Getting to know Sophie Bille Brahe

The Danish designer talks to us about her design inspiration, the timeless appeal of pearls and the personal jewels she will never take off

Interview with the Danish jewellery designer

By Kim Parker

Based in Copenhagen, Danish jeweller Sophie Bille Brahe founded her eponymous brand in 2011. She was inspired by the work of her ancestor, the astronomer Tycho Brahe, who discovered a supernova in the constellation of Cassiopeia in 1572. Her designs blend streamlined Scandinavian style with celestial like elements such as clusters of pearls and rows of twinkling diamonds. Each of her sleek designs is made by hand using traditional goldsmithing techniques, blending a minimalist aesthetic with an avant-garde edge.

What’s your design process like, Sophie?

The thing that’s always foremost in my mind when I’m designing is. How I’m going to do justice to the precious materials that I work with. There needs to be a very good reason to use a diamond or a pearl. We’re all so much more aware of the world’s finite resources. Even more so since the pandemic, and you cannot just use materials for the sake of it.

My feeling is that you need to do your best to honour your materials. You need to create something that has never been done before. Something that will do them justice and show them off to their best, otherwise I think they should be left in the ground, or in the sea. We have a huge responsibility towards the materials we use.

Pearls are a classic for Sophie Bille Brahe

Our emotional attachment to jewellery is never far from my thoughts, either. I was reminded of this very recently, when I met a woman who had had her favourite jewellery stolen. Of course, it’s only material things, and not all of it was valuable, but it affected her very deeply. We attach such special meaning to the pieces that come into our lives. The ring that you inherit from your mother, for example. Or, the jewel you buy to celebrate the birth of your first child. I’m always aware that the pieces I create will have to fit into a woman’s life. And I try to create something quite classic, that she will be able to love forever.

I also like to think about how to create something timeless with a little twist, something a little unexpected. I think about how I’d like to wear it myself, and what the piece needs to feel modern, and never outdated.

What jewellery do you wear every day? And what does it mean to you?

I have two pieces of jewellery that I wear every single day. One of them is a pearl necklace, one of my ‘Peggy’ necklaces, that I made when I gave birth to my son eight years ago. It always reminds me of that moment.

Peggy necklace by Sophie Bille Brahe

That necklace came about because my mother once gave me a pearl necklace that my father had given her many years ago. While I loved it, I just couldn’t wear it. It felt too ladylike for me. That started something in my mind.

Two weeks after I had my son, I began working on my own pearl collection, including the Peggy necklace. Working with pearls felt like the most beautiful thing at the time. There were so many parallels with having a baby. You start with just a tiny little seed, and it’s grown inside a body for a long time until it becomes something really precious.

I wanted to break away from a very classic, ladylike notion of what pearl jewellery looked like and simply let the pearls do all the talking, without any unnecessary embellishment. With the Peggy, I threaded together pearls of graduating sizes. The part where the biggest and smallest pearls meet creates a kind of visual clash that I really like. It just sits right on your collarbone, so it’s quite sexy, too. I think that’s what makes it feel modern.

Grand Ocean Ensemble ring by Sophie Bille Brahe

The other piece I never take off is a diamond ring that my boyfriend, Jeppe, gave to me. It looks like a wave of diamonds. It’s the Grand Ocean Ensemble ring, one of my designs. But my team helped him to create it for me in honour of the birth of our daughter, Beate, two years ago. It’s truly wonderful and I am never without it.

Escargot Splash by Sophie Bille Brahe

What are your thoughts on the current vogue for pearls?

Honestly, I think they’ve always been popular. We’re just able to access them so much more easily than before, when natural pearls were super rare, and the women choosing to wear them are getting younger and younger. There’s a reason why, like diamonds, they’ve never really gone out of fashion. They are such an incredibly beautiful, classic material.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

I always compare it to going to work in a kitchen. I start off with a load of raw ingredients, and somehow it all comes together in a delicious soup. That’s how it always starts for me. I surround myself with beautiful materials and start dreaming about how I can get them to tell a story. How I can best show off each diamond, each pearl, in the simplest and cleanest way. Then I’ll go through books about artists who inspire me.

Or I’ll take a long walk and let it all percolate. Something might catch my eye, like a gorgeous sunset, which will send me off down a spiral of research into paintings of sunsets. I’ll start doing little drawings and putting ideas on post-Its around my desk.

I love artists like Georgia O’Keefe. A few of my collections have been inspired by her, and a Danish painter called Vilhelm Hammershøi. He had the most incredible way of capturing Scandinavian light that I find very moving. It’s all very soft and poetic. I’m always inspired by the sea as well. That point on the horizon, where the sea and the sky blur into one is my favourite thing. For my last collection, I was inspired by David Hockney’s painting, A Bigger Splash. So I set about trying to recreate splashes in gold and diamonds.

Sophie Bille Brahe white gold rings

For my last collection, which was all white gold and felt quite bridal, I was quite inspired by my family, too. Especially my aunt [former Baroness Berit Berner], who had a beautiful white gold engagement ring. I’d wanted to work with white gold for a long time, and it felt like the right time to do it. I’ve finally got a collection that feels coherent and complete. I’ve now got something to offer those who feel like yellow gold doesn’t suit them.

All of my collections feel very personal. I can look back through each of them and know exactly where I was in my life, how I was feeling and why I made it. In a way, my work has always been about explaining myself through jewellery. In doing so, creating pieces that help other people to tell their stories.

Do you think the pandemic has changed how we shop for our jewellery?

I think that for me, as difficult as the pandemic has been, it’s also been a time where I’ve been able to really reflect about what I want to do. What to eat, to wear and to spend my time. Everything has become a lot more considered, a lot more deliberate. We’re more aware of our choices and there’s less tolerance for waste.

In that sense, I think it’s the same with jewellery. The pieces we choose seem to mean more now. We’re more willing to invest in pieces that really resonate with us. I also think we’re looking for things that don’t have to be saved for Sunday best anymore. We want to be able to wear our favourite pieces with a T-shirt and jeans, with our work outfits or with a dress.

Pearls at Sophie Bille Brahe

So, what’s next?

I’ve been working on my Christmas collection. But with slightly bigger diamonds than I normally use, so it feels really special. And I’m renovating an old apartment in Copenhagen, creating a new showroom. It’s going to be the perfect window into our universe. I’m really looking forward to being able to welcome people back from November.

Read more about Sophie Bille Brahe’s casting of Okay Kaya for her new No More “I Love You’s” collection