Fashion / Style

When Intrigue, Worldliness and Precious Gems Collide: The Story Behind the Woman Who Drives Dallas’ Jewelry Empire

BY // 02.15.18

Karen Boulle is equal parts proper, quick-witted Jane Austen heroine and an Out of Africa Karen Blixen: worldly and adventurous with old-world elegance, the kind scarcely seen these days. She’s also one of the most beloved and intriguing women in Dallas — mention her name, and praises are sung.

But you will rarely see her photo in the society pages, nor is her name stamped on every en vogue invitation. She swims below the social swirl, and that’s the way she likes it.

With her silky British accent, she steers de Boulle Fine Jewelry — the 35-year-old Dallas family business begun by her British-born husband, Denis Boulle — from behind the velvet curtain.

Karen Boulle’s Style

Her mark is on everything from the store’s logo to the design of the shopping bags, ribbon, and gift boxes. She styles photo shoots for the company’s magazine and is in the development phase of turning the store’s signature fragrance into a candle.

But it’s her work on the de Boulle Collection of fine jewelry that is creating ripples in the design world, with a newfound daring aesthetic: Ethiopian opals drip from a fierce drop earring; rose-cut diamonds in the shape of a star sit atop an amoeba-like bit of rare Persian turquoise; and emerald beads cascade into an elegant chandelier earring.

Much of her inspiration springs from her childhood living in the farthest corners of the world with her sophisticated parents.

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“We lived in Malaysia, and from there we went down to Singapore … then Hong Kong … then Borneo … and then to Baghdad,” Karen says.

Her family went wherever her father was stationed — a major for the Gurkhas, the British brigade of Nepalese soldiers that was founded in the early 1800s by the British Imperial Empire — before joining Great Britain’s embassy in Iraq as a military attaché.

“I’ve always been attracted to color,” she says. “And I think that’s from the markets I saw growing up. The Gurkha women had these amazing colored bangles. And when my father would go to Kathmandu, he would bring back beautiful little boxes with turquoise and coral.

“In Baghdad, we would go into the desert to visit the ancient cities. I think we were very lucky because some of those places have now been totally destroyed. They’re gone. It was so open then; people today will never get to experience it like we did.”

The inspiration doesn’t end there.

“When I was little, the only television in, say, Singapore or Malaysia were Chinese soap operas,” she says. “I was looking at a pair of my drop earrings the other day, and I thought, ‘Wow. I bet you that’s where some of the drama and the chandelier earring ideas came from.’”

While living in the Middle East, there were family excursions to Lebanon, and she remembers watching her parents custom-design clothing for formal evenings and state functions at the embassy. Karen’s father was born in Malaysia, an early setting for adventure.

“When we went to Malaysia with the Gurkhas on the weekends, we would go off into the jungle and go trekking, and come across tapirs and wild elephants. I still have a passion for animals.”

With her husband, Denis (whom she met in London when she was in her early 20s), Karen travels to Switzerland on the hunt for the most precious stones. For instance, a recent acquisition in Basel was an enormous chunk of rare Persian turquoise from Arizona’s now-depleted Sleeping Beauty mine, which she will store away until just the right inspiration hits.

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