It has been a quarter of a century since Charlotte Cornelius first found her way into the jewellery business. In that time, she has created both a distinctive brand bearing her own name and a hub of jewellery talent in Southsea, the popular British seaside resort that edges the city of Portsmouth.
Charlotte’s jewellery journey started at art college. After initially studying design in Lancashire, she moved south to Portsmouth where she focused on 3D design, ceramics and metalwork. On graduating, she went to work for an independent retailer in Northampton called Burlington, where she sold luxury jewels, including designs by Cartier. After this, Charlotte became one of a very small number of female jewellery reps on the road, selling jewellery crafted by Somerset manufacturer CJ Phoenix into jewellery stores across the country.
This varied initiation into the jewellery world gave Charlotte a broad overview, and it also alerted her to what was missing. “Looking at the landscape of what was on offer 25 years ago, it seemed at the time like there was such a limited offering if people wanted anything personal, bespoke, handmade or different,” she recalls.
Charlotte Cornelius at The Jewellery Cut Live in February 2019
A vision for a new way of making jewellery
When Charlotte took a career break to have children – twins – her thoughts turned to launching her own business. The budding designer’s early vision was to introduce jewellery lovers to the idea of accessible, affordable and unique bespoke jewellery designs. She started out making bespoke wedding bands, exhibiting at wedding fairs, before expanding into the creative bespoke jewels that are now synonymous with the Charlotte Cornelius brand today.
The signature motifs of Charlotte Cornelius jewellery are at once aesthetic references to the sea and the coastline of her home in Southsea, while also being expressions of the skill of her team of goldsmiths, and their combined enthusiasm for handcrafted jewellery. The effervescent texture of the bubbles in the namesake collection, and fluid waves across the Affinity line both speak to the love for craftsmanship that drives the brand.
“I have a fascination with detail, textures and contrast, which make the wearer’s experience so much more visceral,” enthuses Charlotte. “Our jewellery doesn’t only reflect how the seascape looks, but also mimics the feelings of coastal elements. Often when people discover our jewellery they feel a deep, innate connection to these pieces.”
Charlotte Cornelius silver and sky-blue topaz Cosmopolitan ring, £579, buy it at The Jewellery Cut Shop
An aquatic dream come true
The Charlotte Cornelius Diamond Lagoon collection is the jewellery designer’s most luxurious collection to date, owing largely to the fact that each aquamarine within the line is uniquely cut and faceted, making each piece truly one of a kind. The aquamarine jewellery designs reflect an obsession for Charlotte: she shares that for decades she’s been trying to find a way to convey the beauty and shape of light on the water. The Diamond Lagoon collection finally realised this dream.
“I have spent years – either when sailing, near the sea or in a pool – taking videos and trying to capture the essence of that movement and translate it into jewellery,” she says. “I don’t ever want to be too literal, and my instinct was to create an abstraction of this idea. Eventually, when I found aquamarines in unique asymmetrical cuts, I felt I could capture the spirit of the water through these gemstones.”
The complexity of setting the Diamond Lagoon jewels required high standards of craftsmanship, and Charlotte is keen to champion the work of the team of expert goldsmiths she has built around her. In Southsea, she has fostered a jewellery hub that includes a small team of in-house jewellers, crafting in a workshop that is visible to shoppers on the boutique floor.
Charlotte Cornelius silver, diamond and aquamarine Diamond Lagoon ring, £1,275, buy it at The Jewellery Cut Shop
Magic at the Marmion Road workshop
In the workshop, goldsmiths recreate the brand’s signature textured metal and craft detailed gemstone settings, while front-of-house staff make all who walk through the door feel welcome. “Everyone has their value and their speciality, and it’s this that makes the whole brand what it is today,” says Charlotte.
The Charlotte Cornelius boutique is a welcoming, open space decorated with eclectic lighting and ornaments, with jewels displayed in mismatched vintage cabinets. It lies on Southsea’s Marmion Road – a charming hub of brightly painted independent shops of the type that could quite easily steal a Saturday morning from you.
Spend more than five minutes there and you’ll no doubt see loyal customers tapping on the window to wave hello to Charlotte and the team. It is clearly a valued part of the local community. In this spirit, Charlotte has made it a mission to support other local businesses and charities. “There are a lot of creatives and artists in Southsea, and we are fortunate to have lots of independent businesses in this area, so we try to support one another and collaborate as much as possible,” says the jeweller, who in her spare time supports youth charity Off the Record, where she used to work as a counsellor. Other philanthropic endeavours include raising funds for charities supporting vulnerable women and providing micro financing for female entrepreneurs in Africa.
Charlotte Cornelius has created a jewellery hub in Southsea, with all its jewels made by hand in its own workshop
Transforming the old into the new
With the benefit of its own on-site workshop, a major focus at Charlotte Cornelius is remodelling – transforming heirlooms or jewels that have fallen out of favour into new one-of-a-kind designs infused with sentiment and style. “I always have a box of tissues ready when our clients collect them,” says Charlotte, hinting at the emotional connection many have with jewellery, especially inherited jewels.
A recent bespoke commission came from a client who had amassed a collection of broken gold jewellery set with gems in a variety of shapes and colours, including some pieces gifted by her late father. She was seeking a transformation.
“We had plenty of gold to use, so after several discussions and sketches, we agreed to make a cuff based on our signature Bubble collection, handmade and custom set with scattered stones and diamonds,” recalls Charlotte. “All the gemstones were removed, the remaining gold melted down and milled out. Then the Bubbles were created and hand constructed into a stunning bangle, all created from start to finish in our workshop. Working in an increasingly sustainable, ethical and environmentally conscious way is at the heart of everything we do here, so it is an absolute joy and privilege to breathe new life into unworn jewellery and create future heirlooms for the next generations.”
A goldsmith works on a bespoke piece of jewellery at Charlotte Cornelius
Bold bespoke jewellery, made sustainably
When crafting jewels with freshly mined materials rather than upcycled jewels, Charlotte is keen to work as sustainably as possible, seeking out suppliers that offer transparency and give back to local mining communities.
“Sustainable and ethical practices have always been really important to me, from the very beginning,” she says. “Nearly all of our metal is recycled, and all of our dealers are people who we really know and trust. They know where the stones are sourced, where they are cut, who cuts them, and the working conditions of the people throughout the supply chain. From our packaging to our cleaning products, everything we use as a business is as sustainable as possible.”
A memorable gemstone, sustainably sourced for a regular client with a penchant for dramatic jewels, was a “magnificent” emerald-cut black spinel. The Charlotte Cornelius team set it into a monochrome cocktail ring design, flanking the spinel with freeform diamond slices, brilliant-cut white diamonds and rough black diamonds. “For me, the challenge was to get the right balance of size, shape, colour and contrast,” says Charlotte. “For our goldsmith and stone setter, it was about handmaking each setting so each stone fitted perfectly, down to the white diamonds in the top of the claws.”
Charlotte Cornelius platinum and diamond Jupiter ring stack, £9,500 (for the set), buy it at The Jewellery Cut Shop
The cocktail ring went down a storm with the client, who had commissioned it to mark a significant birthday. A true jewellery collector, this client names all of her jewels and dubbed this design the Liz Taylor, in ode to the drama successfully achieved by the Charlotte Cornelius team.
“Commissioning jewellery can become addictive,” warns Charlotte, with a smile. With a growing fan base that keeps on returning for more Charlotte Cornelius jewels, it’s a pleasant addiction that is fulfilling this British designer’s dream of establishing a new jewellery hub in Southsea that is making bespoke jewels accessible for all.
Charlotte Cornelius 18ct gold and grey diamond Vida Rose ring stack, £3,765 (for the set), buy it at The Jewellery Cut Shop
Discover and shop for more creative jewellery designs by Charlotte Cornelius in The Jewellery Cut Shop
All prices were correct on the date of publishing, but may be subject to change