Celebrity

Meet Jessica McCormack and her wearable day diamonds

Exclusive interview with Jessica McCormack in her Mayfair townhouse. The Mayfair jeweller discusses the appeal of her day diamonds. Why she loves antique jewels and her sources of inspiration. And what you can expect to find in her new bridal department

By Kim Parker

New Zealand born Jessica McCormack is the jewellery designer celebrities such as Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, The Duchess of Sussex, Victoria Beckham and Zoe Kravitz all turn to when they need a touch of sparkle to complete their outfit.

Famous for her fresh and supremely wearable take on ‘day diamonds’, which blend the timeless appeal of antique jewels with the sleekness of modern design, the London-based jeweller recently unveiled a chic new bridal jewellery space at her 19th century townhouse boutique. Here, she shares her sources of inspiration and the key to designing pieces which keep her ever-expanding #GypsetGirlGang coming back for more.

Zoe Kravitz x Jessica McCormack
Zoe Kravitz at The Met Gala 2021

How did you get started in the jewellery industry?

My father was an antiques dealer, so when I was a little girl, I would go with him to auctions all over the South Island of New Zealand. We would almost always find a little bag or a fishing tackle box full of costume jewels for me to take home and play with, so I think that’s where my interest began. In my twenties, I got an internship to come to the UK and work at Sotheby’s in the jewellery department, and there I saw everything from Russian crown jewels to 1920s Cartier pieces. It was a far cry from the baubles we found in the middle of New Zealand, and I fell in love with the craftsmanship of it all. When you’re young, ignorance is total bliss – I remember thinking, ‘Oh, I want to make stuff like that. I could totally do that!’

Rosie Huntington-Whitely in Jessica McCormack
Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in Jessica McCormack

Post-Sotheby’s, I had the option to take up another internship – which was a tough financial hit to take, living in London, and I was already nannying in the evenings to make ends meet – or find a job. An opportunity came up to assist someone who ended up being my business partner’s wife, but she didn’t have the opportunity to take me on at the time. So, I worked for him instead. He’s in the diamond industry, and I started learning as much as I could about diamonds on the job, which was an amazing experience. As a side hustle, I started making little pieces of my own and selling them to friends. I never trained in jewellery design. It was all self-taught. I would collect old reference books and just copy what I saw over and over.

Jessica McCormack Haas Brothers Jewellery Box
Jessica McCormack Haas Brothers Jewellery Box

The first proper piece I designed was a big wing earring, inspired by the kind the Victorians used to make in silver and gold, and by winged Art Nouveau tiaras. I must have been 26 or 27 years old. I called it the ‘Messenger of the Gods’, after Hermes and his winged sandals. We still have something similar in the collection today – the Wing of Desire earrings. I’m sure I’ve got that original piece somewhere in an archive. That was the beginning of everything.

Jessica McCormack diamond halo ring
Diamond Halo Ring

What do you love most about being a jeweller? And what are the main challenges that you face?

I love seeing people, men and women alike, wearing my pieces. There was a girl in the hairdressers the other day, wearing a pair of gypset earrings and I was so happy to see her

in them. My clients are the people who inspire me most. I want to make things that will make them feel happy and excited and joyful. My pieces aren’t stuffy or serious, they’re playful, and a bit cheeky. That’s why I like to classify them as ‘day diamonds.

The bridal space at the Jessica McCormack townhouse
The bridal space at the Jessica McCormack townhouse

I’ve often been so fired up after working on a single commission piece, I’ve created an entire collection around the same theme. To have someone’s trust and faith in your creativity and vision is a privilege. I’m also passionate about keeping the craftsmanship of traditional jewellery-making alive – we now have six benches in our workshop, which is doubling in size every year, and have a young team who are just as keen as I am to preserve their skills.

There’s a challenge that comes with that, of course. When you strive for perfection and hold yourself up to the very highest standards – I’m the worst kind of control freak in that sense, everything must be done exactly right – then you put yourself under a lot of pressure. People often ask if we make samples of anything before it is produced. We don’t. Mistakes do occasionally happen, we are all learning on the job, but we never want to cut corners or sacrifice quality. But my name’s above the door, and that has to mean something. I always joke that I should have called my business ‘Betty Sparkle’ and moved to Miami! It’s less of a risk if you name it after someone else, and nothing sounds more fun than ‘Betty Sparkle’.

There are challenges, too, in growing a business. Jewellery isn’t a ‘fast’ industry. We don’t create collections for the sake of it, or in time for specific seasons. I don’t like the thought of something that’s cool in 2021 won’t be cool in 2025. We create modern heirlooms that a daughter, mother, and grandmother can all wear and those pieces don’t happen overnight.

Jessica McCormack Wing of Desire Diamond and White Gold Earrings
Wing of Desire Diamond and White Gold Earrings

Where do your ideas come from?

I like bringing together the old world and the new, so antique jewellery is always inspiring. So is art history and antique furniture. My New Zealand heritage inspires me a lot creatively, and in the way that I design. Our Tattoo collection, for example, was inspired by the ancient Maori art form of ‘Ta Moko’. Living in London is endlessly captivating, too. The exposure you have here to all kinds of art and culture is so extreme. I like to say that I’m just a lover of beautiful things, of all different genres and styles, and my interests wax and wane all the time.

Jessica McCormack Tilted Pear Diamond Button Back Ring
Tilted Pear Diamond Button Back Ring

My designs often begin with a stone – if the gemstone is amazing, the design needs to follow around it. I’ve gotten to the point where this feels natural and easy to me. An idea will come into my head, and I’ll think about it on the Tube, or in the shower, or whilst walking along. It almost never happens whilst I’m sat at a desk, I need movement to bring my ideas to life. I’ll then put together moodboards with references from old sources and modern culture and talk to the design team about how we can bring them together. I’m always striving for the right amount of tension. That sweet juxtaposition between masculine and feminine, the old world and the new, or between goth-like and pretty. When we achieve something I want to wear myself, then I know we’ve got it right.

Jessica McCormack Tattoo New York Diamond Earrings
Tattoo New York Diamond Earrings

Is it a similar kind of process for your bespoke work?

Yes. I still do a lot of bespoke pieces for clients, it’s a hugely important part of our business.

I get to know their taste and what they’re looking for, so when an incredible stone comes in, I know exactly who it could work for. I also love helping them transform pieces that are languishing in a safe into something they can wear every day. I don’t believe your jewels should be gathering dust in a safe unless they have historic or resale value. But again, the process can take time to perfect. A client came in a few years ago with a beautiful emerald and diamond brooch and wasn’t sure whether she wanted to change it or not, so I urged her to think on it. Which she did – for two years. She came back and said, ‘I haven’t worn this once since I last saw you.’ So, I took the emerald out and set it East-West in a beautiful ring. I took the differently sized diamonds out and transformed them into a button-back bracelet, which she now wears all the time. Her children will remember her wearing it one day and she’ll hopefully pass it on to them, which I love.

Jessica McCormack Tattoo Diamond and White Gold Stud Earrings
Tattoo Diamond and White Gold Stud Earrings

What’s the one piece of jewellery you never take off?

I’d like to say my engagement ring, but funnily enough, I have to keep designing new ones because people keep buying them right off my finger. My husband and business partner commissioned my first one secretly together – they made up a fictitious New York-based client and approached me about designing something for her. I created this big, sparkly diamond ring that I thought would look perfect on a woman based in the Upper East side of New York. When I presented it to my business partner, I told him I was proud of it and that I hope she would enjoy it, but that it wasn’t what I would wear personally. My poor husband had to propose with it, and I wore it for a week afterwards, until someone spotted it on my finger and bought it off me. The next one I designed was much more me – a grey diamond in a daisy setting, with pale blue Ceylon sapphires all around it. It was the first ‘daisy’ ring I ever created. And then a client came into the shop to look around and, again, bought it right off me. Of all the pieces in the boutique, they wanted it. I guess that just means I’m a good saleswoman. I’m just waiting for someone to ask me about the one I’m wearing now.

Jessica McCormack Wing of Desire Diamond White Gold Ring
Wing of Desire Diamond White Gold Ring

So, what’s next on your agenda?

Aside from the new bridal space, which I’ve been so excited about opening for a long time, I’m working on a collection of new one-off high jewellery pieces, including an incredible bracelet with a flat, old mine-cut diamond from 1910 or 1920. It’s a stunning colour and I’ve created a very simple but beautiful bracelet with a clasp that you squeeze to release. It’s something I’d wear with a t-shirt and jeans or, equally, it’s fancy enough to wear with an evening dress. It would even make a chic alternative to an engagement ring. We’ve had quite a lot of interest in it already. Then we’ve got an extension of our successful collaboration with the Haas brothers coming up – more eccentric jewellery boxes in large, medium, and small sizes. They’re going to be amazing. I can’t wait to see who buys them. I always love knowing that my pieces have gone to a good home.

Like this? Read about Jessica McCormack’s bridal collection

Read our guide how to buy a diamond