Byzantina: The Birthplace of Family Heirlooms
By Victor Vargas
Inspired by her parents’ archaeology projects and love for antiques, Thalia Jewelry designer Rachel Clinnick has developed a reputation for one-of-a-kind pieces that become instant family heirlooms. Ms. Clinnick’s opulent designs harken back to the Byzantine empire and Etruscan civilization, rendering them ideal pieces for special occasions such as engagements, weddings, and other important life events. The San Francisco-based designer discusses her collections, her favorite designers, and the beginning of her journey as a jewelry designer.
57: Tell us a bit about your childhood and how that shaped your life.
Rachel Clinnick: My childhood was heavily influenced by my parents’ interests and academia. As a child, I went on fossil digs with both of my parents. My brother, who is now a Doctor of Archaeology, would be in his playpen on the side of a hill while my parents excavated. My mother has always been a collector of antiques and objets d’art; her knowledge is vast and incredibly detailed. As a result of this upbringing, I have a love for the hunt, whether it’s an amazing stone, a piece of antiquity, or the story of an object that I incorporate into my work. I truly love the beauty and the history of art, architecture, and fashion, which most definitely is as a result of my unusual upbringing
57: Did you always know you wanted to design jewelry?
R.C.: I remember endless hours excavating or antiquing. I even had a small business as a youth. After my mother gave me a small amount of money to invest, I began selling high-end vintage costume jewelry to dealers. It allowed me to build a fund to purchase the items I really loved, which were fine jewelry in Art Nouveau, Georgian, Victorian, and Art Deco [styles]. I had an interest in entrepreneurship at a young age.
57: What was the defining moment for you as a designer?
R.C.: I had always created jewelry for myself. At a certain point, as an assistant buyer for a luxury boutique, I began to realize other buyers were interested in the jewelry I was wearing. What started out as an experiment in the store [that] I purchased for quickly turned into [my own] full-time business, and I realized this was a way to merge my passion for business and design.
57: Your collections display a deep appreciation for the Byzantine empire and Etruscan civilization. Was that successful with your clientele from the beginning?
R.C.: I am fortunate in that, yes, my aesthetic was successful for me from the start. I am certainly influenced by the ancient civilizations, and do incorporate modern ways to display these forms, creating new heirloom pieces for people to pass on to their heirs.
57: Do you have favorite pieces that you like to design?
R.C.: I love it all! I clearly have an affinity for designing rings. Stacking rings are a staple in my line, and I am definitely known for designing statement rings, I feel a fabulous ring—or set of rings—is easily enjoyed by the wearer and those [the wearer] encounters throughout the day. Who doesn’t fancy looking at their hand and admiring a beautiful ring?
57: Tell us about your men’s jewelry.
R.C.: For our men’s jewelry, we tend to design a lot of rings and cuff links. Men, especially in America, are not as comfortable wearing jewelry, but most will wear at least one ring and several sets of cuff links. I like to create men’s jewelry because it challenges me in a different way than when I design for women.
57: Who are your favorite fashion designers and why?
R.C.: I fear [that] some of my favorite designers are passing on . . . Azzedine Alaia, Oscar de la Renta, and Hubert de Givenchy, who holds a special place in my heart because one of my first important pieces of clothing was a Givenchy piece. It set the tone for my expectations on style and elegance. I wear a lot of Dior and am excited that Maria Grazia Chiuri is its first female artistic director; I enjoyed her designs at Valentino. I tend to pull more classic with an edge, rather than trendy. As Oscar de la Renta said, “I don’t really know how to do casual clothes.” And that’s how I feel in general. I dress more formally, and I design more seriously as well.
57: Your bridal collection has become very popular. Do you approach those designs in the same way you do with other collections, or is the process different?
R.C.: With bridal, I step out of myself a little more in the designs than I do with the other collections. That isn’t to say my voice isn’t in the work, but rather, that I imagine the bride or groom and the longevity for the client more specifically. Bridal is very, very personal. I am proud to be chosen to participate in this special union.
57: How often do you generate new collections?
R.C.: I am constantly creating new collections. Sometimes we sell pieces before I can even complete the collection in its totality. This is, of course, a good challenge to have, and it keeps me constantly moving forward.
57: Is there a type of customer that you see gravitating toward your designs?
R.C.: Yes, most of my clients are pretty serious jewelry buyers. They have quality jewelry, are well traveled, and most collect several pieces from their favorite designers. And, of course, I am honored to be a part of their collections. Having said that, I also have some young clients just starting out, either with a wedding ring or with their first serious pieces of jewelry; this is an exciting process to watch and fun to be a part of.
57: What is the next frontier for Thalia Jewelry?
R.C.: Working with more ancient coins for our latest elaborate collection of rings, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and cuff links. It is stunning! As well as a pet project with my youngest daughter, a little bit of a passing of the torch of what I had learned by her age, and a bit of a proud moment to watch her creative endeavors