For those already acquainted with Jessica McCormack’s effortless way with fine jewelry, it will come as no surprise to discover that the tomboyish creative director continued to model her eponymous jewelry collection throughout the drear, uncertain days of lockdown; piled on with rule-breaking, carefree aplomb. “More than ever,” she laughs. “I raided the safe. That’s the amazing thing about jewelry: it makes you feel good… Just that little bit elevated, without really doing too much. It’s easy.”
It’s been several months since I first met McCormack – whose coveted fine-jewelry pieces launch on NET-A-PORTER today, September 29 – in her Wunderkammer-like boutique in London’s Mayfair. Today, as we catch up again by video call, her signature dressed-down attire of jeans and a white tank top is amped up by fat, lustrous drop pearls, which shiver from her ear lobes (part of a forthcoming collaboration with her close friend and fellow New Zealand-native Emilia Wickstead); while a diamond-set Hex ring (a modern riff on art-deco elegance) glints on her fingers. “It's just a lovely flat ring,” she says, twizzling it before the camera to show off its profile. “It doesn’t get in the way of working and doing things.”
I was like, ‘Yeah, cool – I want to make jewelry that can kind of transform things and not be seasonal in any way. You should be able to wear it when you’re 90!”
The practical consideration is real. As a mother of three children (aged three, four and six – “It’s my eldest’s birthday today,” she admits with the clenched smile of a multitasking working parent), McCormack is busy. Life is generally spent shuttling back and forth between her art-filled home in bohemian west London and the rarefied milieu of Carlos Place in Mayfair, where her growing business is arranged over a five-floor Georgian townhouse (ditto during lockdown, when she kept spirits aloft by shipping and packing orders, spring-cleaning and coming to the rescue of at least one pair of eloping lovers in desperate need of a ring!).
Here, central operations hum – a team of six artisans are at work in the basement, while two floors are open to clients who are invited to discover McCormack’s collections amid antic arrangements of books and curios. A quirky curation of rather dazzling contemporary art (several Frank Bowling paintings are stacked by the grand piano, a fabulously embellished Nick Cave Soundsuit presides over the stairs) only casts further enchantment.
Creating an assemblage of wonders is a talent McCormack inherited from her father, an antique dealer who ran an auction house in New Zealand. “My dad had a real knack for storytelling. He could take a little painting and create a story around it, reframe it… just passing on that enjoyment of things.” It was antiquing with her father – and starting to re-fashion the hodgepodge of random treasures he’d acquire in old boxes at auction (“giant fishing-tackle boxes, filled with bits and components that I would take and kind of mush together”) – that first got her bitten by the jewelry-making bug.
Although it was not until an internship at Sotheby’s fine-jewelry department, aged 25, exposed her to treasures of the like she could never have previously imagined (“Russian crown jewels, 1920s Cartier and Lalique. I spent most of my time in the safe and every time they would throw away a bunch of old catalogues, I would scoop them up and take them home”) that her vision for creating a collection of modern precious pieces, inspired by the exquisite craft of antique jewelry, started to crystallize. “You know, ignorance is bliss in your 20s,” she demurs. “I was like, ‘Yeah, cool – I want to make jewelry that can kind of transform things and not be seasonal in any way. You should be able to wear it when you’re 90!’”
That the first fine-jewelry piece she ever created, in 2008 – a winged earring inspired by Hermes, messenger of the Gods – was spotted by Rihanna’s stylist, and subsequently snapped up by the formidable musician herself, only goes to show how precisely McCormack landed that ambition. “I remember calling my business partner and saying, ‘I don’t want to sell it. It’s my first piece of jewelry’,” she recalls, laughing. “And he was like, ‘Just sell the damn jewel and make a new one!’”
In a similar vein, her cult Gypset diamond earrings (famously worn by Meghan, Duchess of Sussex), with their distinctive blackened gold Georgian ‘cut-down’ setting, sit at that compelling intersection between classicism and modernity.
I sold my wedding band just a few weeks ago. I’ve sold three engagement rings and I am always missing an earring”
Her business is 13 years old now. From the bespoke ‘party jackets’ she creates to wear over a personal antique ring, to her Superdelic collection of trippy, cloud-shaped diamonds, McCormack’s laid-back personal style and infectious Kiwi wit remain key to the allure of her aesthetic. So it comes as no surprise to hear that her growing, mostly female fan-base often wants to buy the pieces McCormack wears herself (and not just the ones on her beautifully curated Instagram account). “I sold my wedding band just a few weeks ago,” she admits, somewhat abashed. “I’ve sold three engagement rings and I am always missing an earring. Someone asked me the other day if that was my thing? I had to reply, ‘No’ – I was only wearing one as the others had sold.”
No doubt, she gives her female customers courage to be themselves. “Diamonds can be very intimidating, very male, very ‘all about the stone’. That’s important, but also the design needs to be important, the wearability needs to be important – and how it makes you feel. I try to bring all those things together and also ask the question, ‘Well, why can’t I wear diamonds with jeans and a T-shirt?’”
“When I’m creating, I’m always thinking about the woman,” she continues. “I want to create something that’s going to be with them and make them happy and be super-wearable – not just for big occasions. That’s my thing.”
And if she could sum up her philosophy of adornment in 10 words or less? “Just wear it!” she grins. “Even your grandmother’s crazy clip-ons. Enjoy them!”