KIWI STYLE: Jessica McCormack in the London setting in which her jewellery collections are on show.
Adored by the fashion elite, London-based and Christchurch-born designer Jessica McCormack specialises in diamond jewellery. Now famous for the clever way she merges the contemporary with the classic for an aesthetic that appeals to all women, her fans include an extensive list of high-profile celebrities including Rihanna, Julianne Moore, Reese Witherspoon, Liv Tyler, Jennifer Connelly and Sienna Miller. Her incredible collection is housed in a stunning Mayfair townhouse that was originally a high-end private residence. Speaking with Jessica, Style gets a sneak peek into this amazing home and talks to Jessica about what inspires her.
How did you find yourself on this career path?
My father owned an auction house in New Zealand, so I grew up surrounded by antiques, art, vintage jewellery and many weird and wonderful things. I gained an appreciation for the old and how to make it fit into modern life. In my early twenties, on a gap year in Morocco, I met someone whose sister-in-law was the head of jewellery at Sotheby’s, and he mentioned getting in touch. I wrote to her constantly when I returned to New Zealand until she relented and invited me to intern in London. Coming to London and my time at Sotheby’s was a big eye-opener, I was exposed to the most incredible array of historical jewels, seeing Russian crown jewels, Lalique, Cartier, Suzanne Belperron. I learned about all of it and became obsessed!
Where do you get inspiration from?
My collections have been inspired by so many things – sailing as a child, Greek Mythology, fairy tales, ’80s video games, snowdrops… the list goes on and on. Georgian and Victorian techniques have also inspired my work and are featured throughout my collections. The Victorian Doublet is one of my signature styles – it is a technique where a layer of yellow gold is applied to the back of a white gold or silver piece by hand – and has become an intrinsic part of my design process. The handcrafted design process is also hugely inspiring; I love seeing a rough stone come to life and having a workshop in-house allows me to oversee the entire journey from design to the finished piece. Watching the transformation unfold can also ignite a new design idea.
Can you tell us about the history of 7 Carlos Place building?
The townhouse was built in 1891 by the architect John Evelyn Trollope. The house 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.
What refurbishments have been made since you bought it?
Everything. We restored the house to its former state and then reworked the entire building. From rescuing the original mosaic flooring to stripping the walls back and restoring the antique wood panelling. We had about 30 workmen on site, to say it was a big job is an understatement. Today it is a magnificent space filled with beauty, and when a client steps through the door, they can relax, and the busy outside pace is replaced with something personal and romantic. It was a huge project and so worth it.
What is your favourite room, and why?
The library. It has floor-to-ceiling bookshelves along one of the walls, which were purpose-built for the space, to house curiosities and special pieces that I have gathered. There is an old oak desk, large cosy sofa and chairs to hunker down in around the large fireplace. The library is a major source of inspiration because I am such a book fanatic. It also hosts my collection of vintage ceramic dogs and horse figurines, something I have loved since I was a child. There is such a wonderful feeling in this room, almost like a grandfather’s secret office, it is such a nice place to be and the perfect setting to spend time with friends and clients.
Do you have particular features you love?
The bookcase. I worked with Nicky Dunne at Heywood Hill in London to create a bespoke library for the space; it reflects my passion for jewellery but also for sailing, horse-racing and hounds. There are so many books I wouldn’t have initially chosen for myself: it’s like having a stylist come to dress you, they bring you pieces that you wouldn’t necessarily have chosen for yourself. It is a discovery, and then you end up falling in love.
Did you purposely seek out this type of building or fall in love with it first?
I looked at Bond Street, Dover Street, Mount Street, but everything felt too commercial and shop-like for me. When I saw this house, it was true love at first sight.
What is your most treasured possession in the house?
A diamond ring that my husband gave me which had previously belonged to his great-grandfather, who we named one of our sons after. I will hand it down to my son, who will hopefully pass it down the line, too. It has quite a traditional design, so I created a ruby and black gold “Diamond Party Jacket” [a ring that encases another with a halo of jewels] for it. It’s one of my most treasured possessions, and I wear it all the time.
What would you say is the secret to blending antique and contemporary furniture?
In the same way that I encourage clients to mix and style their jewellery and build a jewellery collection, I would say go with your gut and don’t be afraid to mix era or style. Have confidence in pieces you are drawn to and completely love, allow yourself to mix and play with objects in a space. Where would you recommend for interiors shopping in London? I love Nina Campbell’s store in London. She completely captures English style and all of its charm. There is such an amazing selection of furniture and home-wear, her fabrics are really beautiful too. It’s a great place to buy presents for friends and family.
Can you tell us about your latest jewellery collection?
Most recently we launched a Couture Bridal collection consisting of six engagement rings. Our brides want their ring to tell a story and represent their style and personality; they are seeking something a bit different and less traditional. The design of each engagement ring can be created bespoke around different diamonds, from 0.20 carat to 20.00 carats. Each ring design adheres to tradition in one sense – they take a diamond as their starting point. Another recent collection is the Diamond Party Jacket. I have been making Diamond Party Jackets for my bespoke clients for several years. Many of them would mention that their diamond solitaire rings sat in the safe and it made me feel so sad! The Diamond Party Jacket is a concept to breathe new life into ‘forgotten’ jewels – a way to be creative and playful. There are always new additions coming out of the workshop for our existing collections. The great thing about having a workshop in-house is that it allows for new designs to come to life quite spontaneously. How would you describe your designs? Timeless in appearance and designed for the modern woman to cherish for a lifetime.
You work primarily with diamonds, can you tell us what it is about diamonds that you love?
I find my inspiration in them. Each one has an individual character and personality. I’ll never cease to be amazed by the fact that one of the earth’s hardest materials is also one of its most beautiful.
Early memory of jewellery and do you have an heirloom piece?
I have a photo of myself and my sister covered in our grandmother’s costume jewellery when we were three and five years old; I don’t know if this triggered something to be realised later. I also always remember fondly my grandmother removing a clip earring to talk on the telephone, which I feel influences me today with my love of a clip-on. I started collecting New Zealand greenstone jewellery with my father in my teenage years and have a large collection of very cherished pieces.
From where can your pieces be bought?
Until now just at the one place, my townhouse store in Mayfair London. The house offers clients a unique experience when they visit because Mayfair retains the character of a village in the heart of London, which 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. Art within the house sits comfortably alongside the jewellery. We want clients to feel at home and welcome them to sit in the library or the garden and stay a while. Excitingly we are about to work with the Simon James Concept Store in Auckland on a pop-up, so for a period there will be another location in the world where my pieces can be purchased.
How would you describe your own style?
I like to keep things quite minimal, not overly complicated or fussy. A crisp white shirt, jeans, amazing heels and diamonds – that’s pretty much my perfect outfit. But I am also an ‘old-world’ girl at heart and love the idea of dressing up.
Do you have a favourite place to visit when you come back to Christchurch?
My mum’s house. It’s the first place I go to every time I come back.