Lily Atherton with her jewelry. 28/11/18 Photo Tom Pilston.
Lily Atherton Hanbury wearing her Chinese ear pendants on chains © Tom Pilston for the FT

Lily Atherton Hanbury seeks reinvention. The American shoe designer likes to hunt down interesting artefacts and then work with a jeweller to turn them into pieces she can wear. “I would describe it as looking back to create something new,” she says.

Her interest started after someone walked past her with a tray of jewellery when she was working in the 20th century design department at Phillips auction house in New York, after university. Wanting to learn more, she took a degree in gemmology.

Now based in the UK, her love of jewels is evident in the luxury shoe business she launched with her friend Katya Shyfrin in 2016. Its name, Le Monde Beryl, references the beryl family of stones, which includes emeralds, aquamarines and heliodor.

It is fine jewellery that interests Ms Atherton Hanbury, 38. She owns only two costume pieces because she believes “jewellery is something that should last for ever”.

Chinese ear pendants (early 1800s)

Ms Atherton Hanbury is not attracted to opulent jewels, but pieces with meaning behind them such as the silver Chinese ear pendants she bought from a dealer in 2014. They feature an outline of a carp on each side, a symbol of good fortune and strength in Chinese culture.

“When you know that they’re 200 years old and they look so contemporary, and they’re from a [community] that doesn’t even exist any more and a craft that doesn’t exist any more, then I find that really interesting because it’s like a marker of time and craft and society,” she says.

The pendants are so heavy that she could not wear them on her ears, so she took them to a friend, jeweller Marc Auclert, in Paris. He put them on brown silk cords so she can wear them as two necklaces. She also sometimes wears them on chains, as pictured.

Necklace with coins, Marc Auclert (2016)

Lily Atherton with her jewelry. 28/11/18 Photo Tom Pilston.
Necklace with coins © Tom Pilston for the FT

It was to Mr Auclert that Ms Atherton Hanbury had turned when she wanted to reinvent a necklace given by her father. It had belonged to her paternal grandmother and featured American gold coins, dating from 1875 to 1901, passed down from ancestors in Massachusetts.

Mr Auclert remounted the five coins on a special black chain from Germany which never fades. One coin moves but the rest are stationary. “The simplicity of the design is what I really love,” says Ms Atherton Hanbury.

Scarab beetle ring (1970s)

Lily Atherton with her jewelry. 28/11/18 Photo Tom Pilston.
Scarab beetle ring © Tom Pilston for the FT

The idea that jewellery provides a “boiled down social history” fascinates her.

A gift from a friend, her scarab beetle ring’s silver setting dates from Scandinavia in the 1970s, but Ms Atherton Hanbury originally thought its porphyry — a purple rock consisting of crystals — was ancient Egyptian. Imperial porphyry was popular during the Roman empire. Having spoken to gallerist Tristan Hoare, however, she now believes it to be Swedish porphyry. Either way, she loves it.

“One aspect of it is taking something from the past and then the setting is incredibly simple and modern and cool,” she says.

Single earring, Julia Muggenburg (2017)

Lily Atherton with her jewelry. 28/11/18 Photo Tom Pilston.
Single earring © Tom Pilston for the FT

Ms Atherton Hanbury breathed new life into a Georgian amethyst pendant, which has a diamond flower inlaid in the stone. It was given to her by her maternal grandmother. “I love my grandmother more than anyone . . . so I wanted to do something with it, but stylistically it didn’t really fit into the rest of my stuff,” she says.

She took it to Julia Muggenburg, founder of London’s Belmacz gallery, who sourced “a little handful” of amethyst and purple paste Georgian stones from a dealer and built on Ms Atherton Hanbury’s design idea to create a single “statement” cross-shaped earring.

Her grandmother approved. “She thought it was fantastic,” she says.

Necklace with cross pendant, Julia Muggenburg (2016)

Lily Atherton with her jewelry. 28/11/18 Photo Tom Pilston.
Necklace with cross pendant © Tom Pilston for the FT

The “really powerful and simple” cross shape is one to which Ms Atherton Hanbury is drawn, although not because of its religious significance.

She bought her 17th century Italian gold cloissonné and enamel rock crystal pendant at auction in 2015. She took it to Ms Muggenburg, who put it on an oxidised bike chain and added a little cross from another of Ms Atherton Hanbury’s necklaces.

“The cross becomes really modern looking and the chain becomes really old looking, and it’s hard to put your finger on what’s going on exactly,” she says.

Like all her reinventions, she will not part with the piece.

“Everything I have made so far is really for my daughter, Birdie, trying to make the most out of the things I do have and thinking about what will give them the best story and value by the time she gets them,” she says.

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