Into the Bleue: In conversation with Bleue Burnham

This season, we welcomed London-based jewellery brand Bleue Burnham to the htown family. Famed for kaleidoscopic rings - which have dazzled the fingers of Jorja Smith, Peggy Gou and Pa Salieu, to name a few - the brand has been making waves in the industry since its recent inception. With the release of new collection Trust is Alive, we caught up with the designer on building a sustainable brand, lab-growing sapphires and his mission to revive hand-made craft.

Founded in 2018, Bleue Wickham-Burnham birthed his namesake label with the motive of capturing the symbiosis between humans and the natural world through jewellery. Although a self-taught jeweller, his background in sustainable fashion informed a breakout collection of rings, earrings and pendants which put nature first. His signature designs - recognisable by techni-colour sapphires set in organic-texture metals - quickly caught the eye of major stockists like SSENSE, Browns and Matches, as well as a host of global independent stores which he remains stocked at today.

“Seeing a sunset, seeing a sunrise, the smell of a flower, the view of a landscape; these are a few of the many aspects of nature that we experience with strong, involuntary and honest emotions”.

Wickham-Burnham’s affinity for the natural world can be found not only in the forms of his jewellery, but the materials he chooses to craft from. The designer lab-grows his own sapphires - a process which creates shades ranging from Bougainvillea pink to the blue of the Mediterranean ocean - before setting the gems in recycled precious metals. Take the Hanging Basket Signet, an homage to cascading flowers you may find in a summer garden; the Chloroplast Ring, which finds its name from the plant structure housing photosynthesis; or the Bound Willow earrings, with engravings akin to the weathered bark of a tree. There’s a symbiosis between Bleue Burnham product and nature, in that it gives back as much as it takes in inspiration.

Launching a sustainable brand into an industry upheld by natural resources is no easy feat. Gem mining requires drilling into the Earth, which wreaks havoc on local ecosystems and wildlife; not to mention, natural sapphires are a dwindling resource, so once they’re gone, they’re gone. Meanwhile, mining virgin metals poses huge risks to human health through the toxic chemicals used for extraction, which leech - or are dumped - into waterways as waste. 

“What I consider one of the most important acts within environmentalism is the support of a culture which puts the natural world in a richer and more loving and centralised position, something which is core to our philosophy of business”.

The designer’s choice to seek sustainable alternatives certainly wasn’t the path most travelled, but comes from a deep care for nature which can be felt in every piece. Wickham-Burnham’s choice to grow his own sapphires locally, in London, is an answer to the oft-murky supply chain which mined gems follow. In fact, the designer aims to keep every aspect of the business local, crafting jewellery components in-house at his studios with a team of artisans. The effect is two-fold - each piece carries the warmth of human connection whilst retaining skills using the human hand. 

The brand’s hand-made focus may best be viewed through its use of pearls. Amongst the bargain hunters and Gen-Z thrifters, Wickham-Burnham scours antiques merchants, carboots and second-hand sales around his East London hometown for pearls, before they’re carefully dismantled and re-threaded into chokers and bracelets. There’s something personal about his approach; evolving the past lives of his gems into modern heirlooms for generations to come.

“Disney movies in the ‘90s had a magical way of bringing the plant and animal kingdom to life, which was part of my childhood understanding of nature”.

Bleue Burnham’s AW23-SS24 collection Trust Is Alive - which lasts for two seasons to encourage a slower pace of consumption – looks to the spirituality of the natural world. Motifs of hearts, hands praying to flowers and suns bearing the word ‘truth’ carry a clear message: to trust in the creation that surrounds us. The designer has been meditating on “how to elevate a tailored outfit” this season, so nestled amongst his usual treasure trove, you’ll find a cherry-blossom brooch and singular buttons, encouraging wearers to upgrade their fits, Burnham style.

Wickham-Burnham’s reverence for the outdoors continues through the packaging, where pieces come wrapped in velvet, hand embroidered pouches which feel immediately precious. Each season, the organic cotton pouch is naturally dyed using a different plant; currently it’s the Butterfly Pea plant, which holds both healing properties and a duck-egg blue dye. The resounding message is a return to nature: get outside, put your feet in the grass, slow down, breathe the fresh air. Hearing Wickham-Burnham’s passion to protect the natural world, I’m reminded of the late Vivienne Westwood’s Climate Revolution manifesto: Buy less, choose well, make it last. A Bleue Burnham piece seems to fit the bill.

Words - Ella Aldersey-Williams