Blogs: All That Glitters / Colored Stones / Designers / Diamonds / Gold

Lydia Courteille’s Latest Muse Is A Fragrant Concubine


And it’s so good you can practically smell it. Although said smell is an ineffable thing, I’ll attempt to describe it here: a mix of camel milk, golden apples, a musty chest full of ancient Chinese silks, incense burning in a Buddhist temple, sunbaked earth, and dampened bedsheets after some marvelous, deeply satisfying sex.

Those familiar with the work of Lydia Courteille know I’m not exaggerating, as her jewelry is so evocative, so richly detailed and multitextured in concept and execution, that it tends to delight the senses on many levels. (Watch this video presentation on Instagram on the occasion of Fragrant Concubine’s debut and see if you agree.)

Courteille is frequently inspired by famous women in history (e.g., Marie Antoinette), and she first learned of the “Fragrant Concubine” (pictured at top) during her travels to Kashgar, China. A figure in Chinese legends who was taken as a consort by the Qianlong emperor (r. 1735–1796) of the Qing dynasty, she was reportedly a Kashgarian Muslim Uyghur girl named Iparhan (“musky woman”). The mystical stories around Iparhan led Courteille in a number of inspirational directions along the Silk Road’s ancient trade routes across China, including the Gobi and Taklamakan deserts.

Below, highlights from the collection, with notes on how the pieces fit into Courteille’s spectacularly imagined narrative, a complex and heady blend of Chinese history, art forms, architecture, and symbolism.

Lydia Courteille crane earrings
Earrings in 18k gold with jade, purple sapphires, tsavorite, blue sapphires, yellow sapphires, and black diamonds, €12,800 ($15,109). The birds are cranes, a Chinese symbol of peace and longevity; Courteille paired them with jade drops in the shape of bean pods, as beans are a Chinese symbol of prosperity and happiness.
Lydia Courteille fisherman pendant
Fisherman Holding Two Koi Carps pendant in 18k gold with watermelon tourmaline, tsavorite, pink sapphires, diamonds, and jade, €57,200 ($67,500). This design is inspired by a ceremonial jade shroud made for Liu Xiu of the Han dynasty using jade tiles stitched together with gold thread.


Lydia Courteille terra cotta army necklace
Terracotta Army necklace in 18k gold, jasper, tanzanite, sapphires, brown diamonds, and black diamonds, €88,000 ($103,864). Located near the city of Xi’an in China’s Shaanxi province, the Terracotta Army is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. It consists of 7,000 life-size warriors (accompanied by 600 horses, 100 chariots, and myriad weapons) whose purpose was to watch over the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huangi, who died in 210 BCE.
Lydia Courteille lions bracelet
Fo Lions bracelet in 18k gold with jade lions, moonstone center stone and accents, and tourmaline, tsavorite, sapphires, rubies, and diamonds, €85,000 ($100,330). From the collection notes: “With increased trade during the Han dynasty and cultural exchanges through the Silk Road, lions were introduced into China from the ancient states of Central Asia by peoples of Sogdiana and Samarkand.” In Chinese art, carved Fo Lions were thought to protect a Buddhist temple or building from the thread of harmful spiritual influences and people. The lions are always presented in pairs, a manifestation of yin (female) and yang (male). Symbolically, the female lion protects those dwelling inside (the living soul within), while the male guards the structure (the external material elements).
Lydia Courteille fox ring
Desert Fox ring in 18k gold with dinosaur bone, garnets, rubies, brown diamonds, and white diamonds, €27,000 ($31,871). A diminutive species of fox is among the few creatures that exist in the Taklamakan desert, a foreboding “Sea of Death”—crossing it can be a deadly undertaking—that runs along the Silk Road in what is now the Uygur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang in western China.

Top: Fragrant Concubine ring in 18k gold, diamonds, sapphires, apatites, aquamarines, canvansites, and hand-painted enamel, €22,000 ($25,966); Lydia Courteille

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Amy Elliott

By: Amy Elliott

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