In The Magazine

The New Stone Age

Thursday, June 30, 2016

“Once the right brain is on, you can’t turn it off,” says financier Charlie de Viel Castel, who is now also the founder and creator of CVC Stones, a jewelry line that pays homage to his grandmother.

Initially choosing a career in banking, Viel Castel has both business and art in his blood. Raised in Paris, he graduated from Brown with a double degree in economics and international relations. Viel Castel then went on to work in finance with Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank, before founding private equity and venture capital firm Stelac Capital in 2007.

His mother, Isabel Carcano, was born in Argentina but raised in France. She hails from an entrepreneurial family that owned businesses ranging from breweries to real estate. On his father’s side he descends from Horace de Viel-Castel, an intimate of Princess Mathilde Bonaparte, who served as director of the Louvre. Ultimately, it was Amicie de L’Epine, his paternal grandmother, who inspired him to pursue his endeavor in jewelry, CVC Stones.

“She knew what really mattered. She encouraged me to be creative, try new things and not be afraid to make big changes, like leaving Paris for America and starting my financial firm,” Viel Castel says.

Upon passing away, she left him a loose diamond.

“It felt like a message she was passing from the beyond, inviting me to make another big change,” he says.

With no wife or fiancée to give the diamond to, he began pondering the possibilities. His impulse was to combine something organic with something precious. He found that inspiration while walking on the beach in the Hamptons one day: the diamond should be set in a beach pebble.

Viel Castel threw himself enthusiastically into finding the materials and technique to bring his vision for his grandmother’s diamond to life. “Between the idea and the finished product, I spent two long years with a lot of uncertainty as to whether this could be done,” he reflects. The process involved finding the perfect stones and chains and a method for setting the diamonds securely without breaking the pebbles in the process to finally satisfy the idea.

To truly appreciate Viel Castel’s eye, scroll through the CVC Stones Instagram page. There, you will find the stones worn by A-listers like Bee Shaffer and Jessica Hart, as well as celebrities like Sienna Miller and Rebecca Hall. The artful aesthetic is carried throughout each post, as photos of the jewelry are juxtaposed with graceful pictures of nature and architecture, clearly an inspiration for Viel Castel’s discerning eye.

During this journey into entrepreneurship, childhood friend Eugenie Niarchos became someone to whom Viel Castel could turn for advice and guidance, offering support based on her decade of experience in the jewelry business and the successful 2013 launch of her Venyx line, a quirky collection of playful fine jewelry inspired by a blend of nature and science fiction. Niarchos’ background also includes a stint studying at the Gemological Institute of America and experience with jewelry collaborations for Repossi and Azzaro.

“I’ve long been a fan of Eugenie’s unique aesthetic and curious eye, from way before she debuted her Venyx collection, which I then welcomed with real joy, since it finally allowed me to shop in her quirky world,” says friend Margherita Missoni Amos.

Niarchos sources stones based on their aesthetic value as opposed to perceived value, traveling to stone fairs around the world, including one in Tucson, Arizona, where many of the materials in the collaboration with CVC Stones come from.

“I see stones in a different way. I see no distinction between precious and semiprecious stones,” Niarchos explains. “You can find a poor-quality ruby and an amazing quality agate, so how do you qualify precious and semiprecious at the end of the day?”

Like Viel Castel, Niarchos’ impeccable penchant for beauty was honed by her family. Her paternal grandfather, billionaire shipping magnate Stavros Niarchos, developed a legendary collection of impressionist and modern art that she grew up surrounded by, having been inherited by her father, Philip. On her mother’s side, great grandmother Gloria Guinness was one of Truman Capote’s so-called swans. She was a muse to photographers, and painters hailed her as one of the best-dressed women of her time.

“I never got to meet her, but I’m very inspired by her taste, which was impeccable and original, blending her Mexican heritage with the latest styles. She would pull off a poncho or a couture piece in an equally understated way, and her home in Acapulco combined traditional Mexican furniture and artifacts with modern pieces and contemporary styling. Like Gloria, I enjoy mixing the obvious with the unexpected and the modern with the ancient to achieve fun, understated luxury.”

Niarchos is a soft-spoken free spirit; Viel Castel is full of charisma and charm. But, they both have “European sophistication mixed with a youthful spirit,” says mutual friend Lauren Santo Domingo. And their differences have allowed them to work well together.

With Niarchos’ guidance and depth of knowledge in the industry, Viel Castel’s passion project evolved into CVC Stones. He gave the first necklaces, test runs for his grandmother’s diamond, to the women in his family. He showed the remaining few to friends like Eugenie, one of whom took him to meet magazine fashion market and accessories director Rickie De Sole, daughter of Tom Ford International chairman Domenico De Sole. The resulting article had a domino effect.

“You put them on and people notice. People stop me on the street and ask me ‘What is that?’ There’s some magic in the designs that resonated. He’s only had the brand for a year, but suddenly you started seeing it on celebrities, editors and in stores in a very short period of time,” says de Sole.

Santo Domingo took a chance on her friend’s line. Moda Operandi, which already carried Venyx, became the first retailer to pick up CVC Stones, followed by prestigious stores such as Barneys New York and Colette in Paris.

“Personally, I like to mix business and pleasure whenever possible,” Santo Domingo says. “It helps to have very talented friends.”

Niarchos’ mentorship has now evolved into a collaboration, in which she continues to nurture Viel Castel’s growth as a jewelry designer.

“I’m very conscious of my limitations,” says Viel Castel, who still considers himself a novice despite the early success of his company. “For me one of the ideas behind the collaboration was to evolve, to see something new, and to learn from Eugenie’s use of color and her design eye.”

Their collaboration brings together the CVC Stones technique for embedding diamonds in ocean-smoothed stones from the beach with Venyx’s signature use of color and passion for astrology. Each beach stone features a constellation associated with a zodiac sign, made out of colored gemstones reflective of that sign.

“Both of them have so much to say, and they’ve come together very harmoniously. It still speaks to CVC Stones and their design intent, but the addition of color really speaks to Eugenie’s aesthetic so I think that there’s a very nice marriage between the two in this collaboration,” says Vanessa Traina, creative director of The Line, the exclusive seller of CVC Stones in the Hamptons.

While their aesthetics are distinct, Viel Castel and Niarchos both root their designs in nature, making it easy to find common ground.

“For me nature is the inspiration for everything—through its shapes, colors, patterns you can find so much. In this collaboration we’re using pebbles from the beach with stones you find in the earth. It’s two different types of nature uniting in a special way,” says Niarchos. “I also try to make jewelry with a story, and there’s a really beautiful one when you think deeply about these pebbles. They have traveled throughout the world, and now you’re wearing one around your neck.”

The collaboration lands in stores this season, including the longtime summer destinations of each designer. “They’re shops by the sea,” Niarchos points out about the stores. “We’re bringing the stones back to where they’re from.”

Niarchos will feature CVC Stones in her Venyx pop-up shop in Mykonos, and the collection will also be on offer at The Apartment by The Line’s Amagansett pop-up, which is close to Viel Castel’s Bridgehampton home.

Viel Castel heads out east almost every weekend to pursue another passion, surfing. His house is currently five years into a renovation project, but Viel Castel is nothing if not a creative problem solver, and the house reflects his artistic nature. The property came with four preexisting structures—an artist’s studio, a garage and two small houses—but instead of knocking them down, he decided to leave them as they are, gut renovating each and connecting them with paths. “It’s a labor of love and patience…” Viel Castel says, laughing about the painfully long permit process.

But, like the designs for CVC Stones, the renovation taps into a creative side that Viel Castel has just recently discovered he enjoys nurturing. “I always liked music and art,” he reminisces. “I don’t necessarily think I suppressed it. It just didn’t materialize until now.”

styled by Emily Barnes

hair by Yoichi Tomizawa at Art Dept using Shiseido Professional

makeup by Andriani Vasiliou for Charlotte Tilbury at Kramer + Kramer

fashion assistance by Kacey Bennett


Where’s Your January AVENUE?

Shhhhh, we're getting a facelift!

On The Avenue

The Kids Are Just Right

Where to find special clothes and gifts for very special children (and for you, too!)


Marni’s Wonderful World of Color

The brand's new boutique on Madison Avenue is a kaleidoscopic shopping fantasy

by Barbara Hodes and NYC Private Shopping TourPhotographed by Barbara Hodes and Marni