Caroline Gaspard, founder of jewellers Akillis, talks about AK47s, dirty girls and fast cars
The French designer explains why never going to jewellery school was a good thing, and how a Russian shooting range inspired a collection
I started making jewellery when I was 10 years old. A friend of my father’s sold diamonds and emeralds. He would visit and bring little stones with him such as amethysts and morganite. The process and how he turned the stones into bracelets and rings fascinated me.
This was the starting point of jewellery for me. When I was 17 my relatives, friends and family asked me to create special pieces for them. I started with men’s bracelets because it’s difficult to find beautiful jewellery for men. One of the first was a bracelet I called the King George that I made for my father.
I went to business school. It’s useful, because you become aware of other sides of business you wouldn’t normally think about. Running a jewellery brand, there are so many fun things to do – design the collection, create images with the product, find the right models, go to parties. But you also have to deal with the financial part and hiring and firing people.
When I finished business school, I did a survey on why people buy jewellery and luxury watches. I discovered that it’s because they want to give people a message. There is always a message behind the jewellery or behind the luxury goods people buy.
I started my jewellery line when I was 25. Our pieces are not like your mother’s or your grandmother’s jewels that you keep in a safe. They are jewels you wear every day.
My first line was called Puzzle. It seems logical to have pieces of the puzzle, because life is like a puzzle. And when you meet your boyfriend or girlfriend, it’s like you have found the missing piece in your life. It’s different, and it’s very symbolic of life.
The idea for the AK collection came when I was in Russia. One time I was in high heels and a leather jacket, firing a gun at a shooting range. There was a lot of adrenaline. Afterwards, I took the empty bullet casings as a souvenir, which then inspired the collection. Our unisex bullet line is our bestselling collection.
Everything from Akillis is made in France at our workshop in Lyons. Our workshop is the biggest in France. We have 200 people working to produce 3,000 pieces of jewellery a month. Everything is done by hand, including setting the diamonds.
I remember going into Chopard looking for a watch, but I wasn’t happy with what they had. I asked if I could have mother of pearl, which technically is not that hard to use. They told me they didn’t do special orders, which I thought was strange. My customers can have what they want.
While design is important, you also need to have good quality manufacturing. We use diamonds from GVS jewellers, so they are good quality. We use six-point settings instead of four, so the diamonds are unlikely to fall out.
I have learned a lot about the technical side of jewellery from our craftsmen. We talk and meet a lot because I want crazy things. Every time, they say: “Caroline, what are you thinking? It’s not possible.” I think when you go to jewellery school, they teach you how to think, how to imagine jewellery. And because I didn’t go to jewellery school, I have a crazy and bold imagination.
I like to live life on the edge. I do a lot of active sports, such as tennis, skiing, water skiing and kite surfing. I even take part in show jumping competitions. Anything that’s fast and dangerous. I love to drive cars very fast, too. I drove 320km/h last Sunday in the north of France. I could have gone to jail.
Akillis is expanding globally. In addition to our beautiful flagship store in Paris, we have 25 multibrand shops selling our jewellery in 10 countries. Our products are available in Hong Kong at The Lavish Attic. This is our first step into Asia.