My father was a watchmaker. My earliest memories are of visiting him in the jewellery shop he worked in and of going with my mother to suppliers in Glasgow on errands for him. My favourite place to visit was a supplier of watch parts in the city centre, not because of the workshop, but because of the elevator in the building. It was operated by a man who had filled it full of personal things. He had a small chair to rest on, a side table with a crocheted cloth and the walls were covered in pictures of his family and postcards from people he knew. It was like entering another world rather than travelling to a different floor. I’d like to invite you to join me on a journey through the ideas that created my latest collection of jewellery “Bella Figura”.
I didn’t realise what my father did was special until one day at school the teacher asked all the children in the class to say what their father did for a living. When I said my dad was a watchmaker some of the other children called me a liar. I didn’t really understand why it was so hard to believe that was what he did as it didn’t seem that special to me at the time.
Every Christmas, in my stocking there would be a tangerine and one or two tiny boxes which would have an item of jewellery inside. I’d always open them last and they were my favourite gifts.
As I got older, I saw that the items of jewellery I was given were items that had been in the shop that hadn’t sold. There were practical financial reasons for that but it was never the monetary value of the item that interested me and somehow the magic that I felt for the pieces was lost.
I worked for other high street jewellers before opening my own shop and the focus was always on the money taken, not how happy the customer was. Items of jewellery were hollowed out on the inside to make them lighter so the shop could make more profit. Some of the bangles were so thin that they were filled with plastic to strengthen them so they didn’t collapse when they were worn. When it was cheaper to move production abroad, no one seemed to care about the fact that customers would be given poorer service.
When I opened my own shop, it gave me the opportunity to do things the way I thought they should be done rather than the way I had been taught. I had grown to hate the industry I was part of and I wanted to prove that it could be viable to run a business that focused on the customer rather than the money.
For these reasons, I’ve struggled to find role models in the jewellery industry. I’ve had to form my own vision based on my core values of what I believe is right. Last year I discovered a series on Netflix called Chef’s Table that features different chefs from around the world who have forged their own unique style by doing what they thought was right and it really struck a chord with me. While each one of them cooks in a different way and has a different story to tell, they all do something that comes from their heart. To me, the whole point of being alive is to create something that only exists because you were here. Something that wouldn’t exist if you’d never been born. The ultimate compliment is if what you do inspires others to search for the special gifts inside them that they can share too.
With all this in mind, I took January off to design a collection of jewellery. I wanted it to be the antithesis of all other successful jewellery brands. I wanted it to be pure and humble. I wanted it to be affordable and full of love. I wanted it to be different and special. I wondered if I could do with jewellery what these chefs had done with food. They had elevated simple food to the very highest standards. I wondered how I could do this with jewellery as over the centuries jewellery has been made for the richest people in society by the best craftsmen. Although I have seen some very expensive items of jewellery, they don’t really interest me. It’s not what the item is worth that impresses me but the story behind the item that captures my attention. The fact that expensive jewellery is made to express wealth rather than love is a huge turn off for me. I wondered if perhaps rather than try to raise the standards of jewellery, I should try to make it more humble, more genuine. I started to explore the idea of making jewellery that was unrefined. Being refined to me has a sense of being controlled by social norms and that was exactly what I wanted to challenge. I looked at lots of unrefined items and lots of naïve art. I wanted the idea of the collection to be unrefined and pure but I wanted the pieces themselves to be crafted to a very high standard. I went back again to food for inspiration. I asked myself what is the most humble food, something available to everyone. Potatoes. Rice. Noodles. Pasta. Pasta stood out to me as something that came in lots of different forms, many of which are similar to the forms raw jewellery materials start from. Sheet. Tube. Wire. I started to do some research into pasta and I found that each shape had a different story behind it. I discovered that many of the shapes had been designed by women and that recipes and techniques had been passed down over generations from mother to daughter, just as jewellery is. I remembered making jewellery with my mother as a very young child from pasta and I thought this could be a real challenge to make a refined version of something that people think of as unrefined.
Something else that appealed to me about using pasta as a starting point is that I love the Italian attitude to life and beauty. I remember the first time I visited Italy. I really struggled to understand why the buildings were left to rot. Many buildings looked to me as if they had been neglected. After only a few days of being in the country, it dawned on me that the buildings were not neglected, that they were aging and there was no attempt to conceal their age. Age is not something that Italian culture rejects, it is something they embrace and are proud of. They make it a part of life that is to be celebrated, not hidden. It’s something that you see in the buildings and also in their families, bringing people of all ages together to interact. It enhances the lives of individuals and the wider community. Italian culture has something they call Bella Figura. It’s an attitude to life that you should make the best of what you have. You should dress smartly, respect yourself and others and make the world a better place for being in it. It doesn’t matter how much money you have or what you look like, beauty is something that comes from being yourself and being the best version of you that you can be.
I am embracing the fact that I exist outside of the jewellery world in a little space of my own. I am filling this space full of stories and I hope you find it as interesting as I found the elevator in the building of the watchmakers.
Bella Figura is the name of my latest collection which has several sub categories with their own individual story. Some pieces will be launched this Christmas and others throughout 2017. It’s going to be a huge collection of very special pieces of jewellery made in limited quantities. I hope you enjoy seeing it.