If you follow fashion pages in any magazine then you’ll be familiar with jewellery designer Annie Haak. Her bracelets are a celeb must-have, seen on the likes of Victoria Beckham, Jodie Whittaker and Cheryl Tweedy.
What you may not know, however, is that Annie is a pretty inspirational woman.
I was lucky enough to meet the Annie Haak team at a press event a couple of years ago and I was blown away by her story and knew I wanted her to be in Celebrating Women.
Like many women of her age – she’s now 61 – Annie spent her early years as a married woman as a “housewife”. She married Johnnie when she was 21 and devoted her life to raising their three children.
That all changed when she was 50 – and not, initially, in a positive way. Her husband Johnnie had a terrible motorbike accident in Bali while visiting their daughter, who was working on the island. It left him critically injured and he suffered two brain haemorrhages.
Annie heard the news over the phone, back at the family’s farm in the UK. From having spent most of her life on the farm – indeed, barely travelling at all – three hours after the call she was on a flight to Indonesia.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, a few months earlier, Annie had lost her parents and she’d also gone through a hysterectomy.
Now, my hormones have me up and down on a good day. No wonder Annie says it felt as if her whole world was falling apart.
But sometimes it takes the hardest moments of our lives to show us what we’re made of and this was certainly true for Annie.
Light in the darkness
Being in Bali, where few people spoke English and her husband was battling for her life, was terrifying, she says, but it also made her grow up quickly.
Over the next few days, as she travelled back and forth to the hospital and sat by Johnnie’s bedside, she began to sketch to occupy her mind. She’d always drawn, but mainly as a hobby – something to bring joy to her family.
She began thinking of her parents and the charm bracelet they’d once given her. Unsurprisingly, given all she was going through, her thoughts were also on higher powers, the need for a guardian angel to look after them. Together, the two ideas began to come together.
And then she found her guardian angel.
Not a rich benefactor who put everything right with a swipe of his credit card, but the taxi driver who used to take her to the hospital.
During one of their chats, he mentioned that his brother was a silversmith. Annie showed the man her designs and asked her to make them. It felt like a good omen, she says.
It was. Not long after, she was told that Johnnie would be okay.
No wonder she cried when she picked up her first collection of bracelets.
Feeling that fate was showing her the road to take – and falling in love with Bali – she put in another order before they returned to the UK.
Annie Haak Designs: from the garden shed to the world
Back at her garden shed, she designed her first collection – the stacking bracelets for which she would become famous, each with a mantra or symbol inside to represent Bali’s ethos of luck, love, protection strength and wellbeing.
If this was a Hollywood film – and let’s face it, Annie Haak’s story would make a cracking script – then that would be it: fade into a happy ending.
Real life isn’t quite like that and Annie admits the early days were hard, with many sleepless nights as they remortgaged their home to raise funds for the business.
But little by little, her collections took off and soon she had moved out of the shed into the house and eventually into her own studio with a multi-million pound business.
Her designs now cover bracelets, necklaces, rings and earrings, all with the same ethos.
If you look at Annie’s designs, you can see how Bali still influences her work – the flora and fauna, the people, Balinese culture and the colour and patterns. She is there most of the year now, still working with that same silversmith, and after once hardly ever leaving her farm, she says she can see herself retiring on the Indonesian island (Johnnie, who is fit and well, has already done so).
Now you understand why I was so blown away when I met Annie’s team and why I wanted to share her story on 50Sense.
One of my favourite sayings is: “The darkest hour is just before dawn” and it is a saying that has often got me going through tough times. Sometimes we need fate to shake our lives up and show us how strong we really are. Annie learnt that in spades and says going to Bali gave her a new chapter in life.
If I had to describe Annie Haak Designs in only one word, it would be “understated”, which I love. They’re classic, contemporary, timeless pieces that are ideal whether you’re dressing down in jeans and a tee (my signature look) or an LBD (my other signature look!).
Most of all, they’re feminine without being girly – I’m a sucker for rose gold – and her charms are pretty, delicate and subtle. (Do you rmember those old clanking charm bracelets of the 1980s? A friend had one and I could barely hear her over the noise the boots and top hats and cats would make as they bashed together with each hand movement!)
If you’re after jewellery for people who know their style, whether they’re 12, 20 or (almost) 52, then this is for you.
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