All hail the Pearly Queen
Claudia Bradby is the chic jewellery designer who's put the pizzazz back into pearls, with celeb fans including Helen Mirren and Kate Middleton.
Hampshire-based jewellery designer Claudia Bradby is on a mission to modernise pearls. Her chic designs definitely don’t need to be accompanied by a twinset and a small sherry. We had a chinwag about how to style jewellery, her royal pals and family life (she’s married to ITN news anchor, Tom Bradby). If that piques your interest, you can pop along to Strange The Jewellers in Wokingham and snag a piece or three from her collection. Lead the way…
How did your business start?
My husband gave me a diamond necklace our wedding anniversary and I found it a bit generic, so I took it back to the shop. He didn’t mind – he wanted to get me something I loved. When I looked around, so much jewellery felt like that, I couldn’t find the pieces I wanted to wear. We were living in Hong Kong at the time  as Tom was posted there and I made a friend a pearl necklace – I bought pearls from one of the night markets and threaded them onto a leather string. She loved it and when I researched the market there didn’t seem to be anything beyond the classic twinset and pearls market. So I started designing pieces and sourcing pearls from farms in north China.
Pearls can often feel a bit stuffy but I like how your designs modernise them
Yes, I wouldn’t been seen dead in a twinset and pearls! I love pearls for their incredible history – before they were cultured, so pre 1920s, they were rare so that’s how they became associated with royalty and the aristocracy. I wanted to channel that history and tradition but make them appropriate for modern women’s lives. I love how they’ve been worn by everyone from Queen Elizabeth I to Marilyn Monroe to Sarah Jessica Parker who puts a long string of pearls with a grey T-shirt and jeans. And when Alessandro Michele took over at Gucci he started putting a lot of pearls on jewellery, bags and shoes, making them cool and mainstream again. So they can be both timeless and modern.
Helen Mirren is a fan, I hear?
Yes, her husband gave her pearls on their wedding night so she loves wearing them. Lots of fashion bloggers wear my pieces, Susannah Reid, Clare Balding. I design for women who do life-enhancing things, women with a sense of adventure.
And you and Kate Middleton go way back – she bought one of your early collections when she was a Jigsaw buyer, right?
Yes. I’m a big fan – the Royal family are really lucky to have her. She comes from a very nice family – hard workers, really smart, loyal, discreet, strong values. I think she’s helped modernise the royal family. And the power of her wearing your brand is enormous.
You and Tom went to Harry and Meghan’s wedding – what was the gossip?
It was lovely being back at Windsor Castle – my grandfather worked for a royal foundation for a while and lived in a house in the grounds. My cousin and I used to skateboard around the grounds! The wedding was a properly happy, loving, relaxed day. It was such a magic setting – almost like a film set. I actually brushed past George Clooney at one point.
Did you sniff him? I would’ve done!
No, haha. He’s not actually my pin-up. I thought his wife knocked him out of the park – she looked gorgeous.
What on earth do you wear to an event like that?
I wore a navy DVF jumpsuit and one of my own lariat necklaces with a single pearl. So quite simple. Less is more with jewellery. If you’re going to wear a hat, I think it’s best to wear earrings with clean lines – nothing too dangly or detailed. Get the hat and dress sorted and then think about jewellery to complement it. There’s lots of floral and patterned dresses around at the moment, for example, and they look best with simple jewellery. And if you’re going to wear earrings and a necklace, make sure they balance each other out and aren’t too matchy-matchy.
You and Tom have three grown-up children who were little in the early years of your business. What did you learn about surviving the working mother juggle?
Time management is really key. My very inspiring sister-in-law Tamara Norton-Hill set up Sweaty Betty and I remember her saying she spends most of her time organising her diary. I did my first ever triathlon on Sunday and when I signed up, I vowed to make it a priority and spent time working out how to fit the training in and enjoy it, see it as a pleasure rather than another task to complete. And on my birthday every year, I say to myself, ‘Am I happy doing what I’m doing? Am I spending my time how I want to spend it? Am I being sucked into doing things I don’t want to do?’ It’s important to take stock.
Tom’s been very honest about his battles with insomnia and mental health. What’s your approach?
Self-awareness is so important. I know exactly what makes me feel good and what doesn’t. Taking exercise is hugely important and cooking healthy food. Plus having a job I’m passionate about and seeing friends.
With your Sweaty Betty connection, you must have an amazing collection of workout gear?
I do! And Tom’s a runner too and loves their gear. They’re very generous with their gifts. I remember one year at Christmas there were so many presents flying around and someone said, ‘This is getting silly, shall we just buy presents for the kids now?’ And Tom said, “Um, could we actually carry on with the presents for adults too?”
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about running your own biz?
Just keep going and try to keep things simple. I have a tendency to over-think and over-complicate things. Focus on what you love and what you believe in and accept there’s always going to be difficult moments. And take advice from other people – sometimes you can get really stuck in your own head but it’s really invaluable and liberating to share the problem with other people.
Strange the Jewellers, 7-8 Bush Walk, Market Place, Wokingham, Berks, RG40 1AD Tel:0118 978 5582.