At the end of a quiet street in Perpignan, the jewelry store Alterior Symboise displays unique jewelry that incorporates natural materials from the region.
Lamb’s wool, Tahitian pearls, drift wood — Alterior Symboise adds a touch of surprise to each hand-crafted piece.
“I didn’t choose Perpignan to take any “ ‘risks,’ ” said Thierry Arabia, owner and head designer. “I really wanted to return to where I am from and settled the shop here.”
Arabia was born and raised in Perpignan, but began his jewelry career in the very north of France almost 20 years ago. His partner, Eliane Malrich, also from the South of France, lived in Austria and Germany for many years and developed her craft there.
Their risk-taking designs are influenced by their time in northern France and Central Europe.
Germany has had a long tradition of pushing the edge with modern design, Arabia explains. After the fall of the German monarchy shortly after World War I, experimental arts flourished under the Weimar Republic. Here, the famous Bauhaus movement was created. Artists, inventors, architects and thinkers came together in a reaction against emotional expressionism to create a movement and theory based on functionality, rationalism and design. The idea that design and function should be interchangeable was key to their vision.
Arabia focuses much of his efforts on the actual process of creation, which he says he learned in the north of France. When commissioned for a piece, which is about 70 percent of the time, Arabia goes through a series of steps with his clients before the construction process can begin.
“Everything that is related to my creation begins when I meet the client,” he explains. “In general, a lot of people don’t know who they are, in terms of style and what suits them or not. My role is to have a client try on different jewels and see if she likes them or not and then step by step we can go and find something specific that she likes.”
It is difficult when viewing some of the more extravagant pieces in Alterior Symboise to even begin to understand which piece would suit anyone, or not suit anyone for that matter.
Arabia frequently looks to the land around him for inspiration and for materials.
“In this region there is a lot of contrast. There is contrast between the sea and the mountains, the colors and I was immersed in the contrast since I was born, so it’s a good place to get inspiration,” Arabia says.
Arabia and Malrich often go hiking in Collioure, a small seaside village, and other parts of the region to collect natural materials they set against silver, gold and traditional gems. The contrasts of the region’s terroir , as the say in Perpignan, or more specifically, the land, are reflected in Alterior Symboise’s pieces.
Freshwater pink and lavender pearls peak out of twisted driftwood. Diamonds stud lava rock. Coral is paired with lapis.
In each one-of-a-kind piece, one can see the push and pull between modernism and traditionalism. As the city of Perpignan slowly moves toward a more modern way of life, Alterior Symboise is making headway toward new innovations that will dangle and shimmer from the necks, fingers and wrists of its clients.