Top end jeweller evolves from beads to Czech crown jewels

Photo: archive of Prague City Gallery

An exhibition at Prague City Gallery highlights the history of a famous Prague-based family-owned jewellery brand. The Belda Company, which was founded exactly 100 years ago, produced a great many jewels, which reflect the changing tendencies in art over the years as well as perfect craftsmanship. They are also the only jewellery makers certified to renovate the historical crown jewels.

Photo: archive of Prague City Gallery
I met with the youngest member of the Belda family clan, Viktore Beldová, in their small studio in the centre of Prague and I first asked her about her grandfather Jaroslav Belda, who actually wasn’t a jeweller himself:

“My great grandfather established a company in New York in 1915, when he was around 23. He was looking for something he could do, something traditional, and because he was from Turnov, from the north of the Czech Republic, which had a long glass and bijoux-making tradition, he decided to produce glass beads. So he started to sell them and he also started to produce his own jewellery.”

And I believe he was pretty successful…

“Yes, for a couple of years, but then came Black Monday and the company went bankrupt. So he came back to Czechoslovakia and established a company here, together with his brother. And he was really successful. He was selling his products all over Europe, to Africa and basically all over the world.”

What exactly did they produce?

“Beads and jewellery from beads. And also fake stones. It was bijoux rather than jewellery. He also produced things from silver, but it was not what we do nowadays.

But this success was halted again, when the Communists seized his property in the 1950s.

“Yes, he died just a few years after. But my grandfather established the jewellery tradition. He started to produce garnet jewels. And he also started to teach in a school in Turnov which I believe is still the only high-school specialised in jewellery making. And because of the school he got to do some interesting work, such as the copy of the Czech crown jewels.”

I believe your grandfather and your father are actually the only ones authorised to clean and renovate the crown jewels. Is that right?

“Yes, I think so.”

“My great grandfather established a company in New York in 1915, and because he was from Turnov, he decided to produce glass beads.”

After 1989 your father and your grandfather decided to re-establish the company in Turnov. Was it difficult to attract the customers again after years of Communism? Were people used to buying jewellery?

“I think they are still not used to buying jewellery...

“It was really complicated. They got the property back, but there was nothing inside. They had to take a loan, but the interest was really high, so they had to take anything that came their way, it was more of a workshop.

“Then we started to do our own design, because my father is a designer, and he wanted to try something new: new shapes, something more artistic. He wanted to find new ways of making jewellery.

“He started to offer his work to some shops but he realised it was impossible, so he established his own shop, where we are sitting right now. In the beginning it was really bad, because no one came and if they did, they would just look around and leave. But I think it actually gets better every year.”

You recently presented your new collection at Designblok. Would you say that events such as this one help to promote your work and attract new customers?

Photo: archive of Prague City Gallery
“I think that especially Designblok has a huge effect on Czech design. It was the first occasion to show our work to large audiences, not just to professionals. It was the first event where people could really go from the street. It showed people that design was important and it also told them something about the price of design and its relation to quality.”

How has the design of your jewellery changed over the generations and how would you describe your present day production?

“I think in the beginning it was a little bit Art Nouveau. It was more complicated not in terms of technology, but in terms of design, because that was the style in those days.

“What my father did at the beginning was very minimalistic - simple shapes, silver, because again, that was the fashion in those days. Nowadays I think we are getting to a certain fusion of different styles.

“For instance last year we took garnet, which is a traditional Czech stone, but we tried to use it in a different way. What you can see all around the city is really old-fashioned. So we tried to do something really modern, using the stone, which is actually very beautiful.

“Our new collection is called Czech Paradise, which is part of the Czech Republic, so we created jewellery inspired by this location.”

As a member of the youngest generation, is there something that connects you with your predecessors?

„You know, I grew up in this environment, so I actually can't imagine that I would do anything else. I don't mean jewellery, I mean something artistic. My mother is a painter and they met with my father at UMPRUM, the University of Applied Arts in Prague. And I attended the same school, so I guess it's a line, it's a pattern.”

“I grew up in this environment, so I actually can't imagine doing anything else.”

Where do you search for inspiration these days?

“I think it's everywhere. I look into fashion, because I like fashion. So sometimes I am thinking about what I could wear with certain clothes, and I try to match it with something. But of course I look into nature or the sea world.

You also cooperate with lots of well-known designers.

“Yes, we try to cooperate not just with designers, but also with artists and architects, such as Eva Jiřičná, because frankly, it is a good marketing, but it also broadens our horizons. If you work with someone who is not a jewellery maker, he always comes up with a new idea and he tries to implement it even if he doesn’t know how.”

Who would you say are your typical customers nowadays?

“We have a lot of different customers, but what we really appreciate are people who come back, once or twice a year. Usually it's a guy who comes in his twenties to get a gift for his girlfriend, and buys one of the cheapest things.

“Then he will come in a few years’ time to get an engagement ring, and then a few years later because his child was born and he wants to get a present for his wife. So I would say this is our typical customer.”

Photo: archive of Prague City Gallery
And finally, what are you currently working on?

“We just had an exhibition at Prague City Gallery on the Old Town Square and we presented our new collection Czech Paradise at Designblok, so I don't want to say that we are chilling out, but we are slowly getting ready for the holidays and for the Christmas rush.”