In conversation with Jessica McCormack, we discover all the little things that make one of London’s favourite jewellery designers tick. Growing up surrounded by her grandmother’s costume jewellery and some extraordinary historical jewels from her time with Sotheby’s, her design aesthetic has been cultivated by a lifelong love for rare and beautiful jewellery.
For Jessica McCormack, 7 Carlos Place is more than just her boutique. Every single stunning piece of jewellery is made in-house in their workshop while her studio, the creative heart of her business, sits on the third floor overlooking the beautiful architecture of the John Evelyn Trollope designed space. It is clear why her brand is beloved by both a-list celebrities and the fashion elite. A thoughtful combination of nostalgia, history, and a contemporary approach to fine jewellery makes Jessica McCormack a very exceptional presence in the world of fine jewellery.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your history with jewellery, how did you fall in love with jewellery design and do you have special pieces from your past?
I have a few treasured pieces that I have collected over the years; my father gave me a gold-set heart-shaped Pounamu pendant when I was in my 20s, and I adore it because it reminds me of home and my family. I’ve been collecting vintage New Zealand Greenstone jewellery with my father since my teens and have a large collection of cherished pieces.
My relationship with jewellery started when I was quite young – Dad’s auction house meant there was always vintage jewellery around. I have a photo of myself and my sister covered in our grandmother’s costume jewellery when we were little, which I suspect triggered something to be realised later. I fondly remember my grandmother removing a clip earring to talk on the telephone, a memory which I feel influences me today — especially with my love for beautiful clip ons.
You grew up in New Zealand where your father owned an auction house, and this was followed by your internship with Sotheby’s Fine Jewellery Department. In what ways do you think these experiences with antique high-jewellery influence your design aesthetic today?
The auction house was a bit like Aladdin’s cave, filled with an ever changing mix of antiques, art, vintage jewellery, and a variety of wonderfully weird things. Growing up surrounded by such things honed my eye for rare and beautiful eccentricities. I gained an appreciation for the old and how to make them relevant in modern life. Coming to London and spending time at Sotheby’s has been a big eye-opener for me. I was exposed to the most incredible array of historical jewels; seeing Russian crown jewels, along with Lalique, 1920s Cartier pieces, and the odd piece by the great French designer Suzanne Belperron. It was a steep learning curve, but I quickly became obsessed! This is where my signature mix of modern design with traditional jewellery making methods was born — as a result of my appreciation of Georgian and Victorian jewellery techniques, which have now become part of my design signature.
In your opinion how important are nostalgia and story-telling to the ethos of your brand?
They are both so important to my brand. The gifting of jewellery has always had connotations of love, romance, and the marking of a moment in order to create a memory — it’s also about starting a new story. I love the idea of a jewel signifying a special moment captured in time. In hundreds and hundreds of years, these romantic stories of great love and great life events will outlive us all.
How did Jessica McCormack come to be? What is the dynamic between yourself and your partners - Michael Rosenfeld and Rachel Slack?
During my time at Sotheby’s, I was introduced to Michael who is a third generation diamantaire and contemporary art collector. He had seen some of my sketches and encouraged me to create a piece using diamonds; so I went away and designed a collection — the Messenger of the Gods, which we still have today. I sat on the floor for a solid week, drew non-stop and finished twelve pieces. Initially, I was designing at Michael’s office in Hatton Gardens; and it was around this time that Rachel Slack and I were introduced by a mutual friend. We bonded straight away over a shared appreciation of jewellery and our love of dogs and horses. She had been given a Millennium Diamond by her grand-father Harry Oppenheimer, of the De Beers dynasty, and didn’t know what to do with it, so I created a Wing of Desire ear cuff using the diamond, a little while later Rachel joined the business.
More than anything else, Rachel, Michael and I share a passion for three things; beauty, craftsmanship, and providing a dedicated service with the spirit of an old-fashioned family jeweller. The three of us have a wonderful synergy — a love of the old and the new. The mix of the two coming together is a strong thread through the House, the jewellery, the art, and the way we put everything together.
A couple of years ago, you made the decision to pull away from all retailers and sell exclusively in your Mayfair flagship. What inspired you to make this business decision?
The experience that clients receive when stepping into the house is so important and so personal for me. What we set out to create, was a house filled with a mixture of genres and styles. To create something unique, special, and in perfect harmony. The fabric of the building, the architecture, the art and design elements are all here for a reason — to tell a story. Recreating this experience with external retailers is difficult; and so it made sense to make 7 Carlos Place - the only place Jessica McCormack jewellery can be brought. Saying that, there’s a lot of pressure from far flung fans to make our jewellery available elsewhere!
Back in 2013, you opened the doors to your first boutique, where you also produce all of the stunning Jessica McCormack pieces in the basement atelier. Tell us more about the story behind 7 Carlos Place?
The townhouse was built in 1891 by the architect John Evelyn Trollope. It was originally a high-end private residence and part of the First Duke of Westminster’s improvements to the area. Removing an overcrowded workhouse, among many other things, he completely rebuilt Mount Street, creating the beautiful Carlos Place.
I had looked at Bond Street, Dover Street, and Mount Street but everything felt too commercial and shop-like for me. When I saw this house, it really was love at first sight. The house offers clients a unique experience when they visit, because Mayfair retains the character of a village in the heart of London. It is quite a different experience to Bond Street. I also think that jewellery should be sold in a relaxed environment — you need to be able to handle a jewel and try it on to see how it works with the body. The house is an inspiring space full of art sourced from all over the world. It is a collector’s space, constantly evolving and mutating into something new - I love mixing eras and genres. Ultimately, we wanted the house to make clients feel at home and welcome them to sit in the library or the garden and stay a while. Many clients will return with family members or friends, which is always very touching.
The Georgian Cut Down and the Victorian Doublé are just some of your signature techniques. Talk us through your design and production processes?
Georgian and Victorian techniques exist within all the collections. Goldsmiths of the Georgian era always used gold alloys of 18k and higher. Each piece of jewellery was completely handmade, ensuring that every millimetre was carefully considered. This period produced jewellery of unique and unparalleled beauty. The Georgian Cut-Down setting sees the metal of the collet (surrounding the central stone) castellated and cut to give the piece a finer, more finished appearance.
The Victorian Doublet provides a sleeve of yellow gold applied to the back of white gold. They have become such a signature now in my design process, and feature prominently throughout the collections. Having an in-house workshop also allows us to preserve and teach these techniques to a new generation; and the workshop team really understand and value these traditional techniques. It’s also really important to me that everything happens at 7 Carlos Place, from the initial designs to the production of the jeweller. My studio sits on the 3rd floor, a few floors above the workshop, which is wonderful as I can really oversee the entire process — from start to finish.
Tell us about your latest collection; the inspirations behind it and if you have a favourite piece?
The most recent launches have been Party Jackets and a Couture Bridal collection, but we are continuously creating new pieces. Just before Christmas, I designed the Taster Menu, a collection of miniature mismatched earrings presented in a beautifully restored antique box. This month, we introduced the London Eye Hoops and Shanghai Tower earrings; two new designs that are part of the Jewels of the Urban Night Collection, which takes inspiration from iconic buildings around the world. The great thing about having an in-house workshop is the fact we can constantly create new pieces when inspiration hits! I am particularly in love with the Diamond Drop Mini Hoops from the Taster Menu. We have created styles in various sizes and shapes that are perfect for layering.
What are you working on now? What can we expect from Jessica McCormack in 2017?
We have a new collection launching this fall that we are really excited about, it is something quite different and that’s probably all I can say at the moment. I will be having my third baby in May so summer will be all go! I will take some time off to be with the children and when I come back, the rest of the year will be spent concentrating on the new collection for 2018, which will be the 10th Anniversary of the business so a big year for us.
Words by Hannah Tan