The next big British luxury import could be jewelry brand Astley Clarke.
Cara and Poppy Delevingne were spotted wearing Astley Clarke's grown-up friendship bracelets at Coachella, while Cameron Diaz has been wearing the retro-inspired Astley locket.
FOR THE RECORD
Sept. 5, 11:07 a.m.: A previous version of this post said Dr. Charles Clarke was a member of the first British expedition to Mt. Everest. He was part of a later expedition.
This fall, the British jeweler is launching stateside in a big way. It's stocked at Saks Fifth Avenue now, to be followed by Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom this month.
The concept of Astley Clarke is that it is fine jewelry designed by women, for women to buy themselves. It's merchandised very cleverly, with an emphasis on collecting and stacking multiple pieces. There's a good heritage story built in, and the packaging is luxe and personal feeling, even when you're buying a $150 piece.
The business was launched in 2006 by Bec Astley Clarke, whose background in fashion, tech and marketing includes stints at a luxury gun company, a luxury yacht company, IVillage.com and most recently, working as head of strategy at Tesco.com.
Originally conceived as a multibrand e-tailer featuring the work of multiple designers, Astley Clarke set out to prove the viability of selling fine jewelry online, just as British website Net-a-Porter pioneered selling luxury fashion online. Then, in 2009, the business opened its own design studio in London, and hired a creative director, Lorna Watson, with experience at DeBeers, Faberge and Dior.
Since then, Astley Clarke has found success designing and distributing its own branded collections. Last year, founder Bec Clarke was recognized as a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for her service to the jewelry industry.
The brand has drawn inspiration from her heritage, namely the life of her father, Dr. Charles Clarke, an avid mountaineer and the doctor on a British expedition that climbed Mt. Everest in 1975, and her grandfather Dr. Cyril Astley Clarke, famous for his genetic research using butterflies, who helped develop the cure for Rhesus Negative babies during the 1950s and '60s.
His collection of butterfly specimens, housed at London's Natural History Museum, is referenced through wing motifs used in different jewelry styles, and on the print of the handmade, screen-printed gift wrap. Climbing knots are another motif explored in 18-karat gold and sterling silver bracelets and rings.
The brand's offerings include several different collections at varying price points. The Biography collection consists of friendship bracelets ($150 to $350), which are designed to collect and stack, with agate, quartz and vermeil gemstones or charms with meanings such as love, protection or peace. Each season brings new color ways and sentiments.
The Muse collection features vintage-feeling gold lockets with diamond details in the $2,000 to $3,000 range. Enamel stacking rings and bracelets in fun hues such as “Cajun shrimp” and “heather bloom” make up the Color collection, and have an appeal similar to
"We see fine jewelry as something to wear every day," Clarke said at the Couture jewelry trade show in Las Vegas in June. "You might have a bunch of bracelets from Biography, and then one really nice piece, the same way you do with clothes when you have Topshop blouses and Louboutin shoes."
Astley Clarke was initially sold only online, but has since moved offline into stores such as Liberty, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and Harrods in the U.K.
"We would like to do a big flagship in London one day, but I'm still a big believer in digital and wholesale," said Clarke, whose vision seems to have no bounds.
"Cushions … deck chairs … we're always dreaming about what we could do," she said. "But we need to get this category global first."