think they responded to your line so quickly?

I guess my collection is about approaching the past in a different manner. The familiarity aspect is important of course, and I hope people can rediscover certain memories through these objects. Recycling them is a way to keep the stories alive. I transform gold to give it a new purpose.

It seems that gold has never been as popular as it is now. How do you explain its ongoing appeal?

The best thing about gold is how fine it is and how many shapes you can actually create with it. I don't think any other material can be so versatile and satisfying to work with, besides its actual value and the fact that it remains a safe investment.

Did you train in jewelry design?

No, I studied painting at La Cambre, but the loneliness of it eventually caught up with me. I had my own store in Brussels and started making jewelry at that time. The store was successful and I had a good clientèle, but I also needed a fresh start. I understood I wanted to do my own thing.

What excites you in the jewelry world?

I love how mysterious everything is. You don't enter this world easily and you need to have the trust of your suppliers. It's a private and confidential sphere, but I guess I've always loved a challenge.

Philippe Pourhashemi for Belgian Boutique