ISLE Jewellery: Two sisters, two countries, one vision

Photo of ISLE Jewellery: Two sisters, two countries, one vision

ISLE is a contemporary jewellery brand and a collaboration between two sisters - one living in Belfast in Northern Ireland and one in Japan. Here we speak to Geraldine, one half of the brand, from her home in Tokyo, about working with her sister Helen, designing together at opposite ends of the world and about their upcoming projects and products. 

Photo of ISLE Jewellery: Two sisters, two countries, one vision

Tell us about ISLE and your individual backgrounds?

ISLE has evolved a lot over the years. It began as a Japanese company working with a friend with the goal of introducing more Irish culture to the Japanese market. My friend couldn’t continue working on this project, and, although it was a disappointment at the time, my sister Helen stepped in. We took elements of the original idea and created a new company which is based in Ireland.

I studied Metalsmithing and Jewellery at the University of Ulster in Belfast, became a Fine Art teacher in England, then later moved to Japan and taught English here. My sister studied Structural Engineering.

Our jewellery doesn't shout, but it has a lot to say

How do you run a business and a jewellery design practice from two different countries?

It’s certainly not easy. The fact that we are so close as sisters means that it is possible, despite the physical distance. A positive side-effect of our situation is that I can introduce little elements of Japanese design and culture to our customers in Ireland and the UK. The dual location means our point of view is slightly different to other jewellery brands.

Photo of ISLE Jewellery: Two sisters, two countries, one vision

What are the benefits or challenges of working together as siblings?

There are only good points! Perhaps we talk about ISLE a little too much and the lines are blurred between work, friendship and family, but we both really enjoy it so it doesn’t feel like work - it’s our passion.

Helen understands what I’m talking about with very few words being spoken. We have similar tastes but our tastes are different enough that we can challenge each other. Helen is bossy in a way that only big sisters can be and I need the push she gives me to stay creatively focused!

Photo of ISLE Jewellery: Two sisters, two countries, one vision

How does the design process work? Do you use email and Skype or specific online collaboration tools?

While I’m not in Ireland there is a constant stream of visual exchange through the chat functions on Pinterest and Instagram. We also use email, but mainly chat through a messaging app called Line that is popular in Japan and Korea. It’s not unusual for us to be simultaneously discussing designs and sending images to each other over three different communication platforms at any one time. 

Photo of ISLE Jewellery: Two sisters, two countries, one vision

While you describe your jewellery as inspired by Ireland and by nature, this inspiration is not overt in the designs. Is this subtly of influence something you consciously examine during the design process? 

My main intention is to make beautiful jewellery that looks and feels good. I want our customers to have an instant visual reaction to the pieces. Discovering the layers of narrative then adds a deeper connection between the jewellery and the wearer. 

The inspiration behind the piece, the precious material, the handmade nature of it, the packaging and the presentation, although all incredibly important, are secondary to the instant spark of attraction you feel towards an object or form. It’s a kind of 'love at first sight' and then a deeper relationship forms that we hope will grow over time.

Photo of ISLE Jewellery: Two sisters, two countries, one vision

How have your studies and your Irishness influenced this idea?

During my degree, and before ISLE was established, I would have described myself as a conceptual jewellery designer. I made jewellery that couldn’t be worn. At that time ‘wearability’ was not as important to me as the concept and the story the piece of jewellery represented. In the early days, creating wearable, yet meaningful, jewellery for ISLE was a challenge. It’s a very difficult balance. 

Each of our collections to date has a physical and conceptual link to Ireland. The starting point each time has been an experience or an image from our local landscape. I guess being so far from home, it was something I was compelled to work through in my designs.

Photo of ISLE Jewellery: Two sisters, two countries, one vision

Do have a typical customer? 

Our customer is anyone who appreciates the subtlety of what we are trying to do. We focus on the materials and on quiet design details. Our jewellery doesn’t shout, but has a lot to say. We work in solid gold and solid silver - focusing on quality rather than volume. We have, incidentally, found that a lot of our customers are designers, photographers and architects. 

Photo of ISLE Jewellery: Two sisters, two countries, one vision

What can we look forward to in the short-term from ISLE?

We have a couple of new additions to our popular Fionn range that we will be adding over the next couple of weeks. We are releasing some totally new mini-collections (think classics with a twist) this summer. We have recently obtained some great new international stockists and have plans in the pipeline for a collaboration with an Irish designer whose aesthetic really compliments ours (all will be revealed!). ISLE has a very exciting six months ahead. Watch this space. 

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