Two days after making the 30-plus hour journey home from Jaipur to Los Angeles last week, I dropped by the John Hardy press preview in Hollywood, Calif., to meet the brand’s creative director, Hollie Bonneville Barden, and see her fall ’17 and spring ’18 collections.
Having joined the storied Balinese jewelry brand in April 2016 at age 29 after spending five years as head designer for De Beers Diamond Jewellers, Barden is new to colored gemstones, lending her a fresh perspective on the wide world of color. “It’s been a journey of discovery in terms of material,” she says. “What I’ve enjoyed is that there was no prescribed language, so for me, it’s been about defining what is our language in stone?”
In a departure from John Hardy’s traditional forte in bangles and cuff bracelets, Barden has widened the brand’s selection of earrings and necklaces. “It’s all about taking us from being a silversmith to a true jewelry house, through category, through material, and now we have three retail stores,” she says, referring to the New York City and Houston boutiques opened last fall, and the newest store, in Los Angeles’ Century City Mall, which bowed in September. Here, Barden dishes on her design philosophy, how she reinterpreted John Hardy’s signature Naga motif, and her glamorous New York–to-Bali lifestyle.
Hollie Bonneville Barden
On splitting her time between New York City and Bali
“I’m in Bali 30 percent of the time. It is an amazing contrast because New York has its vibrancy and also its drama. But then Bali is obviously the source of inspiration.
“I had been to Bali before, about a year before I joined the company. The thing I was struck by is the creativity; you see on the side of the roads carvings and paintings and there’s an abundance of creativity. It’s bred into the Balinese, I think.
“And the color! Every day the offerings and the flowers—since it’s a Hindu island, predominantly, it’s such a beautiful culture to experience. The sense of ceremony, the sense of tranquility, but also the sense of harmony with nature is something that really inspired me, not only at the time, but as I moved into the collections at John Hardy.
I tried to reinforce some of that philosophy, so you’ll find this exotic drama of Bali, but also the harmony, the tension between the materials, that balance and contrast that’s interwoven into Balinese sensibilities and philosophies. There’s color and beauty everywhere.”
Fall 2017 Naga choker necklace in sterling silver with black and blue sapphires and black spinels, $3,900
On working with new materials
“I wanted to do a collection that celebrated the material as nature intended: carved by nature, carved by man—this beautiful collision of gems and fine jewelry,” Barden said as she stacked two bangles—one made of lapis flecked with accents of shimmering pyrite, the other of banded grey-white agate—on her right arm.
“Lapis is normally super blue and pure. But I wanted to use material that was kind of raw, so you see the inflections of pyrite. It’s almost like a painting or a landscape within the stone. I actually selected the lapis that had more inclusions because it had a little more vision and life to it.”
Barden wearing two bangle bracelets—one made of lapis lazuli and the other of banded agate—from the spring 2018 collection
On John Hardy’s classic chain collection
“Chain is one of our icons. I wanted to go back to the archives and revisit some of the more artistic impressions that were created a long time ago. Like the idea of a scarf necklace that you can multiwrap or tie—the really playful, daring pieces that John and Cynthia were experimenting with back in the day.
“It’s just so sensual. It has its hardness but it has this sexy sensuality to it. I really like oversized necklaces. There’s amazing workmanship that goes into tapering the chain. I think it takes two hours to do 1 inch of chain, all handwoven. Once it goes through the weaving process, they actually massage the chain to give it its fluidity. It’s crazy when you see them doing it.”
Spring 2018 Classic Chain silver drop earrings with lapis lazuli, $895
On the evolution of John Hardy’s style
“It’s always been about layering for John Hardy. Everything kind of speaks to one another, so you buy one cuff and can add to it next season. That was a big mission of mine: to unify looks and aesthetics.
“We’re using lots of stones and, like I said, we’re going after the unusual. This is golden sheen sapphire,” she says of a pair of earrings set with unconventional-looking golden-brown sapphires.
“I work with an amazing woman called Noreen—she is my stone hunter. We found this in Tucson but the golden sheen is something she’d found. There’s only one mine mining for this material. She’s amazing at seeking it out and making sure we’re the only ones using it.
“Our strategy is to go for more stones of character. But I like the fact that it carries the name sapphire, so it carries that precious connotation but with a little more of that earthy feel.”
Fall 2017 Magic Cut Drop earrings in 18k yellow gold with golden sheen sapphire and champagne diamonds, $4,900
On a forthcoming collection of high-end Cinta pieces featuring John Hardy’s signature Naga dragon motif
“My interpretation of Naga was to go back to the genesis of the story. For the Balinese, Naga is really an icon of nature so they believe when the Naga moves, it creates the volcanic eruptions. There are three mythical folklore Nagas associated with the sky, the ocean, and the earth—very elemental influences. So I designed these three suites to echo these three spirits of Naga. They were really inspired by that story, but I wanted to seek amazing, dramatic materials to echo that.
In the sky suite, it’s all about the power and drama of the storm, so you have Tahitian pearls combined with grey diamonds in a cascading, very airy feel. And then the volcanic, earthy suite using tiger’s eye and carved unusual materials that you don’t associate with high jewelry, and then using amazing raw citrine so you get the vibrancy of the fire, and then black tourmaline, which almost looks like volcanic rock, so you have something really edgy in that suite.
“The high contrast of the fiery oranges and the black. And the other suite is the ocean. I found these incredible black opals from Australia, which had these flashes of green in them, almost like a lightning strike, and that’s combined with hand-carved white mother of pearl, very sculptural.
“We’re really playing into that high jewelry ornate aesthetic but in the whole composition of Naga, so you have that idea of power and grace—that power and strength of the Naga story. They’re slated to be finished in February. And the team is working on how to unveil them in the best way.”
Cinta 18k yellow gold Naga scale earrings with emerald, yellow sapphires, tsavorite, peridot, and brown diamonds, $28,000
On the stones and colors she’s eyeing for 2018
“Spring was like an evolution of raw power, evolved through a much softer palette: We’re looking at those greys and pinks, and the white agate. The idea is around these beautiful, feminine, softer materials, but still there’s this power and drama and you see the inflections of the pyrite or the striations of the agate.
“And then going into fall ’18, my big focus, in terms of collection and vision, is about iconizing chain. As fall ’17 was all about the imagining and rebirth of Naga, fall ’18 is going to pivot on exploding into chain.
“I spent a long time thinking: What is the spirit of chain? What does it represent? It has this amazing transformative quality to it. It’s made of metal but it turns into this fluid beauty. So that comes through in my interpretation. We’re playing with the motif in a much more graphic way.
“And then color is also a big story for us in fall ’18. I’m really exploding into color in a strong, saturated, bird-of-paradise kind of way. It’s very exotic, it takes inspiration from the woman being a peacock: She transforms when she wears jewelry and takes on this kind of other beauty.
“There’s a lot of color and it really plays into our idea of lava, so raw cuts, rough cuts, unusual combinations of cool clusters and juxtaposing shapes. There’ll be strong saturated gem quality stones done in an unexpected way, mixing classic codes with more of our raw appeal.”
Spring 2018 Dot 18k gold and silver large cuff with buffalo horn, $895
Spring 2018 Dot 18k gold and silver large hoop earrings with buffalo horn, $895
(Top: Fall 2017 Naga brushed kick cuff in 18k gold with diamonds, $12,500)