What does luxury even mean nowadays?
It's a question the Journy team asks ourselves often. We'll leave a fancy tasting menu yawning, but walk away from a bowl of late-night noodles feeling pampered.
So when we encountered Jules Kim and her luxurious-not-luxury jewelry brand Bijules, we felt like we were meeting a kindred spirit. Since Kim launched the brand in 2002, her now-iconic creations have been seen on everyone from Beyonce to Grimes. Think small rings that sit just on top of your fingernail, or bracelets that rest on your hand. Cool, chic and appropriate anywhere.
How Bijules Started A Global Jewelry Sensation
Kim founded Bijules while she was DJing at NYC's top clubs to channel the creativity she encountered into something more meaningful. Her first project was custom graffiti nameplates, which attracted the attention of an editor who came into Ludlow Bar during her shift. Soon Kim was taking custom orders and plotting how to liven up a luxury jewelry scene she dubbed "the most boring market to invade."
Fast forward and Beyonce donned Kim's now-iconic fingernail ring in her video for "Sweet Dreams". Seemingly overnight Kim had an audience who understood that being the "badass bitch totally basted in Bijules" was a look that signaled luxury and vision. "Just popular not going to make it," Kim says of her entry into the jewelry world.
But for Kim, jewelry is both more and less than something you wear. "[As a designer, I have to] respect the environment and be responsible for making a well designed object. It's first an object, and then jewelry." To be jewelry, the objects needs meaning. And what better way to collect meaning than to travel?
Finding Design Inspiration On The Road
Kim's first solo-travel experience was at nineteen, when she went to study in France for a year, without knowing the language. With her characteristic grit and determination, she's now fluent in French language and culture. In fact, one of the first stores to carry her line was Colette, Paris's world-famous design boutique.
Since getting her foot in the door at Colette, Kim has launched boutiques around the world, including a new one recently opened in NYC. To accommodate her wide reaching market, Kim adjusts her offerings to suit local desires. This means smaller ring sizes in Japan and Korea, along with men's jewelry. For Kim, being an international brand means integrating with local culture, "I'm designing for the human, not for one person in particular."
This integration is evident in the pieces themselves. Slip on the curved bar ring on and it immediately feels like a cooler, bad-ass extension of your hand—it's your armor for going out into the world and experiencing, not just following the herd. Unlike the stiff high street imitations, these pieces are made to integrate into your life and move with you.
Each piece also carries with it a series of encounters. "Inspiration might be looking out the window in the airplane when going to Morocco and seeing the ocean and thinking it resembles diamond pavé," Kim says.
On Training Her Eyes For Inspiration
Travel and jewelry might be interlinked, but you won't find Kim stuffing her bag with exotic pieces. Instead, she collects stories with the eyes of a trained jeweler. "My boyfriend is Italian, and I'm in Venice all the time. On a recent trip I was [passing by] a vintage store and saw a ring that turned into a bracelet…. I didn't need to buy it, I just needed to see how it works." It's a small eureka moment that can only happen on the road.
Her emphasis on process, understanding and innovation extends back to her studio in NYC. To help her create more fluid, intuitive pieces, Kim took a class in goldsmithing. Working with gold was essential to better understand how the products she envisioned would look in the real world. Ultimately, it's like travel—to better understand a place, you can't secrete yourself away in a tourist bubble, you need to understand it's rhythms, flows and movements.
Kim is hyperaware of the durability of the pieces she creates and doesn't enter into the designing process lightly. When a client commissions a bespoke piece, she consults with them one on one to make sure she understands the memories that drive the investment. For a man bereft at losing his dog, she designed a bell with a tuft of hair from the dog that he preserved. "I wouldn't suggest this piece to just anyone," she insists, "but for the situation, it was appropriate."
She's also designed engagement rings for confused fiancees, who she encourages to describe their soon-to-be spouse in order to get a complete picture of the kind of piece that will integrate naturally into their life. It's the kind of global, tolerant perspective that sees the true luxury as acknowledging one's humanity.
How To Keep Your Jewelry Safe When Traveling
So, how does Kim ensure her ultra-precious products stay safe on the road? "Always in a safe place, which is somewhere you can have your eyes trained on," she says. This means never putting your special pieces into a checked bag and preferably not even in the overhead bin on a plane.
"When I'm staying in a hotel, I call them before and ask if they have security space for safe keeping." Staying in an Airbnb, or other non-traditional accommodation, can be a bit trickier, but you can always call in advance and ask if there will be facilities to protect your jewels. "And never get off the plane and go to a party or ask someone to hold onto [your jewelry] for you."
Find out more about Jules Kim and Bijules on her website, bijulesnyc.com