Meet the designer: Roxanne First and her playful jewellery creations

The London based jeweller exclusively reveals why her effortlessly cool, colourful and playful jewellery is a serious business. How her Venetian roots have inspired her. And why she loves rainbow coloured ethical gemstones.

13 December 2021

By Kim Parker

Her effortlessly cool and easy-to-layer designs have redefined the fine jewellery category, with playful pieces crafted in solid gold and ethically sourced gemstones. Born in South Africa and now based in London, Roxanne First launched her eponymous brand Roxanne First jewellery in 2018, after a decade of working in the luxury marketing industry. Here, she talks about the women who inspire her, why getting chased by a client was a wonderful turning point and how her beloved English Bulldog, Boicey, has inspired a whole new collection.

Roxanne First with her bulldog Boicey
Roxanne and Boicey

What inspired you to become a jewellery designer?

I’ve always been creative. At school, I did every kind of art and textile class and have always been drawn to colour and interesting textures. And I’ve been obsessed with diamonds and jewellery ever since I can remember, as I come from a family of diamond dealers in South Africa. But I didn’t go through my education thinking that I could start my own jewellery brand. For about 10 years prior to starting my own company, I worked in luxury branding and marketing. Then, in my mid-to-late twenties, my friends began to get engaged and I started helping them to design their engagement rings alongside doing my normal nine-to-five job. Friends of friends started asking me to do the same – everything from sourcing stones to helping with their ring design. It was super interesting, but after two or three years it started consuming more and more of my time. So, I thought about approaching the situation from a more a commercial angle and began toying with the idea of designing my own capsule collection. The kinds of pared-back diamond pieces that women like to buy and wear for ourselves, and that we don’t have to wait for anyone to give to us. Initially, I sold my pieces to friends and family, then in little pop-up shops and hairdressing salons. My so-called side hustle became my full-time career in 2018, when officially I launched my brand and website.

Roxanne First necklace

Would you consider your friends and family your muses?

Absolutely. My mother’s side of the family is Italian. They’re from Venice and all the women are incredibly chic. They’ve always worn 15 necklaces at a time, never just one or two. I think Italian women pioneered the ‘neck mess’ centuries before it was considered a thing. They also aren’t afraid to experiment and wear white, rose, and yellow gold and different coloured gemstones, all at the same time. They’re very inspiring.

Roxanne First necklace

I’m always looking at what jewellery other women are wearing. If I spot something interesting, I’ll immediately start thinking about how I would change it. How I could make it cooler. How I would change the shape of a hoop, for example, or reinterpret a symbol like a heart or a star, which have all been around forever, to make it more exciting. Or how I might alter the size or colour of a stone to make the piece a bit punchier, without changing the price too much so much that it suddenly becomes inaccessible. That’s the kind of stuff that runs through my mind right away. Then I’ll mood-board ideas. I’ll rip pages out of magazines and spend evenings trawling Pinterest for images of jewellery from the 50s, 60s and 70s. A lot of the jewels we wear today are classic pieces that have been reinvented over and over. But if it’s done well, it can be brilliant.

You’re known for your colourful and playful jewels. Has that always been an important aspect of your brand?

The brand’s actually grown and developed a lot since I first started it. When look back at the kind of the website and photography I used to have, it looks very minimalist compared to today – lots of white t-shirts and jeans and simple diamond pieces. But it was important to me to be able to offer those pieces to my customers, and I still do, because for many women, that’s where you begin when you’re looking to invest in a beautiful piece of jewellery for yourself. We want something that’s going to last, and that we’re not going to tire of quickly, and that you can pass on to your relatives or godchildren.

Roxanne First Ciao necklace

Now, as both my clients and I have gotten braver and more experimental, it’s all about colour. I introduced some more colourful beaded pieces a couple of years ago, inspired by trips to Murano that I used to take with my family when I was really young, to see all of the glassworks. At the time, I’d buy lots of rainbow glass beads and make bracelets for my friends – I actually did a grown-up version of this during the Pandemic, called Bead for your Bestie, which was a bracelet-making kit you could send to your loved ones. Now, it’s all about a more elevated take on those beaded necklaces and bracelets I used to make, with precious sapphires, emeralds and rubies, and diamond lettering. They’re still some of my best-sellers today. Net-A-Porter have had to reorder them several times over.

Roxanne First smiley ring

These days, there are no rules when it comes to jewellery. Even expensive pieces are worn much more casually than they were before. We all want something that shows a bit more of our personality, and that feels more bespoke to us. But even though my jewellery is playful and a bit tongue-in-cheek, it’s still beautiful quality. That has been important to me right from the beginning. Everything’s made of solid gold and precious gemstones. There’s no vermeil. It won’t make your skin green. I want you to be able to sleep, swim and do everything in your jewellery. It needs to fit in with your life and be something that you never want to take off.

Do you have any favourite pieces that you’ve designed over the years?

My colourful ‘Ciao’ necklace, which I introduced a couple of years ago, definitely stands out. The inspiration came from my Italian family, and from the fact that I’m obsessed with rainbows. I can remember teaching myself how to make it, with the clasp and everything. The first time I wore it, I went to Hatton Garden to meet a supplier and pick up some gemstones, and a woman literally chased me down the street to ask me about it. She wanted it then and there. I told her that I had just made it, that it was only a sample and that I could get her another one the following day. She seemed happy and we swapped numbers, but I got a call from her half an hour later and she came back and bought it right off my neck. I was stunned, but that was the moment I realised I was definitely on to something.

Roxanne First Yes bracelet

What’s coming up next for you?

Boicey, my adopted English bulldog, is everything to me. He comes and sits in our studio and makes everyone happy. It’s inspired me to launch a collection of pieces for pets next year. It will be like our necklace builder, but made in sterling silver. You’ll be able to spell out your pet’s name on a simple silver chain. Boicey’s actually wearing one of our prototypes at the moment.

Roxanne First

The other exciting thing we have in the pipeline is a collaboration with the Scandinavian influencer, Marianne Theodorsen. She’s got pink hair, she dresses in neon colours, and her nails are always covered in rainbows, clouds, or mushroom designs. She’s so fantastic. So the collection will incorporate our colourful beads, but we’re mixing in some giant candy-coloured opals, and enamel and diamond charms. Imagine bright pink apples, neon yellow oranges and pink lightning bolts, mixed in with lilac, lemon, or lime-tinted opals. It’s going to be amazing.

Roxanne First portrait
Roxanne First

Like this? See Roxanne First’s designs on cover star Emily Carey