LONDON — Moroccan-born jewelery designer Bernard Delettrez has always had a fascination with stones and jewellery. Maybe it was even in his genes.
“Always. Always, always, always, always,” he said on a video call from Rome, where he now resides. “When I was young, I was always in front of the Cartier windows, you know, or the Boucheron window. I was so fascinated and I never understood why.”
Then one day in the mid-1980s, at a flea market in Paris, he found a jewelry box with the name of Georges Delettrez, his great-great-grandfather, in it. He later learned that the elderly Mr. Delettrez had also been a jeweler. “I was so happy,” said Bernard Delettrez.
Mr. Delettrez, 69, moved to Paris with his family when he was 6 years old. The movement continued: He worked as a screenwriter in Los Angeles in his twenties, graduated from the Gemological Institute of America in Carlsbad, California in the late 1970s, before moving to Brazil to work in an emerald mine. That job didn’t last long, so he opened and financed his own factory, he said, while cutting emeralds in Rio de Janeiro and making jewelry for big companies like H.Stern. “This was the beginning of my career,” he said.
But he began to feel that making jewelry in general was more than simply putting a stone in a setting. “In terms of jewelry, I wasn’t happy at all,” he said, adding that he was more interested in exploring unusual materials, such as rock crystal, onyx, mother-of-pearl and enamel.
So, while commuting between Rio and Rome for several years, he moved his base to Italy and started his own venture, creating the Delettrez brand and opening five stores, one at a time, across Europe, he said.
But in the early 1990s, the company was inconsistent and sold its stores. From a workshop in Rome, he began working for several brands while developing his own fine jewelry line.
In 2007, his daughter, Delfina Delettrez Fendi, followed in his footsteps and founded her own jewelry line at the age of 19. (Her mother is Italian fashion designer Silvia Venturini Fendi.)
“I said, ‘But you had to follow your mother in fashion,'” Mr. Delettrez noted.
By this time, he had begun to notice the rise of fashion jewelry (often referred to as costume jewelry and usually less expensive than fine jewelry).
“I understood that fashion jewelry was extremely important and the brand I had before was not compatible,” he said. He felt “so crazy to redo my own work”, which prompted him to create the Bernard Delettrez brand in 2010.
He opened a Bernard Delettrez store in central Rome in 2015 and established the brand’s first outpost in London in 2022, on South Molton Street in the Mayfair area.
His signature motifs include skulls, lips, eyes and animals – often with smiling faces. Prices range from £55, or $69, for a single silver-backed pearl earring in the fashion line, to £65,000 for the diamond snake chain among its fine jewelery designs.
The brand is known for its bold and playful approach to jewelery and the colorful use of stones. Fluorite and amethyst are some of the stones he uses most, and he likes white diamonds least, he said, because they’re “dull.”
His style was described as “eclectic and unique” by London-based fashion stylist Jennifer Michalski-Bray.
She said she was “really intrigued” by the pieces when she was introduced to the brand at a media day last year. It was “so different from any other jewelry I’ve come across,” she said, and it “almost has something dark about it.”
“I think it’s really clear in his designs that he had a well-traveled and very unique upbringing,” she said.
She has used Bernard Delettrez jewelry to style some of her celebrity clients, including London-based Canadian comedian Katherine Ryan, who wore lip-patterned rings and earrings, and British actress Anna Leong Brophy, who wore several rings featuring skulls, snakes , birdclaw and articulated designs, as well as a pair of hoop earrings.
To produce his fine and fashionable jewellery, Mr. Delettrez employs a team of about 60 people in his workshop in Rome. He first sketches his designs, which are created in wax molds used to make prototypes. He then checks and makes any adjustments before the design becomes final. According to the company, a new collection is added about every six months, usually consisting of about 80 fashion jewelry designs and 30 to 40 fine jewelry designs. Typically, for one-of-a-kind creations, it’s the stone that will dictate the design, he said.
“Inspiration is very strange because you can’t control it,” he said, adding that he might be inspired by the goth for a few months, but another two months will be all about flowers and then bugs.
While he declined to release sales figures, Mr. Delettrez that the London store was doing well and that he planned to open one in Tripoli, Libya, this fall.
“This is the new technique,” he said. “Because I want to have a relationship with the customer who will wear the jewellery. If you have a number of flagship stores, you understand everything, then it is easier for me to design.”