Countess Elisabeth d’Udekem d’Acoz’s passion
By Kristine De Vriese (interview) & Filip Van Roe (photos)
Since the marriage of Mathilde d’Udekem d’Acoz – 4th December 1999 – to the future king of the Belgians, the noble house d’Udekem d’Acoz has become a known name among the European gotha. Elisabeth is the third daughter of count Patrick d’Udekem d’Acoz, who died on 25th September 2008, and Polish countess Anne Komorowska. On the 22nd July 2006, then 29-year old Elisabeth joined marquis Alfonso Pallavicini at the altar. In 2008 they had a beautiful daughter, Olimpia, and for years now Elisabeth has been designing jewellery.
In the majestic scenery of the castle of Beloeil, I have an appointment with Mathilde’s sister, countess Elisabeth. Beforehand we run through the decors that will be used for the photo shoot, with the hostess – the princess de Ligne. The antique interiors ooze calm, the gardens look magnificent. A good photo session is a must for a comfortable interview. The woman who arrives is tall, slim and elegant. Dark Valentino jeans, purple short-sleeved blouse and a cashmere scarf with flowers. On her left hand she wears two rings, one of them her wedding ring with a stone she recieved from her husband. They discussed the design for hours. “This is my most precious jewel”, she says. One by one she places her latest creations on the table. Her pearls are safely tucked away in little jewel boxes she takes out of a Formes Paris paper bag (pregnancy clothing). Stylist Saskia takes a close look at the jewels and together we talk about wich jewels to use with each outfit. Beautician Ann completes the look.
Madam, did you have a passion for jewellery from early on?
“Like every little girl I noticed pretty things. But as a child I never thought I would be designing jewellery one day. I had no clear idea about what I wanted to do. My sisters, my brother and I had a careless childhood in Losange, Bastogne. We lived in a castle but we were just like all the other children in the village. We horsed around in the woods with our friends, gave birthday parties and went to the village school. We got a strict upbringing, but our parents never forced us in a certain direction. We were allowed to make our own choices. Growing up, I did fantsize about my own collection of jewels so after I graduated as a speech therapist, I studied for two years at the Ecole Belge de Gemmologie in Brussels. Afterwards I did a design course at the Gemological Institute of America in Bloomsbury – one of the liveliest areas of London. It was a great time. I got really fascinated with gems, a new world opened up to me.”
The past years countess Elisabeth has exposed her creations in Brussels and in Paris – where she has been living since her marriage. Her husband, marquis Alfonso is a banker for BNP Paribas. Elisabeth’s atelier is in their home. In June last year (2008) – when her father’s health started deteriorating quickly – she gave birth to a daughter, Olimpia. Since her father’s death she makes more frequent visits to Belgium. Her mother Anne still has a hard time coming to terms with her husband’s death. The loss is immense. The children still miss their father as well. “He was my ideal, my god. As a daughter you mesure your experiences with the filosofies you heard at home.” Just like count Patrick, Elisabeth is a real optimist. “My real wish is for everybody to be happy. Of course my father’s passing away and the birth of Olimpia have changed the way I look at things. Motherhood is amazing. You put a little creature into this world that’s completely dependant on you. You’re obliged to take your responsabilities, which makes you more mature. The way I draw, the entire designing process has changed. I try to put a little bit of myself in each jewel. I can’t really tell if my designs are ‘art’. Maybe that’s a bit too pretentious.”
What’s the creation process of a jewel like?
“I still do my drawings by hand, 2D. Nowadays 3D with computer drawings is the big thing. That’s why I signed up for a course. Now my drawings are still transformed into 3D, which often leads to discussions about the interpretation. Sometimes the 3D image matches my expectations a hundred percent, sometimes it’s a disappointment and you have to debate it. As soon as we come to an agreement, the goldsmith executes my design.”
Elisabeth’s passionate when we talk about the secrets of gemmology. “Diamonds and the ‘big three’ (ruby, sapphire, emerald) are known by everybody.” But the countess also likes working with lesser known stones like aquamarine, tourmaline or tanzanite. She even uses yellow and pink beril, or rubelite. “I had the chance of getting to know some stones at home, but it wasn’t untill I was at school that I realized the huge quantity of minerals and stones.” Of course the noble family d’Udekem d’Acoz has some nice jewels. Elisabeth loves to wear them. As does her sister Mathilde at special occasions. But she won’t go as far as transforming them to give them a more personal touch. “They have too big a sentimental value for me”. The same goes for the creations the countess makes for herself. She sometimes has trouble parting with pieces for exhibitions.
Jewels can be like a second skin. Some people feel ‘naked’ without them. Does this go for you as well?
“Yes. It’s a habit, they’re part of who I am. And woudn’t it be sad to just leave them lying in a drawer?”
Countess Elisabeth’s mostly designs at her client’s wishes. That’s why she wants to get a clear idea of the person she’s designing for. I inquire about the jewels she designed for her sister Mathilde. What qualities do they have? We know the princess as a sweet woman with a strong personality. The countess produces a Mona Lisa smile, is silent for a while and then avoids the question by saying “My goal is to please each individual client who wears my designs”. It’s clear she’ll stay loyal to the imposed discretion. Neither does she give a direct answer to the question whether she’s ever had the chance to design something for her brother-in-law, prince Philippe. “Long time male jewels weren’t trendy, but nowadays modern design is getting more and more popular with them too.”
Suddenly I remember Mathilde only has a single tiara: the one she recived from the Federation of Belgian nobility, as a wedding gift. Has Elisabeth never thought of designing another one for her sister? The countess looks a little surprised, thinks it over and admits it has never crossed her mind. “But now you mention it, it would be a fantastic challenge to design a royal tiara. And I’m sure it’ll only be more beautiful when Mathilde wears it.”