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A Jewelry Designer Who Set Herself Free

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A Jewelry Designer Who Set Herself Free

For nearly two decades, Raphaele Canot worked at two of the best-known names in the luxury jewelry world: Cartier and De Beers Jewellers, the diamond specialist’s retail brand. In the process, she found that creating pieces for established jewelry houses has its limitations.

“You’re not an artist when you work as a designer for a big company — you are a designer to the service of the brand,” Ms. Canot, 54, said in a phone interview from her office in London’s Notting Hill neighborhood. “You have a brief to follow, you have some big marketing components in it. You have to get your inspiration, but it has also to be in line with the brand DNA.”

So in 2014, she introduced her own collection, Raphaele Canot Jewellery. “I had had enough time in the timeless and the forever,” she said. “I wanted to experiment with something that was a different scale. Actually, a small scale means freedom and speed, because you can think of anything basically and make it happen.”

Her brand frequently uses diamonds, but with a less conventional approach than in typical gem designs. Take the Set Free Diamonds collection, the first she unveiled and still the brand’s best seller. The pieces showcase gemstones — mostly diamonds, but also others, including rubies, yellow sapphires and tsavorites — that are not set, as in conventional pieces, but rather hang on chains, dangling earrings or hoops thanks to tiny holes drilled into the stones themselves.

“It had a double meaning for me,” she said of the collection’s name. “First, it was setting myself free from the world of the big brands and doing something very lighthearted, like piercing a diamond and not caring about the consequences. Also, the second meaning was obviously setting diamonds free from the traditional way of engaging them into some gold to make them hold on the piece.”

Other brand highlights include the Radical Chic collection, which has single baguette diamonds sunk into thin rings, tiny hoop earrings of pink or yellow gold, or narrow bangles. And OMG! — named, Ms. Canot said, for her clients’ initial reaction — features a group of hinged bracelets, mini hoops and rings accented with pavé diamonds that look just like open mouths. The group, like some of her previous designs, showcases her use of red enamel, which Ms. Canot said was inspired by the work of artists such as Salvador Dalí, Andy Warhol and Tom Wesselmann, as well as her own daily application of crimson lipstick.

Ms. Canot’s prices range from 1,950 pounds ($2,490) for pieces like a pair of delicate Set Free 18-karat white gold earrings to £6,700 for an OMG! red enamel and diamond bangle. Bespoke items, which account for 35 percent of Ms. Canot’s business, are frequently more expensive.

The brand is sold by retailers including the Dover Street Market stores, Ylang 23 in Dallas, Whitebird in Paris and, as of next month, the Edition boutique in the Omotesando Hills area of Tokyo. Ms. Canot, who owns her company, declined to share sales figures but said they have been increasing each year.

The brand’s customers are predominantly female, often buying pieces for themselves.

“It’s the sort of jewelry that people don’t want to take off,” said Mimi Hoppen, global jewelry director for Dover Street Market. “You can wear it every day.”

“I think she really tapped into that sort of easy to wear but super chic,” she said, “the diamonds that glitter a bit but are not ostentatious.”

Ms. Canot was born and raised in Paris with an appreciation of style: Her father is an interior designer who worked on the current look of Parisian cafes such as Le Select in the Montparnasse neighborhood of Paris and Les Éditeurs in the Odéon area. Her mother, who is deceased, had worked with him.

Initially, she said, she didn’t intend to become a jewelry designer: She studied law, and in 1992 she earned a master’s degree in intellectual property law from Paris-Panthéon-Assas University. During her studies, she interned in the business affairs department at Cartier.

Then, while studying to earn a master’s degree in luxury brand management and international marketing from the Institut Supérieur de Marketing du Luxe, also in Paris, she worked in Cartier’s marketing department. The position was intended to be short-term, but it led to 11 years at the house in various capacities, culminating in four years as its jewelry studio director.

“It was an amazing journey through the company, giving me the opportunity to understand every component of the mix, which was better than any university to be honest,” she said.

In 2004, she moved to London to become creative director of De Beers Jewellers, which further influenced her view of design. “Working at De Beers with these enormous diamonds made her see it in a different way,” to be irreverent about it, said Maria Doulton, a founder and editor in chief of The Jewellery Editor, a website based in England.

Ms. Canot lives in London with her husband, Christophe Carpente, an architect and interior designer; their three teenagers; and a wire-haired dachshund named Moka. While her French roots remain, evidenced by an audible Parisian accent, she became a British citizen in November.

“I’m a Londoner,” she said. “As much as I love the Parisian easy chic elegance, which is really cool, I love the eclectic world of London references. It’s such a melting pot of cultures.”

Yet much of her design inspiration comes from within herself.

“My customers always tell me, ‘You’re the best ambassador for your brand. Your jewelry looks so good on you,’” she said. “Obviously, what I design, I design for myself as well. I’m just thinking, ‘Well, if I like it, somebody else will like it.’ If it works for me, usually it works for my clients.”

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