Jewellery

Inside the making of Jessica McCormack’s diamond rainbow earrings

Jessica McCormack has been building a dedicated fanbase since her eponymous label launched in 2008. Known for giving contemporary slants to classically inspired designs, one of her most recent showstoppers is an elongated, arching piece that dovetails Art Deco and Georgian techniques

Photography by Casey Moore, Words by Jessica Bumpus

Even though Jessica McCormack confesses she’s not really the chandelier-y type when it comes to earrings, she says “there is always a moment” for something with more than a single stone (the designer, who hails from New Zealand and established her business in 2008, has developed a knack for antique- meets-modern pieces that sometimes incoporate several great diamonds).

Take the Diamond Rainbow Earrings, one of McCormack’s latest showstoppers, for instance: an elegant and elongated arching design – she thinks it’s one of the biggest the maison has made for some time – that features a mesmerising combination of marquise, heart, baguette, round, oval, pear and cushion diamonds that line its bold, Art Deco- esque curves. When worn, the diamonds move and swing; it’s definitely something to showcase with your hair up. All stones sit in their own collet (a device that holds stones in place), and each one is attached to a neighbouring collet via a small hinge. It is an incredibly labour-intensive part of the process, which, all in all, has taken around a year, from inception through to completion.

It was last summer when McCormack – who can count celebrity fans in Reese Witherspoon, Charithra Chandran, Carey Mulligan and Sienna Miller – had the idea of doing something “super fun,” she says, nestled on an armchair from inside the library of the Carlos Place townhouse, in which her company’s HQ opened in 2013. “And I thought the whole rainbow idea was happy.” It might have had something to do with Pride; it might have had something to do with the rainbow as a symbol of hope during the pandemic. She felt it was the right moment and sort of made sense. The rough draft was a “napkin kind of sketch,” she says, laughing. “I think of a woman [when designing]… she’s a chic woman.”

Jessica McCormack

McCormack’s signature designs are typically created in mind for the humble white T-shirt and for moving between boardroom and the school run; it’s an ethos whereby diamonds aren’t saved for exclusive events. This piece had, however, initially been thought of as being worn with a black smoking jacket, or a gown, and destined for the red carpet. Yet, even with the grandeur of the design (and awards season being just around the corner), McCormack can’t help but feel the piece will get snapped up as a Christmas present for a very lucky someone. Crafted in white diamonds (McCormack also confesses not to be one for colour – though she could, she says, perhaps imagine this in pastels), it took a huge amount of time to find the right stones, and there are, after all, a fair few of them on this piece.

Next came the mount, then the stone cutting, stone setting, polishing and assembly. “Just send me one!” she jokes, eager to see the final result, which is imminent when we speak. The earrings, which took roughly 80-100 hours to make, will have passed through seven or eight pairs of hands within the atelier team, who you’ll find at work in the basement.

Everything has been handcrafted and constructed methodically and constantly so that the piece is never not being worked on, with a lot of pre- legwork put in. “To make things look very relaxed and chilled takes quite a lot of effort,” notes McCormack of the technicalities involved. “The homework, everything is there.” In terms of settings and techniques, the Diamond Rainbow Earrings combine a lot of the signature Jessica McCormack motifs. Notably, the metal has been blackened, which makes the diamonds pop and creates that rock ‘n’ roll edge the brand is known for – a cool factor; modern.

Designs for the Diamond Rainbow Earrings, one of McCormack’s latest showstoppers: an elegant and elongated arching piece that has a red-carpet grandeur

There is also the cut-down setting, where the white gold metal is pushed down over the stone to secure it, and then cut away at a steep angle from the girdle, leaving raised grains to set it; the milgrain setting, which is often described as being “tiny dots” along the edges of a piece. Milgrain is a technique where small beads of metal are used to create a decorative border. And there’s also the channel set, whereby stones are placed along a track between two walls of metal. The stones are nestled against one another and not separated by prongs, beads or bezels.

Moreover, as the cut-down set is a Georgian technique, and the milgrain was popular in Art Deco jewellery, it is clear that McCormack was keen to mix different eras within the design. Prior to establishing her brand, she worked for Sotheby’s, in the jewellery department; and growing up, her father was an auctioneer – and so a love for things from the past has always been a part of her life and an influence in her work. “I’m always trying to work towards that juxtaposition of old and new and from that creating something that is perfect,” she says.

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