It was during her long recovery from a near-fatal accident that jewelry designer Fleur Damman-van Gelder encountered the work of Dutch artist Marc Mulders. After intense hospital rehabilitation sessions, she was visiting a multimedia exhibition of her work at the Noordbrabants Museum in ‘s-Hertogenbosch to catch her breath before returning home with her young children. She found peace and tranquility in the beautiful colors.
“It can still move me if I think about it,” says Fleur, who suffered a brain injury in 2007 while handling a horse. “It created a place for me to find myself.”
Her husband arranged for Fleur – creative director of Van Gelder Jewellery, the Dutch company she owns with her sister, Noelle Viguurs-van Gelder – to meet Mulders. They became friends, bonding over a common interest in Indian culture (Van Gelder specializes in Indian heritage jewelry).
Mulders’ paintings inspired Fleur’s designs for the company’s contemporary Baoli collection; her color palette can be found in all seven earring designs and four rings, with new pieces added in February. Van Gelder plans to exhibit the jewelry alongside Mulders’ work at London’s Frieze art fair in the fall of 2023.
This will precede the jeweler’s early participation in the DIVA museum exhibition in Antwerp, Belgium: India, from Diamond to DIVA. Scheduled for spring 2024, it will explore the long relationship between India and Antwerp through the diamond trade.
The sisters hope that showcasing their jewelry, new and old, at such high-profile events will increase brand reach, which, in turn, could accelerate the growth of their already expanding business.
Fleur and Noelle’s mother, Bernadette, founded Van Gelder Jewelery in 1980 to showcase traditional heritage jewelry collected during her travels in India. The sisters joined the business in 2000 and took over the reins in 2012 when their mother retired from the business. They launched their first contemporary collection in 2019.
Fleur began working on Baoli during the first Covid lockdown of 2020 – a time that “felt in a very familiar way” due to the uncertainty she had experienced while recovering. She used the time to reminisce, both on Mulders’ paintings and her own travels to India, and found inspiration in the country’s stepwells: ancient and elaborate architectural structures that descend into water. , known as baoli.
Mindful of abstract artist Mark Rothko’s color field paintings that aimed to elicit an emotional response and her own experience of how color can affect mood, she found the “right” hues for jewelry in gold – the ones that made her “feel” – in Mulders’ pastel palette. She worked with Van Gelder’s studio in Jaipur on hundreds of samples, before arriving at the desired enamel shades, which paired with tanzanite, sapphire, peridot and tourmaline.
Mulders is surrounded by the source of his own inspiration: we meet in his rural studio on the Landgoed Baest estate, northwest of Eindhoven, where the doors open to his precious flower garden and flower field wild. Books on Persian and Indian miniatures rest on a workbench, and he has also translated his work creating stained glass onto canvas. “When I’m in the studio doing an oil painting, I have the memory and the inspiration of the day before when I was painting against the light,” says Mulders.
He creates a sense of transparency and light in his tactile oil paintings by tinting turpentine with paint. Fleur aims to capture the same effect by alternating shades of translucent and semi-translucent enamel on an etched or filigree gold base; or by adding a thin gold border between the glazes, highly polished on one side and matte on the other, to create a reflection similar to sunlight on lapping water.
Sales of Van Gelder’s contemporary collections account for half of the jeweler’s income, according to Noelle, who is the commercial director. The company has typically achieved a 10% year-on-year growth rate. After investing heavily the year they launched the contemporary designs, that figure has dropped to just under 5%. But the company has since rebounded, recording nearly 30% overall growth in 2021. “We are confident that 2022 will be in the same growth range,” says Noelle.
In 2020, the company opened an appointment-only gallery in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, southeast of Rotterdam, where customers can view pieces of Indian heritage alongside the contemporary jewelry they help inspire. The contemporary creations are also available on the Auverture fine jewelry market and in two American galleries.
There are plans to increase outlets: Noelle meets boutique owners later this month during Paris Fashion Week and “takes a hard look” at London. There is a desire to expand beyond Europe and the United States as well; the company is in the early stages of exploring the possibility of a presentation in Hyderabad, India.
However, talking about strategy isn’t the sisters’ style. Their mother created Van Gelder despite being repeatedly told there was “no market” for traditional Indian jewelry, Noelle says.
“But she dared, and she really followed her passion, and it’s still an inspiration to us. We do what we love. It’s such a simple phrase, but for us, it contains so much to cause of Fleur’s accident.