Sara Beltran, designer of jewelry collection Dezso, has always intrigued me because she uses her biggest influence—the ocean, in the most atypical way. Rather than being ephemeral and shimmery, her work is sexy, edgy and elegant. Her dark, glistening hand-carved shell pendants, polki diamond-studded shark fins, enameled cuffs and chokers have a dark, poetic, raw quality to them. Sara, who is of Mexican descent spends her time between New York, India (where everything is made), Paris and Mexico and you can sense the influence each city has on her aesthetic. I had the luxury of spending an afternoon talking with Sara in her apartment filled with treasures and pieces scavenged from nature and her global jaunts. Here, she discusses why she’s gone ‘coco loco’ this summer, the lotion she buys in bulk and her elemental idea of luxury:
How did you get into jewelry? I studied fashion merchandising in FIT. Then I did some styling, and then I was doing PR. I worked for Angela Mariani and did the PR for Missoni, Allesandro del’Aqua. One day, I made a necklace for myself. Do you remember Tracy Feith?
Of course, I had some of his dresses….
I met his wife at the time, Susan. And she said, ‘I love your necklace, where did you get it?’ I told her, ‘I made it for myself.’ It was all wood. She said, ‘Can you make 20 for my store?’
Then a friend of mine said, ‘Why don’t you start using gold?” I thought, I don’t know, maybe it’s too expensive. But she really pushed me. So I thought, okay. I started making my jewelry in New York. A friend told me that the things I could do in India would change everything in my life. So I moved to India in 2007.
One of the things I like most about my work is the carving. I didn’t know anything about stones until I moved to India. When I started I was attracted to labradorite. Labradorite has this fire that you see, like a shine. The carvers were cutting a lot of labradorite stones, but they didn’t look pretty, they didn’t have that fire. I noticed that they tried to save as much material as they could because they sell their work by gram [weight]. So I spent about three years sitting with them marking where I wanted every single stone to be carved. That’s how I learned a lot about the stones, spending time with the workers.
That’s so time consuming.
I love the carving because they are like baby sculptures. They are almost one of a kind because they’re all handmade. They are never exactly the same. The place where they cut the stones is very small, they only have like six men working. One man is really good. His name is Rupe. He’s the master. When he doesn’t go, it’s like ‘eh, where is Rupe?’
One of my favorite rings, the shark fin, is carved on a curve. They can never get it the same. It’s one of my favorites, and every time I order one, they are like ‘ugh!’. Then for the last two years, I’ve been doing a lot of enamel. They hate it. Because normally enamel is supposed to be shiny, but I like semi-shiny, semi-matte. So they have to file it. Sometimes they have to do the pieces three or four times.
What do you love about jewelry? My dad used to give my mom jewelry and I remember my sister and I fighting in their bedroom. We were like, ‘When you die, we want this…and that’ We were maybe three or four years old and those were naive, maybe hurtful comments. But I was so fascinated by, and attracted to, jewelry at a young age.
What I like the most about it now, when I design a piece, is when a woman wears it. I met a client last week who’s been collecting my pieces. She came to repair a bracelet that she bought in Paris, and she brought me all her pieces to show what she has. She bought two more pieces, and then sent me an email saying, ‘I can’t believe I met you. You are my favorite designer. I felt like a little girl when I was walking to the train because everybody was looking and smiling at me.’ It was so beautiful, because she felt so beautiful, The way you can touch people is amazing.
When you start to design a collection, what’s your first step? I don’t think there is a rule for me. Anytime I travel, I see material and I buy it. Sometimes, I don’t know what I am going to do with it. When I get to them in my studio in India, I think, ‘I’m going to do this.’ I used to do two collections per year. Two years ago I turned those first 11 collections into one core collection, so now I add additions to it and make one-of-a-kinds to complement. Because a lot of my customers, they collect the pieces.
What inspires you? Everything is inspired 100% by the ocean. Every time I’m at the ocean I feel free. Everything is very relaxing and I immediately feel like I’m on vacation. At the same time, I have a lot of respect; we are very vulnerable in the ocean. I am also obsessed with sharks, they are the kings of the ocean, so strong and powerful.
And for the last two years, I have been mixing in art deco. I love art deco—the symmetry, the proportions. I am also very influenced by Asia in general–China, Japan. When I travel, I always try to absorb whatever I feel is beautiful to my eye. Somehow that creates an impact in the jewelry.
What was the last trip that you took that inspired you, and where do you want to go next? I need a constant inspiration in my life. The last trip that was very inspirational was to Marrakesh. But I think the biggest change lately in my collection came when I started spending more time in Paris. Before, my work was very strong, very masculine, but it started becoming more soft and more romantic. I started using more gems, to give it a touch of femininity.
Where do I want to go next? I don’t know. I’ve been dying to go to Africa. I want to go to Lamu.
What motivates you? So many things–I like it when people like what I do. It makes me feel happy. It’s not because I need credit, it’s more because I feel very happy that I am doing something that is beautiful and I feel very grateful for that. I wake up every day, and it doesn’t matter if I wake up here or in India, I feel like I’m on a vacation, but I’m working.
What’s new for summer? Pukas and baby coconuts. I keep saying ‘We are going coco loco!’ When I started doing research on puka necklaces, the history goes back to the late 50s, so they are something that touches a lot of generations and that everybody can relate to. They’re not trendy, they’re almost like a statement. The first pieces I put up on Instagram sold out. To be honest, I didn’t expect that response. We have in several new ones with different semi-precious stones–amber, coral, tourmaline, coco beads, and shells with aquamarine. After the first pieces sold out I went back to India and made more. I think they’re going to be really fun.
And the baby coconuts? You know how I told you that when I travel I always find material? Sometimes I buy sculptures of Ganesh, the Indian god, as presents. At the temples, where you go to buy the offerings or pujas, they have these seeds that look like baby coconuts. I love coconuts. I thought, ‘OMG, they are so cute!’ I had them for four years in my studio in India. I wanted to wear one but I didn’t know how to hang it. When I started doing this second layer of charms with the different jump ring, I realized it would be so cute with the coconut. I started wearing it and people started asking for the coconuts.
Three words that describe you: Determined, visionary, authentic.
Three words that describe Dezso: Ocean-inspired, handcrafted, strong.
What’s next? I always like to have different projects otherwise I get bored. I need a constant stimulation. And especially when I go to India, I always say it’s like candyland because you can make anything you want. I want to go into interiors. I designed most of the furniture I have here [in her NYC apartment]. Two years ago I did a beach club in St. Tropez. It was under my brand, and I was the creative director. And I am doing a private residence right now in Careyes for a client.
Role models: The biggest one is my mom. She is an artist as well. I have a lot of respect, and especially now think it is really important, to be independent. I grew up in the Mexican culture that is sometimes not really open. But I feel it’s important, not because you need the power, but because you need something for yourself. You need to feel like you are important for yourself and that you don’t have to depend on somebody. When I receive emails from students I always try to respond because nobody helped me, but I like to mentor. If I can mentor people, if I can inspire people, I would love to do that.
Do you collect anything? Look around, I don’t know what to say! I love collecting beautiful things. For example, you see all my the corals, each is from a different trip to Mexico. One time there were so many coconuts on the beach, I bought an extra suitcase and brought it back filled with coconuts. Some of those coconuts went to the project that I did in St. Tropez.
I like it when things feel warm. My house, my studio, wherever I spend time, is like my temple. I need to feel comfortable. I want to feel safe. I want to be surrounded by beautiful things. Some people think luxury is something expensive, for me luxury is my shells because they remind me of something. You cannot buy them. They’re not for sale. You’re lucky if you find something beautiful. That’s luxury.
Biggest splurge you don’t regret: I think the older I get the better I am at curating. I prefer to have something beautiful even if it’s going to cost three times more, but I am very smart how I spend it. Well I think I am. I like to have things that last, that become a classic. For example I bought this diamond bracelet for my 40th. It’s Victorian, from the 1890s or early 1900s. The woman told me, ‘it’s very delicate, you cannot wear it every day.’ I was like, if I cannot wear every day, I am not buying it. For me, every day is special. And when I buy something I like I want to use it.
Scent that brings back memories: I cannot leave home without coconut body lotion from Skin Trip. I have been using it for ten years, and I order it by the box. Every time I’m on a trip and I run out of lotion. I go, ‘okay, it’s time to go home.’ Then I have two perfumes that I use all the time. One is Night Surf by Regime Des Fleurs. The other one I just start using is Serge Lutens. They have two sandalwoods, the one that I use is the sandalwood inspired in India. It’s very woody. The mix of that with the coconut lotion….
Are you a good packer? I am very specific in the way I dress. I always like a have a uniform. Also, because I travel so much I like to be dressed so that I don’t necessarily have to change at night. I love to wear tuxedos. I love to dress in black, navy blue. I try to keep the packing very minimal when I travel, because I have to bring so much stuff for work.
Lucky charm: I always wear this Anabada cuff, it’s one of my first pieces. I have a friend who’s a Shaman and he gave me a piece of obsidian. It’s a stone that comes from Mexico and it was very special to the Mayans who used it to carve offerings for the gods. I carved it for myself so I always wear this cuff.
Favorite hour of the day: I love to get up early, early. Today I woke up before 5:30. I love to get up early in the morning, have breakfast, then sleep for one hour. I know it doesn’t make sense. It’s a leisure thing for me. I get up and have breakfast. Then I feel like I have a nap before the day starts.
Follow Sara: Instagram.