Founder of Distinctly Caitlin Designs, Caitlin Harper has always been drawn to the creative arts and discovered the inspiring world of jewellery while still at school. Caitlin studied at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa, where she received a Bachelor's Degree in Jewellery Design and Manufacture. After qualifying, she went on to work at multiple manufacturing workshops in Johannesburg for five years. She now lives in France, near the Pyrenees mountains, where she has her own workshop.
Caitlin creates sterling silver and gemstone jewellery, inspired by the flowers and colours that surround her in France. She is also inspired by the Art Nouveau period which she instills in her designs. She is passionate about the artistic side of jewellery as well as the analytical side. She enjoys the skill and precision of jewellery making, while keeping to her own personal aesthetic. We chat to Caitlin about the story behind her brand name, her love for Vincent Van Gogh and the celebrities she dreams of working with.
How did your brand begin?
I always wanted to have my own brand. When I moved from South Africa to France with my family, I decided to make my dreams a reality.
When did you first fall in love with jewellery and knew you wanted to become a designer?
In my last year of school we had an assignment to research a career with an art background. I chose jewellery design and I job shadowed a jeweller for a day. I knew what I wanted to do after just that one day and I have never looked back.
Is there anyone in particular who has heavily influenced/guided you as a designer?
I would say my lecturer and later boss, Marius Nel. He was definitely my mentor and taught me all the skills I have now over 8 years. His attention to fine details and strong classic style still influences me today.
Where do you get inspiration for your designs?
I draw most of my inspiration from the wild flowers that surround me at my home in the French countryside. I love the joy and colours that they bring to the world. I am so lucky to live in such a beautiful place and the inspiration is easy to find.
How is your jewellery made?
I use traditional metal smithing techniques. Being from South Africa, we didn't have a lot of access to ready made elements so we made everything from scratch and I still do. I love working by hand with metal. It is my true passion.
Are there any specific manufacturing/crafting techniques you use?
I love making box clasps. I love that they work and are all about the precision. The whole piece is handmade and when the spring of the clasp clips up into the box, it is like music to my ears.
Are there any celebrities you would love to see wearing your designs?
I am always drawn to very classy women who are still very feminine. I feel that they give off the same elegance as flowers. I would be so honoured to work with women like The Duchess of Cambridge, Emma Watson and The Duchess of Sussex.
Can you recall a particular moment with a client that will stay with you forever?
I have a very fond memory of the first client who hugged me because she loved her piece. I was working in a workshop at the time and didn't deal with the clients but they called me to the shop because she "had to meet the person who made her piece!"
How do you want someone to feel when they wear your jewellery?
I get so much joy from making my jewellery and I want that love and happiness to be passed on to my clients. I want them to associate the pieces with wonderful memories of the person who gave it to them or how much fun they had when they wore it.
If you could only wear one piece from your collection, what would it be and why?
I would wear one of my large tumbled stone rings. I have long fingers so I love really chunky rings and I love that each one is completely unique, like each flower.
If you hadn't become a designer, what would you be doing?
I have never wanted to be anything other than a jeweller. I knew from that first day job shadowing that there was nothing else for me.
Do you work with any charities?
I try to support my local dog and cat shelters. I do markets with them every year to raise money. Animals are very important to me.
What's the biggest style mistake you've ever made?
Trying to be something I'm not. In my years at university I felt I wasn't as good as my peers because they did very "edgy" designs but it just wasn't me. Now I am true to myself and my inspirations. Hence the name ‘Distinctly Caitlin Designs.’
Are there any other designers whose work you particularly admire, and what jewellery is on your current wishlist?
I have always loved the work of Cartier and I dream of owning a piece made by one of their master craftsmen. I also love the work of Victoria Walker. I love how her pieces move and open.
What music do you play in the studio while you’re working?
I don't play music, I listen to audio books. I listen to everything from Stephen Fry's 'Heroes' to Michelle Obama's 'Becoming'. I've actually just finished the latest Philip Pullman (it’s great!)
What's your favourite quote?
“Not all who wander are lost.” Not only do I love Tolkien but it reminds me to not judge others and myself. I am not lost just because I have taken a path others might not have.
Which 3 current or historic figures would you have over for a dinner party and why?
Vincent van Gogh, he is one of my favorites. I would love to show him how loved his work is. It is so sad that he never got to see that. Audrey Hepburn, kindness in the face of fame is just so inspiring. And Faberge, the things I could learn from him!
What meal is your signature dish?
I love lasagne - must be my Italian roots!