In her beautiful Chelsea boutique, we meet Annoushka Ducas. Fresh off an Antarctic mushing trip with her sons, she is approachable and charismatic yet exudes a kind of warm elegance — much like her eponymous jewellery line, Annoushka. Irreverently mixing rose gold and polished gold, mixing diamonds with precious gemstones — and possessing a superior understanding of colour and an appreciation of fine craftsmanship gives her collections a unique kind of authenticity. Her extensive travels serving as constant sources of inspiration for her collections, with each piece imbuing some kind of transformative quality to them. Designed by a woman for other women, Annoushka lifts the reverence off traditional fine jewellery and injects some much-needed playfulness into the old world of fine jewellers.
Wearing her art-deco ruby encrusted engagement ring, the first piece of jewellery she designed, we discuss her experiences with Links of London, receiving an MBE with her family in tow, and celebrating twenty-six wonderful years in the industry.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background? How did you fall in love with jewellery design?
The first piece of jewellery I designed was my engagement ring — which I am wearing today. Funnily enough, I got into jewellery because my mother was the head of a fish business. She was supplying all the best restaurants in London; and one day she asked me to help create these lovely fish cufflinks as a gift to the chefs she was working with. I found an amazing cast in the Philippines, we made them into cufflinks and gave them to the chefs, and this is really how my love for designing and creating jewellery started.
Back in 1990 you founded Links of London with your husband, and then sold it in 2007. After your massive success with Links of London, what inspired you to go back to the drawing board and create your own eponymous brand?
It didn't seem particularly brave at the time, I have been working since I was 18 years old. My mother was an entrepreneur, and she’s worked ever since I can remember — working is part of my DNA. When we sold Links of London, I stopped working for 18 months or so and thought that it would be fantastic. It wasn't. I thought I would finally have the time to be the perfect mother, but funnily it turned out, both from mine and my children’s perspective, that it wasn't so lovely. I'm so lucky because I really love what I do, so it didn't seem like it was hugely brave to start my own brand - I just wanted to design jewellery. At that stage in my life, I couldn’t find anything else I wanted to do; and I am a fanatic — if I don't like it, I won’t do it.
In the last seven years, the landscape for jewellery has changed enormously. When I started Annoushka, there wasn't a huge difference between Links of London, and Tiffany’s. They both sold mainly silver jewellery. I had a real desire to reinvent contemporary fine jewellery and design jewellery that I wanted to wear — to take the reverence out of fine jewellery. At that point, everyone was wearing sets of white diamonds — it was all very blingy. I didn't want to my jewellery to be like that, it didn't seem natural. I have this incredible freedom to design in any material. I don't do anything in silver at the moment, but to have the opportunity to be able to design in any colour I want — gold, precious, and semi-precious stones, was so obvious to me.
How have your experiences with Links of London influenced the way you approach Annoushka? In what ways does your approach to Annoushka differ from that of Links of London?
There is no doubt that my experiences with Links of London have influenced my approach with Annoushka. Links was a complicated business, while Annoushka is very simple. We control all of our own distribution; we sell through our own store, online, and through concessions in department stores. I am totally in control with regard to what I sell and when I sell it. I think the complication with Links of London came from the fact that we sold through franchise, corporate, wholesale, duty free, and retail. There are so many considerations with that kind of business model. Now when I don't like the way something looks, I can change it and be really proactive in the way I approach design. I love the ability to interact with clients and understand the way they wear things, what they like and don't like - It’s very refreshing.
You have cited travel and intuition as playing a key role to your designs — what is the philosophy behind Annoushka? Could you talk us through your design process?
I think jewellery has to evoke memories or emotion. It’s not about showing off, but more about designing a modern day treasure for people. It’s about creating something that my children can enjoy when I'm not around anymore; something for them to pass down in my memory. No matter if it is a piece of costume jewellery or something they picked up from a market - I think this aspect is incredibly important.
I make a conscious effort to keep things playful. I don't want people to feel like they have to wear it this way or that way. The Hoopla collection for example, it’s really fun. You can wear it a multitude of different ways, depending on what’s going on with your life. For example, with the Hoopla you can make it very long or very short depending on your own lifestyle.
The design for my stacking rings started with lace, I wanted something more feminine. I thought that it was an interesting idea that if I had two stacking rings, I could lace both together. You can be playful in a thousand different ways, and this is how I started my brand. The transformative aspect of it is very important and I'm really conscious as I’m a woman designing for other women. I approach the design process with a very practical standpoint to high jewellery; very feminine and very warm. I use almost no white gold, and very little highly polished gold. The warmth of the piece is something I also find very important.
Tell us about your annual jewellery design project with the students at CSM Art and Design?
This is something I’ve been doing for a long time. When you’re a young talent and you go to college, you learn how to design and how to make weird and wonderful things. What you don't learn is — how to make the pieces commercial enough to help you make a living. Colleges are getting better at it, but there is nothing better than someone coming in and helping them understand how to approach that.
I’m not sure what the next project is, but it’s something I really enjoy. I quite often have an intern here, to understand how things work. Imagining something and making it into a piece is a skill that takes time to acquire. There are so many aspects to making jewellery and I think that it is important to learn all of them.
How has your career changed after winning Jewellery designer of the year, gift designer of the year, and of course, your MBE for your contributions to British jewellery design?
I don’t think winning these accolades has consciously changed anything. Maybe over time, it gives me a bit more confidence to do new things and to do new projects, which I think has been quite an important part of learning. I didn't go to university or design school; and I really don't draw very well either. It’s taken me a few years to realise that every designer works in different ways. This is what made picking up an MBE, with my husband and four children, such an amazing feeling.
This year, you celebrate your career’s 26th anniversary with a very special collection of golden pearls. Tell us more about this collection and what it is like to reach this milestone in your career?
It feels like it’s gone very very fast. It’s fantastic to have come from designing a single pair of cufflinks to designing the golden pearl collections. I started my career designing and making in the Philippines; and to be able to go back to the Philippines and help the pearl farmers set up again after the terrible typhoon Hainan made me feel very proud. I owe the Philippines a huge amount for the success of Links of London. Without the craftsmanship of the locals, it may have never have happened for me.
What are you working on now, what can we expect from Annoushka in 2017?
We've just opened a shop in Hong Kong which is really exciting because it’s our only store outside of London. Weirdly, it’s right next door to the jewellery shop that made my engagement ring! We have a big Asian following and so seemed like an obvious place to open another shop. I lived in Hong Kong for three years, so it’s a place that is important to me. I’m currently working on a new collection that focuses on stacking rings in new, playful, and feminine ways. I think that they are ageless, and it doesn't matter if you are seventeen or twenty — they will look just as great.
I’m also in the process of making a chain necklace, which is very much conceptualised around the fact the art of writing seems to have disappeared. The necklace will have a feeling of handwritten, personal messages that you want to give your friend, mother, or daughter. Each one comes with a diamond which you can make semi-bespoke and chose from rose or white gold.
Finally, how do you think creators like yourself have changed the face of the London Jewellery industry?
It’s just very much about playfulness and the way that one wears jewellery. I’ve always wanted my jewellery to be worn by everybody. Even at the beginning when we started Links of London, you couldn’t really buy jewellery without feeling overwhelmed. I wanted my customers to feel as unintimidated as possible. There is something about going to a jewellery shop that is scary, so if we can make it as less frightening for them, I feel that’s very important.
Portraits by Curtis Gibson
Words by Hannah Tan