ISLE jewellery

Born in Annalong, County Down, Isle Jewellery's Geraldine Kane went on to study Metalsmithing & Jewellery at the University of Ulster in Belfast. She became a teacher and taught Fine Art in a college in England for a few years before moving to Tokyo where she later began jewellery company ISLE in collaboration with her Belfast-based sister, Helen.

We interviewed Geraldine about running ISLE in two different continents!

In what way have Japan and Ireland influenced your jewellery?

A lot of the themes and the starting points for the collections are elements from home. I started ISLE while living in Japan and feeling a bit homesick. I guess the further away you are from home, the more nostalgic you get about it, and you start viewing things you previously took for granted in a different light.  The Japanese element is more aesthetic; clean lines and simplicity rule. Allowing space for the materials and craftsmanship to speak is key.

What are some of the key staples of Japanese design?

In Japanese culture craftsmanship is still highly valued, something I believe we are trying to get back to in Ireland and the UK. High quality materials, along with meticulous design and execution, are the main identifying features of Japanese design.  Here in Japan, the packaging is just as important, if not more so, than the actual product. The Japanese really understand the art of gift-giving and every shop provides gift wrapping service as standard when you buy something. The quality and sophistication of the packaging here is mind-blowing, often just too beautiful to open.  I would say Japanese designers really know how to refine and ‘subtract’ when designing, removing any unnecessary or distracting elements from their work. Less really is more.

Give 3 tips on how to run a successful international business

We are still trying to work that out to be honest! The main thing (and the most difficult) is communication. Luckily, we are sisters with a similar outlook on life and design, so understanding each other is pretty easy. I don’t know what we would do without all the communication apps available these days. We usually have several conversations on the go at one time through Line, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.  

Understanding the impact of time difference is vital. You need to think about the far-flung people you are dealing with and the rhythm of their day in connection to yours. Sometimes you have to hold off sending that email until they are fully awake.  

Understanding different markets and the fact that your product may not work everywhere is something we have really become aware of. In Japan the focus is very much on super delicate 18ct gold jewellery whereas in Ireland and the UK, 9ct gold is very popular and usually the designs are a little more substantial. We are bringing elements of Japanese inspiration into designs made, primarily, for the Irish & UK customer. I wanted to design jewellery that I, my sisters and my friends would want to wear.