Towe Norlen has worked for some of the highest regarded jewellers across the world, including the likes of Harry Winston and Piaget. So, it was no real surprise that when she decided to launch her own brand, Towe went down the route of premium ’haute joaillerie’.
In addition to flawless craftmanship, her innovative designs merge modern jewellery with insights from structural biology. We chat with Towe about inventing her own jewellery production technique, why design and manufacturing are inseparable, and supporting charities that stop sexual abuse of children all over the world.
How did your brand begin?
“After finishing my MFA in Stockholm, I moved to Geneva in 1999, to specialise in high-end jewellery ('Haute Joaillerie'). After 5 years, I moved back to Stockholm to create a contemporary Haute Joaillerie brand, combining modern Scandinavian design with Swiss top-quality craftsmanship.”
When did you first fall in love with jewellery?
“I studied French at the Sorbonne in 1992, when Le Louvre showed a magnificent exhibition by René Lalique. I fell in love with the art of jewellery. It was so sculptural and architectural, and at the same time intimate and personal.”
Are there any brands/designer who particularly inspire you?
“The early works of the great masters: Cartier, Bulgari, Van Cleef and Arpels, were fantastic, as well as the colourful playfulness of Verdura.”
What are your core brand values?
“I work in close collaboration with the craftsmen, who are often small, family owned companies. I want to guarantee as far as possible the best solutions for environmental choices and the craftsmen’s working situation.”
What inspires your designs?
“My designs are the result of merging contemporary design with insights from structural biology, i.e. how nature has designed the living world. With my husband, a professor in dermatology, we study the underlying principles behind nature’s own design.”
How is your jewellery made?
“My gem-set jewellery is handcrafted in one of the world's finest haute joaillerie workshops in Geneva. I focus on innovating and pushing forward jewellery manufacturing techniques, as design and manufacturing are inseparable parts of fine jewellery.”
Do you use any innovative crafting techniques?
“In 2001, I invented, and patented the new jewellery production technique ‘gold laser-sintering’, which is increasingly used in top-end jewellery manufacturing. For example, the TOWE ”Corail bracelet chain” is partly produced with this technique.”
How do you ensure your jewellery is ethical?
“I work directly in close personal contact with our gem and diamond dealers in Geneva and Antwerp, as well as with the jewellery manufacturing craftsmen to ensure sustainability. It is a work that needs revision and personal supervision incessantly.”
What celebrities would you like to see wearing your designs?
“We have some Swedish stars I would love to wear my jewels: Noomi Rapace (she wore my jewellery in Cannes), Alicia Wikander, Bea Åkerlund, Malin Åkerlund, Mini Andrén, are some of them.”
Can you recall a moment with a client that will stay with you forever?
“I was at a fair when a man came towards me with a happy smile: he thought it so great to see me again, after more than 10 yrs. I had made a ring to his wife, she still wore it every day and the ring reminded them so often, of me. I was very touched.”
How do you want someone to feel when they wear your jewellery?
“Towe Jewels are meant to be modern classics, so I want them to last. Since my jewels often have an interesting story to tell, I also wish that the wearer enjoys talking about the jewel; using it as a conversation topic, as you do around art.”
If you could only wear one piece of jewellery from your collection, what would it be?
“I would wear Dune Silk Ring, because its voluminous shape and the gold surface is such a great reflector. But also, because the ring’s skin structure is interesting to tell people about: this is actually the perfect human skin…”
If you hadn’t become a designer, what would you be doing?
“I did plan to be an architect, and had already applied for the school, when I saw that exhibition at the Louvre…”
Do you work with any charities?
“Children and nature are both very close to my heart. Towe Jewels support ECPAT in their work to stop sexual abuse of children all over the world. We also work with Missing People, as well as WWF.”
Do you have any exciting plans for the future?
“I’m working towards spreading my jewellery design internationally as well as locally in Sweden. I’m also working with Comité Colbert in France, and seeing how we can spread the message of great craftsmanship and the fascinating art of haute joaillerie.”
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
“’80% is good enough.’ Not when it comes to creating a jewel. Then it's always 110% in both design and execution. But when it comes to other things in life, it's an advice worthy of respect. Many things can wait a little, the world won't fall apart.”
If you could travel to one place right now, where would it be?
“Diving is divine outside the coast of Mauritius, especially in the beautiful North. It’s very inspiring. Though I must add, due to climate change, I have promised myself to try to travel less in the future, even if travel is something I enjoy a lot.”
What music do you have playing the studio?
“I mostly listen to classical music by the great masters. Sometimes we also invite friends and private customers to small chamber concerts at our home.”
How do you ensure you’ve got a good work/life balance?
“Sometimes I am full of energy, but then come periods where I have to fight more to make things happen. When the period of less energy arrives, I just make sure not to push myself too much, but instead take part of other important things in life.
Which 3 famous people (dead or alive) would you invite to your dream dinner party?
“Fulco di Verdura, Yves Saint Laurent and Coco Chanel.”
What’s your signature dish?
“I love grilled or raw vegetables. My favourite dish is a vegetarian salad. Unfortunately, the rest of the family is not so keen on that, so I always end up with some meat or rice to go with the salad. The combo Thai wok always works for everybody.”
How do you wind down after a long day?
“I cook a great dinner and take time with the children. It makes me focus on things other than work.”