Critiques

Diamonds and Their Artisan Sparkle in a London Townhouse

Let’s go shopping for diamonds! Here at Dandelion Chandelier, we’ve been exploring the dazzling world of haute joaillarie. In the rarefied sphere of high jewelry, the highest possible level is bespoke pieces, custom-made for individual clients. Like haute couture, haute joaillerie items are made to order and crafted by hand, with intense collaboration and interaction between the jewelry designer and the client. The items are heirloom quality and – like royal jewels – each one has a story behind it. If you’re operating at this price point, you have the option of working with one of the storied European jewelry houses: Asprey, Bulgari, Harry Winston, Van Cleef & Arpels, Graff, Cartier, Chanel and Dior. An alternative that many sophisticated clients are turning to is working directly with an artist who is designing jewelry independently. The advantage of this approach is that as a client, you are intimately involved in every step of the process. You’ll receive highly personal attention from a skilled artisan. You’ll also be the owner of a piece that is truly one-of-a-kind, created for your tastes and lifestyle.

In our ongoing series on haute joaillarie, our investigations took us to London. To Mayfair, to be specific. That’s where one can find the atelier of jewelry designer and diamond specialist Jessica McCormack.

In a 19th-century townhouse on Carlos Place – just across the street from the legendary Connaught Hotel – is the art-filled headquarters of the maison of Jessica McCormack Ltd. The  regal space, curated by Jessica, functions as a kind of salon, with books, antiques, contemporary paintings and modern sculpture on view. A “secret garden” provides the opportunity to view stones in natural light. What could be more refined than shopping for bespoke diamond jewelry in such a place?

Jessica specializes in diamonds, which she designs into jewellery in her studio; the gems are handcrafted in her workshop. The daughter of an auctioneer, she grew up in New Zealand surrounded by precious objects: antique Maori carvings, jewels, and Victorian ephemera. She inherited her father’s eye for the beautiful, unusual and distinctive, and her interests led to London, to the jewelry department at Sotheby’s. There, she worked with exquisite items like crown jewels from Russia, René Lalique jewelry, and other rare and exceptional pieces.

Having experienced the height of the art and craft of jewelry design, in 2008 Jessica decided to open her own business. Partnering with third-generation diamantaire Michael Rosenfeld, she began to create antique-inspired jewelry. Michael still sources the precious stones for each piece, based on his lifetime of experience.

Among the house’s early clients were Rihanna, Madonna, Carine Roitfeld and actress Liv Tyler. Another early client became a partner on the business side of the operation: Rachel Diamond, scion of the Oppenheimer family, requested a new setting for the Millennium Diamond given to her by her grandfather. The resulting collaboration with Jessica and Michael was so successful that Rachel joined the team full-time.

Jessica cites a wide-ranging number of design inspirations: contemporary African art; the Bauhaus movement; mid-Century American architecture; feminist photography, and vintage jewelry. Her Tattoo collection is inspired by the Maori people of her native New Zealand – the designs evoke traditional facial tattoos that tell individual stories of family lineage and tribal status. Taking these ideas and concepts and making them fresh and modern is her trademark. Many of the pieces are bespoke, and the offerings in her collection also continue to grow.

Bespoke pieces begin with a series of hand-drawn sketches based on the client’s personal stories. Jessica oversees the creation of the pieces at the workshop in Mayfair, where jewellers trained in traditional techniques create every piece by hand.

Her collection is extensive and spirited. A couple of years ago, she introduced Diamond Party Jackets: a range of different “surrounds” that transform a simple diamond solitaire into a spectacular cocktail ring. It’s a way to be playful and creative with classic – perhaps heirloom or engagement – rings.

Other iconic pieces evoke talismanic images: her Messenger of the Gods collection features a dazzling ring with a five-carat cushion-shaped diamond in the center. Jessica notes “I like to incorporate storytelling into my designs: in Greek mythology, Hermes wears winged sandals when delivering dreams from the mortals to the gods. Wings also have a protective quality, like a talisman, and it’s partly inspired by the expression ‘take me under your wing.’”

Just in time for the holiday season — whether you’re looking for something fabulous for a party, or for the perfect gift — there are “two and a half” new collections to explore.

The first is Chi-Chi, which is inspired by the ancient Chinese fortune-telling method of the same name. Influenced by the traditional numbered bamboo sticks shaken out of their box, the collection features solid gold sticks of varying lengths, each of which has its own number referring to a specific fortune. Linked together by delicate blackened-gold connections, the various pieces in the collection consist of single or multiple rows of gold Chi-Chi sticks (the multiples are reminiscent of a gilded cage). Each has a mix of brilliant, pear, and oval-cut white diamonds set in the signature cut-down style – some locked in between the sticks, others dangling insouciantly.

The second is Trip the Light Fantastic, which embodies “the nimbleness and scintillation of light in motion.” The designs make it appear as if the diamonds are effortlessly shimmying and swaying across earrings, cuffs, necklaces and rings. Polished yellow gold anchors fringes and tassels of white diamonds hand-set into white gold, for a light-catching, fluid effect. Wing-shaped earings with solid gold elements evoke a 1970s aesthetic, while the Art Deco era is hinted at in short, fringed earrings. According to Jessica, “these pieces can be worn by day, but they’re destined for the dance floor.”

The “half” is an evolution of Jessica’s Heart Rings – an abundance of new styles, which can be personalized with engraving. The rings are fully encrusted or minimally embellished with diamonds, rubies or sapphires, and stack beautifully together.

Last holiday season, the house launched the “Taster Menu” as a gifting idea. Thirteen single earrings are packaged in a box, all of which can be mixed and matched. The name is a tease, as this is no ordinary stocking-stuffer: the list price for the box is $11,880, but individual single earrings can be purchased starting at $1,590.

For those planning to propose to their inamoratas this holiday (December remains the most popular month for wedding proposals), Jessica also offers a bridal line that is “romantic and whimsical.” Bespoke engagement rings start at $2,600, and are ideal for the couple who want a ring that tells a story or represents a part of themselves. James Rothschild and his wife Nicky Hilton Rothschild worked with Jessica on their engagement ring. Jessica notes that more and more couples are looking for bespoke or non-traditional diamond engagement and wedding rings. Some of her clients have even proposed using a sketch, so that together with their partner they can create the actual ring. The house will launch a signature-style suite of bridal jewelry later this month.

Overall, prices in the collection have a generous range – the entry point is the “Gypsy” hoop earring, which sells for $1,590 per pair.

The Jessica McCormack line is exclusively available direct-to-consumer, and can be found online at www.jessicamccormack.com. While making a trip to the Mayfair atelier is the optimal way to purchase one of Jessica’s pieces, she travels to New York and London periodically to see clients to discuss bespoke pieces. The custom-made jewels are shipped directly to the client when they are completed.

With a new CEO in place since mid-year, growth plans for the business are being finalized. For example, while diamonds remain her passion, Jessica has started to work more with rubies and sapphires. Watch this space for further updates. And if you’re planning to propose this December, or you’re seeking a perfect holiday gift, we feel that it’s safe to say that diamonds are always a great idea as gifts. Santa, we’re hoping you heard that.

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