Karolin van Loon is carving out an impressive career. Quite literally, as she started her very own jewellery business five years ago. Van Loon’s creations are easily recognised due to the mix of raw materials and refined diamonds. Real statement pieces that still look elegant thanks to the delicate stones that have been chosen with great care.
We were invited to meet Karolin at her home in Brasschaat, Belgium, a small village north of the city of Antwerp, where she lives with her husband and three children. Until recently, the borders of Belgium were closed due to the COVID-19 crisis. No one was allowed to go in, or out. Within the Diamond Quarter, located near the Central Station which is the heart of the Antwerp diamond industry and where her studio is located, wearing face masks is still mandatory. In addition, everyone who enters must go through a thorough screening on arrival to prevent the virus from spreading any further.
“As a woman you always have to follow your intuition. If you have trouble choosing, always go for the piece of jewellery that first caught your attention.”
It’s mid-June as we make our way across borders for the first time since lockdown. At first sight, her elegant choice of clothes and razer-sharp cheekbones make her appearance as striking as the pieces of jewellery she creates. As we enter her beautiful home with a large stretching and sun-drenched garden – including playground for the children, I immediately notice the bright living room, which the designer decorated herself, radiates a refined sophistication. Her interior resembles the kind of grace and effortlessness that resonates with the delicate colour palettes and excellent consideration to element, proportions and texture we’ve seen in her work.
After working non-stop on establishing her company for the past five years, Karolin concedes that “being forced to pause” has been confronting. “The first two weeks of lockdown were quite challenging. I was not sure how we’re going to get through this, especially with three young children running around the house that needed to be home-schooled. It was mostly the children who had difficulty adjusting to the situation. Luckily, I was able to continue working from outside the office. I created a workspace at home, and started focussing my attention on social media. During home-isolation, online sales were booming. I had the feeling that people needed to be entertained on Instagram, so I kept busy focussing on online.”
It’s easily noticed from the way she speaks that Karolin has true love and passion for her company. Her husband works in the same industry, but as a diamond wholesaler. Their views on jewellery are quite contradictory. For example, in his opinion, every stone needs to be perfectly cut. As to her, the irregular and unique aspect of every single piece is what’s most important. “It is that mix of raw materials and refined diamonds what makes it so exciting. To combine these two, to find that perfect balance was a challenge for me” she says.
Karolin works with a small, young studio in Antwerp. Her designs are created within a price range between 1500 and 5000 euro. “I buy directly from the supplier; I don’t have an intermediary, which is also reflected in the price. The Agate I use come from two different mines in Mexico.” These stones are millions of years old. Agate stones originated from the lava of volcanic eruptions in which air bubbles have arisen. The texture has been created by the seepage of water into the dried lava. “In the past, these stones were considered useless, until someone decided one day to cut one of them in half and saw what a beautiful interior it contained. We use this philosophy to turn a ‘neglected’ treasure of nature into a high-end product” she explains.
As we are provided with our second cup of freshly brewed coffee, we continue our conversation. When I ask her which role models inspire her work, a genuine smile appears when she refers to her female relatives. Both her sister and her mother have been a huge inspiration for her to embark on this journey. “Family is very important to me, and entrepreneurship is something that runs in my blood. In addition, I have a lot of respect for my friends who work very hard, when they actually don’t really have to work, because their husbands make more than enough money. It shows they have a true love for what they do.”
“As a little girl, I was never interested in materialistic stuff. I was raised very low-key and never longed for such things at the time. However, I did feel the desire to be creative. For me, it has always been more about being able to do something meaningful. Something I’d feel good about internally, but with a slightly commercial approach. The balance must be there and it must ultimately provide some financial satisfaction. But being able to make people happy, to create something personalized and unique, that’s what’s important to me.”
Previously, before starting her own brand, Karolin has been an interior architect for over a decade, working for a high-end kitchen and interior design firm. With a background in sourcing high-end natural materials, it was easy for her to make the switch towards jewellery design – even without a degree in that specific field. “I’ve always had an interest in materials and textures, natural stones in particular. For example, for my previous job, I would regularly go abroad to select marble for our customers at the source. Compared to what I am doing now, for me there is little difference. With my designs, I aim to create an atmosphere that aligns with someone’s identity. In a way, that was also the case within the interior design business” she says.
“From a young age, I’ve always admired women who have fun and make time for work as well as their families.”
Just as I start to wonder what motivated her to leave a successful job to completely start over, she continues: “What bothered me was the fact that there was little to no choice of jewellery for woman in their late 30s and 40s, a topic that was often discussed within our circle of friends. Now that we are all in our 40s, we want quality jewellery but without the huge price tag. Something that would fit right in between the relatively ‘cheap’ jewellery pieces and the very expensive high-end designs.” In her vision, it had to be special, but wearable. A statement piece, that can be worn at almost any occasion and easily goes from day to night. “For example, when you pick up your kids from school, a ring wouldn’t look completely out of place. In addition, it adds great value to an evening dress.”
She’s a firm believer in women’s right to authentic representation through their choice of jewellery. “As a woman you always have to follow your intuition. If you have trouble choosing, always go for the piece of jewellery that first caught your attention.” Karolin doesn’t focus her branding on the super-rich: “I believe they would be better off with a piece from a brand like Cartier. My target group are women who want something unique, made from high quality materials with a raw, unpolished finish.”
At the beginning of her journey, there were people who didn’t think it was high-end enough, although it contains pure diamonds and 18K gold. In my experience, the raw exterior of the Agate stones is what makes it unique. “And that is also how I wanted it to be presented in stores” she replies. “Not in a picture-perfect display window as you see with most high-end jewellery. That raw presentation really is part of the concept. It is, of course, also a matter of taste; you can’t always please everyone.”
When the clock hits noon, we are being served a luxurious lunch – tuna sashimi salad with an Asian touch – that she’s quickly putting together in the large open kitchen behind us. Meanwhile, her son comes running into the kitchen, bristling with energy and followed by his father, who quickly comes in to say; ‘hi’, before heading off to his office in the city centre.
“I find it important to teach my children to look beyond the borders of Belgium. We love to be inspired by other cultures.”
As Karolin’s career has kicked into overdrive, she has been putting a lot of effort into splitting her time equally between her job and her family – as does her husband. “From a young age, I’ve always admired women who have fun and make time for work as well as their families” she says. We agree that there is no need for anyone to be at the office nine hours a day, which has again been proven during this pandemic. “Being busy is often seen as something positive, when in fact, this shouldn’t be the case. We have always made it a priority that either my husband or myself pick up the children from school, and we value our family dinners together, which we often cook ourselves. We have consciously chosen to create a healthy balance between work and leisure. Too often I hear women complain about the fact that their husbands are never home. In my opinion, we are all personally responsible for our own happiness, so if you want things to change, why not take control over the situation?” she muses. “Personally, I like to work with to-do lists, so I always have a clear view of my schedule.” With three young children and both a demanding job, communication throughout the day is necessary to assure smooth sailing. “Sometimes I’m running around all day and I just forget to drink, so nowadays I always bring a bottle of water with me.”
Karolin is determined to squeeze every drop out of life, with a keen interest in anything sporty. It doesn’t come as a surprise when she tells me the family usually travels abroad several times a year. “I find it important to teach my children to look beyond the borders of Belgium. We love to be inspired by other cultures” she exclaims. The couple regularly travels to LA, Chicago, NYC or Hong Kong for work, but for family vacations they prefer a bit more adventure. Karolin: “We recently visited Bonaire, which is amazing to go surfing. Especially my husband loves windsurfing. I actually prefer cycling and jogging.” In addition, they love to go skiing, preferably more than once a year. “Those are my absolute favourite holidays! My father-in-law used to own a house in Switzerland that we could use, but it was sold a few years back. Nowadays we go to Sölden, Austria. The kids love it!”
In the meantime, a fly – that has been circling around our heads since we started the interview – has become too much of a distraction and is being smashed to the table in one firm hit. “There are so many flies here. When the temperature starts to rise, we love to have the doors open to the terrace, but the number of bugs that enter the house on a day like this is unbearable“ she adds.
“I think what has been my biggest advantage is the fact that I started my company while I was already in my 40s.”
Though she’s involved in almost every aspect of her company, to her, it doesn’t feel like she’s working at all. “I really enjoy my job, and if you love what you do, you don’t have to work a day in your life.” Nevertheless, you can never become as successful as she is, without the occasional setback. “There have definitely been obstacles, but I have learned something from every mistake I made. It also makes a huge difference that the biggest investment has been my own time. It’s all on small scale. I think what has been my biggest advantage is the fact that I started my company while I was already in my 40s. I no longer felt that I had that much to prove anymore. In fact, I am pretty sure I wouldn’t have dared to do this when I was 25”, the designer states. “Also, knowing that I could stop at any given time if I had to, for example if I felt my work would take too much time away from being with my children, has always been very comforting.”
In addition to her unique pieces of jewellery, Karolin recently launched a nail polish collection called “Les Couleurs de la Terre” in celebration of the brand’s 5th anniversary. Vegan of course, as this fits her lifestyle and personal believes. “With this I want to pay tribute to the special colour palette of the Agate stones. To continue in that “natural” form, I wanted to produce the nail polishes in the most natural and sustainable way possible” she explains. Due to popular demand, beauty will soon become a substantial part of the brand’s identity. In addition, she’s currently working on a row of decorative objects. With that, the brand will truly become a reflection of herself, combining the three elements she loves most; jewellery, beauty and interior design.
Credits: Photography by Jip Broeks, exclusively for AV-mag