View all LONDON CREATORS in Issue L

an interview with Shaun Leane

Diamonds may be girls best friends yet British jeweller, Shaun Leane, pushed the boundaries and showed that they could also certainly be men’s best companions. We have visited the remarkable designer in his studio in London’s exclusive district of Mayfair and asked him about his early beginnings, his partnership with late Alexander McQueen, and his dazzling visions for the future. Shaun Leane let us have a peek behind the scenes, and showed us the remarkable process of creating the most inspiring rings, bracelets and necklaces. 


Tell us about yourself and your history with jewellery, how did you fall in love with jewellery design? 
When I was 14 years old I knew I wanted to work within the fashion industry. Before I left school at 15, I went to the careers officer and told him that I was interested in going in this particular direction. He suggested that I should do a foundation course in jewellery design until I was old enough to go to a fashion college. I listened to his words and attended Kingsway Princeton College and began a foundation course in jewellery design and making. It was there where I particularly fell in love with the process of crafting. It was the first time in my education I felt I had found something that gained my devoted attention. The beauty in seeing something you had designed and envisaged, then being formed and crafted by my own hands, was so rewarding. After that my journey began. Even at college I wanted to explore different possibilities of design and techniques to push the boundaries of my designs. I proceeded to serve a seven year apprenticeship, where my craftsmanship would evolve to allow my skills to be the vehicle for my ideas.

You began your training in Hatton Garden - London’s world renowned jewellery quarter. What was this experience like? What was it like starting out as a young goldsmith back in the day? 

I went and worked for a small company called ‘English Traditional Jewellery’. They were brilliant. There were two masters, Brian Joslin and Richard Bullock, and they taught me everything I could ever possibly know about the art of being a goldsmith. One taught me technique and attention to detail, and the other one taught me speed. I had the best of both worlds and remained working there for 13 years. I learnt every element, which included working on diamond solitaires and tiaras. I also restored some of the most beautiful antique jewels: from Art Deco to Art Nouveau, Victorian to Edwardian.  I like the idea that jewellery will remain and be treasured as a piece of history. There is something very romantic about the stories and sentiment behind a piece; to know that it has been greatly treasured and loved through generations.

The late Alexander McQueen was a long-time collaborator, with your stunning sculptural pieces making numerous appearances on the catwalk. How did this creative partnership come to be? 
We met through a mutual friend who told him of my crafts as a goldsmith.  He came from a Savile Row background so he appreciated my traditional training.  When McQueen asked me to create pieces for his first catwalk show I needed to teach myself to create large scale pieces in silver, as well as other materials, which was something I had never done before. The experience was liberating for me as it opened my eyes to using unconventional materials and experimenting in design and technique.  

You launched Shaun Leane back in 1999. In what ways do you think the jewellery industry has changed since then? In what ways do you think your brand has evolved throughout the years? 
There is a growing number, especially the younger clientele, who appreciate heritage and craftsmanship, but would like designs that are more modern and edgy.  In the past, fine jewellery may have only been worn at special occasions, but now we are seeing more clients wearing their jewels within office and with everyday wear. I also think fine jewellery is evolving in a man’s wardrobe – leather, silver and white gold have always been the classic choices for men, but there is a growing demand for yellow gold and also diamond pieces. It was McQueen that gave me a platform to forget about the traditional process of designing jewellery. Our collaboration has enabled me to push boundaries of jewellery design and come up with pieces that were mind provoking. To me, it was important to challenge traditional notions of what jewellery is and where it can be worn. These elements are evident as my own collections evolve; it is a fusion of traditional craftsmanship with fashion.  

Talk us through your creative process. How do you go about creating a Shaun Leane piece? 
I am hugely inspired by the sentiment and romance in literature and poetry, as well as the strength and fragility of natural organic forms. These ideas are reflected in my collections; combining traditional jewellery craftsmanship with avant-garde ideas; creating jewellery which symbolises modern romance. Art is another aspect of my inspiration. I feel that art, fashion, architecture, and all elements of design feed each other. When you are a designer, your eyes are always searching for inspiration and it is constantly surrounding you.

You’ve won a slew of prestigious awards, from Harper’s Bazaar’s International Jewellery designer of the year to winning UK Jewellery designer of the year on four different occasions. What was it like reaching these milestones in your career?
It is very rewarding and reflective. It reminds me how grateful I am that I stayed true to my vision and aesthetic, and that I have a great team who also believe in the same. In the early days of my career, my peers did not understand my aesthetic and sometimes commented  that “I was wasting my time”. But, within myself, I had a passion and belief in the work and I persisted with integrity. So, to then receive awards we not only have in our homeland, but internationally, makes me very proud of what my team and I have created over the last 20 years.

You’ve had several high-profile commissions and collaborations in the past including Sam Taylor Wood, Givenchy, and Boucheron. How do you go about finding the right people to partner with? 
Sam and I are good friends; we share the same sentiment and an appreciation of our life experiences, so this collaboration came naturally to us. It is a thoughtful process when it comes to working on special projects and collaborations.  It is important that we both share the same values; those of exceptional design, superior craftsmanship and the ambition to create beautiful jewellery.  I have also had the pleasure of working in many different areas from fashion to product design and am still exploring new areas. I continue to collaborate with likeminded companies who are fearless to push the boundaries and fuse ideas from different industries to create the exciting new. I feel it’s inspiring for both parties as it introduces new approaches to design and techniques.

Tell us about your latest collection. The inspirations behind it and if you have a favourite piece? 
Entwined Petal is our latest collection, which reintroduces the interlocking silhouettes from Entwined, our Bridal collection, into new diamond pieces designed for every day. Pared-back floral motifs are woven together in gold and finished with incredible attention to detail. The collection contains a cocktail ring, which is one of my favourites. It appears from a distance like a swirl of diamonds. On closer inspection it transforms into a flower in bloom.

What are you working on now? What can we expect from Shaun Leane in 2017?
We are extremely busy as always, and I’m currently working on collections for 2018/19 and a string of some beautiful bespoke works. There is an extremely important project that I have been working on for the past 4 years which will place a monumental landmark for the House in the history of jewellers in Britain. Unfortunately I cannot reveal it at this point so you’ll just have to wait and see!

Finally, how do you think creators like yourself have changed the face of the London jewellery industry?
Heritage and integrity. I feel the design and craftsmanship should both be reflective of what the British aesthetic of your product represents.
For example, if it is classic, the works should be classically British and crafted to perfection. If the works represent the edge and innovation of London, for example, the design must be unique and still crafted to perfection in my eyes.  Shaun Leane is a British brand and, to us, this is defined by where the creations are made and designed. Britain is well known for its high level of craftsmanship, but I feel what makes British luxury brands unique is that there is great respect for traditional craft and the talent of fusing old techniques with new technologies, creating luxury goods which are quintessentially both British and modern.


Portraits by Fabio Affuso

Words by Hannah Tan