The power women of jewellery

On International Women’s Day, we celebrate the most successful and creative independent female jewellery designers who are lighting up our world.

Jessica McCormack portrait

Here at The Jewellery Editor we have our own way of celebrating International Women’s Day. To mark the occasion, we bring you our selection of women jewellers who, through their creativity, determination and tenacity, have forged a presence in this predominantly male-dominated world and brought fun, colour and individuality to jewels and look at how these trailblazers approach jewellery from a women’s perspective.

“I still think a lot of men see jewellery as a commodity whereas women wear jewellery because they want it to make them feel and look great as well as meaning something,” says Solange Azagury-Partridge.

Solange Azagury-Partridge has little time for convention. As a self-trained jeweller whose first experience of making jewels was designing her own engagement ring, Tom Ford spotted her innate talent and very individual take on luxury when he chose her to be Creative Director of Boucheron. Her legendary Quatre designs live on at Boucheron, as do her now iconic HotLips jewels, which have taken on a life of their own as a sub-brand of her business.

Solange’s colour-saturated world is a chromatic kaleidoscope that makes other jewellers pale into polite conformity. Born to design, Solange has brought psychedelic patterns and writhing forms to Victorian interiors, furniture and accessories, all zinging with her kooky, irreverent style. Look no further than her most recent Poptails rings to get an eyeful of Solange’s style.

Poptails Tri-di diamond and emerald cocktail ring
Bubblegum pink nails match the pink lacquer in Solange Azagury-Partridge’s new Poptails Tri-di cocktail ring, set with triangular-cut diamonds and emeralds (POA). 

“I still think a lot of men see jewellery as a commodity whereas women wear jewellery because they want it to make them feel and look great as well as meaning something,” says Solange. “Jewels can send a secret or subliminal message. That is why jewels can be so much fun.”

So what message do her Poptails rings beam out?  “They say: I am who I am, don’t mess me with me, I’m having fun. In fact, that is my motto: If it’s not fun, I’m not wearing it,’” states Solange.

London-based Vania Leles is not just one of the few women jewellers on Bond Street but one of the only Africans. Born in Guinea Bissau, Vania became a successful model in New York, where, living above the Bulgari store, she found her calling gazing at the jewels in the windows. It was then that she decided to become a jeweller, and after graduating from the Gemological Institute of America, she spent the next 10 years learning the trade working for Graff, De Beers and Sotheby’s.

Founder of VANLELES, Vania Leles believes that jewellery should be a force for good and is committed to ethically and sustainably sourced diamonds, gemstones and precious metals.

In 2011, Vania set up VANLELES and a showroom in Belgravia. Vania believes that jewellery should be a force for good and is committed to ethically and sustainably sourced diamonds, gemstones and precious metals. “I always believed that the beauty of jewellery shouldn't start at the shop floor,” says Vania. “It should start where it all begins, at the mines and the communities around the mines in Africa. That's very important to me. And more and more of my clients want that beautiful story linked to their piece of jewellery. This is the moral duty I have because I am one of them.”

It takes a woman to make a home, and Jessica McCormack, top of article, has a townhouse boutique that is perhaps one of the most beautiful retail spaces in London. Her multi-storey emporium on Carlos Street is very much a home with a fire crackling in the grate, wild flowers dropped into glass bottles and deep, comfortable sofas. 

The daughter of a New Zealand auction-house owner, Jessica grew up being at ease with precious objects. After working at Sotheby’s jewellery department in London, Jessica set up a jewellery house to create her modern heirlooms. Combining Victorian techniques with an edgy London chic, Jessica’s creations are very much for Millennials with deep pockets.

 Her jewels look just as great with jeans and flip flops as they do with grander clothes, and she encourages her clients to wear their jewels all the time. “Nothing makes me sadder than the thought of jewels locked up in a safe, like prisoners,” says Jessica. “I encourage clients to mix and style their jewellery and build a collection. Go with your gut and don’t be afraid to mix era or style.”

Maria Doulton interviewing the always elegantly bejewelled Margot McKinney in London for the filming of a video on baroque pearls.

Independent Australian jeweller Margot McKinney also allows her creativity to grow by indulging in projects that take her away from the day-to-day of designing. Her latest collection is the result of her buying an entire harvest of 80,000 baroque pearls straight from the boat – a bold move that shows her trademark commitment and bravery and resulted in a series of beautiful pearl jewellery.

However wildly creative McKinney’s jewels get, she always ensures they are wearable and takes deep pride in knowing that they will sit well and function beautifully. “I believe there is a distinct advantage being a woman designing for women,” she says. Beyond just the practical wearing of jewellery, I understand how a fabulous piece of jewellery can make a woman feel. This can be a very powerful emotion.”

For Doris Hangartner and other independent female designers, jewellery is not just about how it looks but how it feels, and how it makes you feel.

As Zurich-based gemmologist and jewellery designer Doris Hangartner concisely puts it: “It takes a woman to know a woman.” And for Hangartner and other independent female jewellery designers, this mind-set is not just about how a jewel looks but how it feels, and how it makes you feel.

“What do I want to create in life? How would I like to feel with my jewellery? Which gems enhance my personality, bring out my femininity and make me shine?” These are all questions that Hangartner asks herself before she sits down to design any of her exclusive jewels, which centre around rare gemstones.

Tanzanite ceramic ring
One of Doris Hangartner's latest creations, this one-of-a-kind ceramic ring is set with a 6.26-carat tanzanite in an unusual violet colour (POA).

Being an independent designer, Hangartner can let her imagination run wild with projects like her “Gem Dance Collection”, a series of choreographed ballets inspired by gemstones (tanzanite launches next month after 2016’s gem dance to tango music by Astor Piazzolla, in honour of the fiery red spinel). 

Another project aims to help women “experience gems with all the senses”. For sight she has collaborated with contemporary British artist Lisa Sharpe to create paintings that capture the essence of a gem. For smell and taste, she has developed a series of Gem Chocolates in association with a Swiss chocolatier that explore the full sensory experience of peridots, Paraiba tourmalines, Imperial topaz and red spinel in confectionery.

Based in the southern state of Albuquerque, New Mexico, Paula Crevoshay has been forging a uniquely colourful path in the world of art jewellery for decades.

Based in the southern state of Albuquerque, New Mexico, Paula Crevoshay has been forging a uniquely colourful path in the world of art jewellery for decades. Previously an artist and sculptor, her painterly approach to jewellery design gives her creations a wonderfully naturalistic feel. She has never chased commercial success, preferring to remain staunchly independent, believing that every piece of jewellery she creates – each one of a kind – should have its own unique expression for the wearer. “Once they put it on, it’s a part of them and it’s speaking to them,” she explains.

Women of the jewellery world, we salute you all!

*Story updated by Maria Doulton in March 2017

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