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