Jeweller Bec Astley Clarke on her inspirations

Astley Clarke, jeweller. Picture: Contributed
Astley Clarke, jeweller. Picture: Contributed
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HER childhood was one surrounded by academics, explorers and politicians. Her grandfather, the geneticist Sir Cyril Astley Clarke, discovered the cure for rhesus negative babies, thanks in part to his hobby of collecting butterflies (his extensive collection is now housed in London’s Natural History Museum).

Her father, Dr Charles Astley Clarke, was chief medical officer on the first ascent of the south-west face of Everest in 1975, and Bec Astley Clarke herself, though not a mountaineer, has accompanied him on occasion.

“In 2004 I was on an expedition to uncharted territory in the Himalayas,” she says, “which was amazing.”

But rather than follow her family into either genetics, medicine or adventure, Clarke was destined instead for the world of business – and for beautiful things.

She studied politics and philosophy for four years at Edinburgh University and says: “I love the city. My heart is in Edinburgh and I almost can’t go back because it chokes me. It’s small but cosmopolitan, it has layers of things going on, and the architecture’s so beautiful. I also loved my degree course, so it made for a very happy time.

“But,” she adds, “it is very cold, so I will never live in Scotland. I can barely bring myself to live in London.”

She went on to work as a management consultant and for e-commerce companies, always steering herself towards the luxury end of the market. But when she founded online jeweller Astley Clarke in 2007, she knew she had come home.

“It reawakened in me quite a few thoughts about my childhood and my grandmother’s jewellery,” she says, “and all of these wonderful gemstones. I really wanted to start a brand that celebrated the coloured gemstone.

“Women have been conditioned to like diamonds because the big diamond companies have told us we should. My grandmother’s engagement ring was a sapphire, and in Victorian times it wasn’t diamonds you got, it was rubies, sapphires and emeralds. We sell 35 different coloured gemstones – I love them all. They’re super-precious and some of them are rarer than diamonds.”

But what started out as a site selling lots of different brands has grown into an 85 per cent own-label collection, thanks to the recruitment three years ago of another Edinburgh graduate, creative director Lorna Watson.

This month, it is set to launch its latest fine jewellery range, which is influenced by elements of both the butterflies and the mountaineering that form so much of her heritage.

“The butterfly is core to our brand DNA,” she says. “The wings are in our giftwrap and in our monogram. And our Woven collection is inspired by my dad’s mountain ropes. We found a workshop in Italy that used woven gold and replicated some of the knots in pieces of jewellery.

“But our collections are inspired by all sorts of things,” she adds. “For the Colour collection – which features stacking rings and bangles – we’ve had 12 different enamel colours hand mixed, from Thundercloud to Duck Egg to Cajun Shrimp, and that is pretty much inspired by things that I, our creative director and our design team see on a daily basis. We have a very popular enamel colour called Midnight, which is actually the colour of the entrance to our showroom.”

She combines her colourful business with caring for five-year-old son Thor and one-and-a-half-year-old Delilah. “My mother-in-law looks after the children during the day and my husband does an awful lot, and works from home,” she says. “Basically I am very spoiled.”

And early next month she is set to receive an MBE. She’s still undecided about the dress code. “What jewellery do you wear to see the Queen? That’s the big question,” she muses. “I think I know but I’m not telling anyone.” n

Twitter: @Ruth_Lesley