Manon Barelli is the founder of Barelli Manon, a jewellery label based in Antwerp handcrafting unique pieces in silver and white gold, incorporating pearls and gemstones.
We chatted with Manon to discover how her love for jewellery started, the inspirations behind her designs and how a city with such an long history in fashion influences her work.
Photos by Eva Donckers & interview by Future Positive
What are your first memories associated with jewellery? What was the first piece of jewellery you ever designed?
I do not own many pieces of jewellery myself, the pieces that I have are almost all connected to a beautiful moment or memory. That’s what I like about jewellery, I often see it as small pieces of art that you can wear, each with its own story. I think that makes me an emotional jewellery owner.
In Namibia I once bought a necklace, made of different stones – a piece that will always remind me of my journey through East and South Africa. It is a piece that I would not wear quickly, I rather see it as an object that I integrate into my interior. An object that I like to look at.
From my grandmother I got a bracelet, which she received from her grandmother for her 18th birthday. A beautiful timeless piece. I hope that my jewellery will also be passed on like this and will be connected to a beautiful gesture or a nice memory.
The first earrings that I ever designed arose immediately from the moment I learned one of the first basic techniques in my training as a goldsmith. It is a U-shaped model where each pair is engraved by hand. I was quite enthusiastic about my learning process as a goldsmith. After every new technique I learned, I always started looking for new designs to apply these techniques. You see more techniques appearing in my latest designs than in my first designs.
Can you tell us about your education and background? Why did you decide to work in a creative field?
I have always liked being creative and working with my hands. After finishing my studies in interior design I wanted to learn a real craft. This, in combination with my fondness for jewellery, made me choose quickly.
In the beginning I saw the training mainly as something I wanted to do for myself. In the first instance it was never the intention to exercise this on an independent basis. But due to the growing interest among the people around me, I came into a sort of express train and after three months I had my own online shop.
Can you take us through your design process? How does a drawing become a handmade piece of jewellery?
A jewel usually comes to me after it has been in my head for a long time. If I have a more concrete idea of how I want to process a certain form in a jewel, I switch to paper and start sketching. The search for the perfect proportion then begins. I love to collect these sketches – often unused sketches can give good ideas for new designs. From the moment I feel that everything is right and I get very excited, I can’t wait to make them in brass. Then, when everything is completely correct, I work it out in silver or another precious metal.
Can you tell us more about the materials you use in your designs? Is there any particular material you’d like to incorporate into your pieces in the future?
Currently I make most of my designs in silver. I make pieces on demand in other materials, such as white gold. I also like to incorporate pearls into my designs. I like to search for designs where the pearls lose their ‘dusty’ feeling, to play with their classical and contemporary image.
In the future I would like to release an extra line with more exclusive items. A line with a limited number of pieces, which is really made to the customer’s size.
I also love going on stone hunts. There’s nothing better than finding the perfect design for a beautiful gemstone. In the meantime, I need to give myself the freedom to make something totally different. It is always a challenge to find the perfect design for a particular stone. And even better afterwards when you can wear it.
What are some of the inspirations behind your designs?
Something you often see returning to my designs are forms inspired by the shape of an omelette. You can find this in almost all my designs. I also enjoy searching through everyday scenes for interesting patterns that inspire me. This way I remain constantly alert and busy with the design process. Somehow it gives me a nice and quiet feeling, the fact that I always have the opportunity to come up with a new idea or design.
A jewel does not have to be too serious for me, it may be an object that stands out. Everything is already enough serious. Furthermore, the atmosphere that a jewel radiates is also of great importance for me. My next collection will be inspired by perfume bottles from the beginning and mid 1900s – an ode to my native region, Grasse (south of France). I will try to incorporate the feminine atmosphere and interesting, refined designs into a limited collection. I am very much looking forward to going into this and looking for the perfect forms. It will be a collection with a classic feeling and a contemporary twist.
How do you describe your pieces? And your customers?
Feminine, elegant and timeless with a twist. My clients range from young to old, women who know what they want and are looking for something different. The best thing is to come across women who wear my jewellery, see them enjoy it and giving them that extra bit of sparkle.
Antwerp has a long history in jewellery and fashion – does the city influence your work in any way?
I am very happy that I have followed my training as a goldsmith in Antwerp and have lived here since then. As an emerging designer, Antwerp seems to me the perfect city to start. There are so many interesting influences that come from everywhere. I think that this creative movement certainly encourages me to continue to grow in what I do.
What are your plans for the upcoming months? How do you see Barelli Manon growing in the future?
I try to do everything in small steps, sometimes I want to go too fast and I have to pull myself back into the present. For the future I try not to look too far, that way everything remains possible. The next thing to come is my first collection, which will be released in September or October. It will be inspired by my birthplace in Grasse. I am going to focus on that and I am currently, and slowly, looking for a suitable store for my jewellery. That is the first thing that is on the agenda.
What are some of your favourite places in Antwerp?
I like going to Walvis for a delicious lunch, hanging out at Pakt for good coffee, wander around in het groene kwartier and I’m lucky to live close to Boelaarpark. For shopping I like going and having a look at Fred + Ginger Labo, they have a nice selection of brands, and it’s a wonderful store to wander around. If I’m in for beautiful vintage design pieces I like visiting Rozier41.