French designer Marie-Hélène Loubrielle, proud owner of Shagreen et Tortoise, became instantly fascinated with the idea of creating Art Deco inspired jewelry from once-living materials, when a friend happened to bring her back a shingle urchin from Comoros. Today, she runs her own studio in Paris where she designs and creates an all-rings collection. Inspired by the magnificent world under the sea, her entirely handmade shell rings blend rose-cut colored gemstones and 18k gold vermeil with the unique textures and colors of natural shells, exuding a unique exotic retro elegance. We sat down with the French designer to discuss her journey in jewelry design and discuss her distinctive creations.

shagreen - tortoise shell ring - pink delight blue chalcedony

What is your background and how did you decide to become a fashion designer?

I actually graduated from a business school, and worked for several years as a strategy consultant in a big firm in Paris. I had always been attracted to jewelry design and craftsmanship, and knew I would want to create a brand one day. When I moved for a couple of years to the United States, I took evening classes in jewelry design and, upon returning to Paris, I just decided it was time to start a new adventure.

shagreen - tortoise shell ring - rosy gypsum rose quartz

shagreen - tortoise shell ring - black pearl garnet

What is it about shells that drew you to source them for jewelry design?

I was very fond of mid-century jewelry, and I had been acquainted with American jewelry designers such as Verdura and Seaman Schepps that used shells and natural materials in their pieces. During a trip to Comoros, my friend brought me back some stunning seashells and urchins. I was fascinated by their beauty, exceptional colors and textures, and spent many months after that testing and experimenting with shells and gemstones. I guess I sensed that combination was going to be my signature.

Why did you choose to launch an all-rings collection?

I wanted to launch a small yet daring collection, and I admit to being a little obsessed with rings. I am now working on a complete line of jewelry as a continuation of the first ring collection.

What are the main raw materials you use, and where do you source them?

The shells and urchins are sourced mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia. Some also come from France. The stones I choose are all rose-cut and sourced from Jaipur; I am mostly fond of tourmalines, garnets, chalcedonies, and prehnites.

shagreen - tortoise urchin ring - moss velvet turmaline

shagreen - tortoise shell ring - orange bliss amethyst

What is the main source of your inspiration?

My inspiration is mostly driven by nature and the materials themselves – their shapes, colors and textures. I look to transcend them into little pieces of wearable art. A more diffuse source of inspiration is my entire background and my many years traveling and living abroad. I grew up in the United States, Brazil and Asia, and I feel there are little hints of these cultures and memories reflected in my work.

What are your design priorities?

I try to create designs that are new and exceptional with simplicity and purity in the lines, and always respecting the essence of the material I work with.

shagreen - tortoise shell ring - smoky tortoise carnelian

shagreen - tortoise urchin ring - moss velvet claws

Could you describe for us the process you follow from coming up with an idea to the final implementation of a design?

It has been a very long process, especially at the beginning, mostly because working with seashells is quite new, and I actually had to invent a way of working the shells. Finding the right suppliers is a key element and can take a lot of time and effort. Now that the process is quite established, suppliers are secured, and it is fairly easier and quicker to develop new pieces.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

I am just at the beginning of this adventure. I have had very encouraging first returns, and I am now really focused on extending the collection and finding new areas of development.

shagreen - tortoise shell ring - pink delight rose quartz

shagreen - tortoise shell ring - smoky tortoise green turmaline

What is the ultimate goal for your brand?

I do not have a very definite plan. I would love for some designs to become “classics,” and I would also love to open a boutique in Paris or New York.

shagreen - tortoise urchin cufflinks - moss velvet carnelian

Images © Shagreen et Tortoise