Donatella Balsamo is an Italian, London-based jewellery designer who specialises in exotic jewellery with a distinct contemporary edge. Born out of an authentic passion for ethnic and cultural forms and a commitment to handcrafted jewellery, Donatella’s designs are vibrant, affordable and full of beautiful semi-precious gemstones. We chat with Donatella about her journey from cutting out magazines and sketching as a child, to running her own eponymous jewellery brand.
When did you first fall in love with jewellery?
“From a young age, jewellery was my passion! Having developed a keen eye for detail, I carefully studied the varied styles, changing trends and techniques used by famous brands. I spent hours in my room, sketching designs and cutting photos out of magazines, with the desire that one day I would become a fashion or a jewellery designer.”
How did your brand begin?
“I’ve always indulged my passion of researching design and style, treating it as something of a hobby back in the days when I worked in an Italian bank in the City of London, and then as I lectured in colleges. But the more extensively I travelled, the more I was inspired to design and create my own jewellery. I delighted in the striking shapes found in the architecture of Morocco and India, and in the luscious colours found in their bustling street markets. I found that in harnessing these eastern and Moroccan influences I was able to create rings, bracelets and necklaces with the perfect combination of ethnic style and western contemporary design. This gave my jewels a distinctive, unique and exotic style.”
"The more extensively I travelled, the more I was inspired to design and create my own jewellery."
How has your childhood influenced you as a designer?
“I was brought up in an environment where appreciation for art and antiquity was always of great interest, where family members owned art galleries and an uncle was a professional artist. Being exposed to famous designers in Italy helped me develop a strong sense of style which I paired with my innate creativity.”
What are your core brand values?
“I offer a pairing of rough with sleek to create an ‘exotic feel’ and a commitment to entirely handmade pieces of jewellery. My jewellery is handmade by exquisitely talented artisans. Each piece is uniquely crafted and the ‘less polished’ design gives an exotic feel. Each collection is very different to one another in style and design, giving them each a story of their own and meeting the taste of woman of all ages. I believe handmade jewellery better reflects the personality and style of the wearer, expressing their individuality and personal ethos.”
What inspires your designs?
“My love of the architecture in Morocco, India and South-East Asia is reflected in both the shape and design of the jewellery, and also in the deep colours of the jewels I use. The extraordinary skills of local artisans have also been a great source of inspiration.”
"My eye-catching pieces add a touch of colour, and are versatile for all occasions."
How do you source your materials and gemstones?
“Production takes place in Jaipur, Rajasthan where I am delighted to have had the opportunity to discover and explore the craftsmanship of the talented artisans during my annual trips. I hand select the beautiful gemstones for my designs in Jaipur.”
Are there any celebrities you would love to see wearing your designs?
“My dream would be for one of my jewellery pieces to be seen on HRH the Duchess of Cambridge. I hope one day soon!”
How do you want someone to feel when they wear your jewellery?
“Easy to wear, yet adding a pop of colour. I want my clients to feel glamorously adorned with a sophisticated statement piece, whether they’re dressed for a formal dinner, or in the everyday. My eye-catching pieces add a touch of colour, and are versatile for all occasions.”
If you could only wear one piece from your collection, what would it be?
“It has to be the Jaipur Multicolours Necklace, as I am a huge fan of statement pieces! The gemstones rainbow is reminiscent of the multitude of vibrant colours in the city of Jaipur, the beautiful sari of the Indian bazaars and the feel of opulence and richness of gold jewellery of India.”
"India and Morocco are both places where I feel relaxed and excited at the same time."
If you hadn't become a designer, what would you be doing?
“I’d be an actress. I would love the chance to step inside other people and interpret different characters. It would never be boring!”
If you could travel to one place in the world right now, where would it be?
“India and Morocco are both places where I feel relaxed and excited at the same time. So, they are my favourite places to visit. I know them well and I miss them whenever I’ve been away for too long.”
Are there any fellow jewellery designers you admire?
“My business role model has been Monica Vinader, for the use of vibrant, bold gemstones combined with a contemporary design that’s not too minimalist. I admire her ability to bridge the gap between high street accessories and high-end jewellery, and in becoming a successful international luxury brand.”
What’s your signature dish?
“As a good Italian, it’s got to be pasta. I love it in any shape and form! If I had to choose, it would be a seafood spaghetti dish packed with fresh prawns and shellfish, dripping with a delicious white wine sauce. Magnifico!”
What's your favourite quote?
"You never really know a woman until you’ve seen her jewellery."