By Ase Anderson in London
Even if it wasn't for the exquisite jewels twinkling in the display cabinets, visiting Jessica McCormack's Mayfair townhouse is an experience to be savoured by every bride-to-be.
Stretching over an astonishing 5,000sq ft, entering the townhouse is more akin to stepping into a home (albeit a very luxurious one) than a boutique. And it is precisely this feeling that New Zealand-born Jessica wants to convey to her bridal clients.
"When people buy an engagement ring it is often their first introduction to diamonds," she says. "It can be daunting, so we want people to feel comfortable and make the experience as relaxed and fun as possible."
With four rooms to choose from, including a downstairs bridal suite, Jessica's highly trained staff can make sure that clients are making their jewellery selections in a setting that is right for them. She says that while some clients prefer a more businesslike atmosphere, more often than not, brides-to-be settle down in a comfortable sofa in the library where they can relax with a cup of tea or glass of champagne while perusing the jewellery collections.
"We try to tailor-make each experience to the client. We encourage them to try on lots of things to narrow down the stone and colour they prefer, and take it from there."
Where the process goes from here depends on whether the client chooses a ring from Jessica's extensive collection of traditional and modern designs, or if they want to commission a bespoke piece.
"If they want to buy from the collection we often get the Connaught Hotel across the road to bring over champagne to celebrate. If they decide to go for a bespoke ring, they will choose the central stone - if they want a pear-shaped diamond, for example, we will bring out three or four for them to look at - and we will design the ring around that stone."
There will be follow-up appointments to finalise the design, with Jessica herself doing all the drawings, and the ring will be ready for collection after around three months. If it is a much simpler design, such as a diamond solitaire, the process is shorter, more like six to eight weeks.
She says that while round brilliant diamonds are still by far the most popular stones, there has been a trend towards women choosing cushion-cut diamonds, a softer shape that evokes old world glamour.
Clients are also becoming more adventurous with their designs: "We get people coming back and redoing their engagement rings - they will keep the central stone but change the design. They may have gone down the more conservative road when they first chose their ring, but now they feel ready to update to a stronger, more confident style."
Jessica says it is impossible to pigeonhole her bridal clients: "We have older clients who are on their second or third marriage as well as younger girls. What they have in common is that they are looking for something a bit different, more sophisticated and adventurous. They are strong women who want something special. It's great to work with those kind of people."
Complete with a garden and walls lined with artwork by the likes of Rick Owens and Louise Burgeois as well as a piano that plays itself, Jessica says that the store on Carlos Place is "an extension of her own home". Which leads us neatly onto the question: why Mayfair?
"It is so beautiful here. When I first came over from New Zealand I remember walking around Mount Street and looking at the architecture. It was just how I imagined the old school London you read about in Oliver Twist to be. Then we found the house and it is perfect for us. It doesn't feel too Bond Street-y but it's not off the beaten track like the Clerkenwell salon."
Jessica stresses that, unlike her previous by-appointment-only salon, the house is "a shop with normal opening hours". It is also, the only place in the world where you can buy Jessica McCormack jewellery.
And it is not just about the rings, stunning as they are. From diamond-encrusted star hairpins to pendants and diamond studs, Jessica creates pieces that don't just look stunning on your wedding day but can be worn for many years to come.
A case in point is a pair of diamond French earrings, which consist of 0.50ct diamond studs with a diamond circle loop and an articulated diamond 'fringe'.
"They're the perfect wedding day earrings," says Jessica. "Not too big but still sparkling and feminine. You can detach all the parts and wear them in different ways after the wedding. I want my clients to be able to wear their bridal jewellery for the rest of their lives."