Margot McKinney pearls: a walk on the wild side

Discover the lengths to which Australia's leading jewellery designer, Margot McKinney, will go to source unique pearls and the colourful results.

Margot McKinney Tahitian pearl cocktail ring

“I have never really been one to see the world in black and white,” says Margot McKinney, Australia’s leading luxury jewellery designer. This innocent statement in no way prepares the uninitiated for the colourful exuberance of Margot’s jewels. And particularly her intuitive ability to show us pearls in a whole new light, taking this most classic of jewels and making it incredibly opulent and very modern.

In Margot’s world, the soft grey lustre of a perfect Tahitian pearl is surrounded by an explosion of jungle green and sea blue sapphires, peridots and diamonds (top). A meringue-white baroque pearl adds a cool calm to a warm palette of glossy mandarin garnets, raspberry-pink sapphires and cherry-red rubellite. Creamy South Sea pearl drops are capped with cones dusted in pastel pink and yellow sapphires. And ropes of outsized baroque pearls grow to extreme lengths, skimming the entire body and sitting alongside golden, irregular-shaped beads encrusted with vibrant and bright gemstones.

The beauty of the sea and its precious bounty are celebrated in Margot McKinney's Exotic Abundance campaign.

So how did Margot come to create such daringly different pearl jewellery? It all started when, at a young age, she worked in her family’s department store in Toowoomba in Queensland, Australia.  Like a moth to a flame, Margot was drawn to the jewellery department in her four-generation family business. Intuitively understanding the beauty of pearls, which at the time were coming from Japan and very much in the traditional style of jewellery of the day, Margot had to bide her time for Australia’s very own pearl farming industry to flourish in the 1980s. When it did, there was no turning back.

Margot McKinney's Exotic Abundance campaign celebrates the unique textures and vibrant colours found in the natural world.

“From the very beginning I wanted to combine opals, pearls and coloured gems,” explains Margot. But she went about it in her very own way. Seeking out pearls in the very furthest corners of Australia, Margot found herself embracing the entire pearl-farming process as there is no such thing as half-measures for her. So close is her relationship with Aji Ellies, a pearl farmer in Gove in the remote Northern Territory of Australia, that she is invited aboard the mother ship each year for the pearl harvest.

I cannot think of any other jeweller who goes to such lengths to source their pearls. Side by side with the pearling technicians on the working boat - no five stars here - at sea for days on end, eating freshly prepared pearl meat for supper and watching the sun set over the stark horizon, Margot sees the cages being raised from the sea bed before the oyster shells are gently prised open to reveal their nacreous treasure.

Hibiscus Tahitian pearl cocktail ring
Margot McKinney Hibiscus Tahitian pearl cocktail ring with multi-coloured sapphires, pink tourmaline, amethyst and diamonds ($29,500).

Sitting alongside the pearl technicians, Margot has first dibs on the annual maritime harvest. Braving the remoteness, the rather spartan conditions and the 'curious' aroma of the oysters, living alongside the pearl farmers has forged a bond between Margot and the fruits of the Pinctada maxima oyster that few other jewellers can claim. “I can tell you that each baroque pearl is different and I recognise them from one in a thousand and from which harvest and which year they came,” says Margot. And if a perfectly spherical, smooth pearl over 20mm or a magically beautiful large baroque emerges, the entire ship whoops with joy.

Kiss South Sea pearl earrings
Margot McKinney Kiss earrings with pink, yellow and orange sapphires and diamonds, and detachable Australian South Sea pearl drops ($29,950).

This intimate link to the very source of her material gives Margot a unique sympathy when designing with pearls. And Margot’s pearls come in all shapes, sizes and colours, from majestic baroques to mirror-smooth South Seas, coppery pinks and iridescent black Tahitians. Beauty is not standard and irregular forms are given their own nicknames. These include “snowmen” plump, double-orbed white keshi pearls – and“rice crispies”, which are nubby, white and flat.

Combine Margot’s under-the-skin relationship with pearls with her love of nature, in particular Australia’s rich landscapes, vegetation and creatures, and an idea of this designer’s unique aesthetic begins to emerge. A delicate pattern of sapphires evokes the colours and texture of a chameleon. The pink-tinged sand of the vast inland Lake Eyre inspires eddying patterns of pink pearls and sapphires. “For me, it’s about something bigger than us. It’s about something that is out there in nature that just gets in,” explains Margot.

And most excitingly for us, you can explore the new Exotic Abundance campaign, which captures the sources of Margot’s inspiration, in the video below. Margot says of the campaign: “This is the most excited I have ever been. I can’t tell you how happy I am with it.” And believe me, Margot is often excited. It is this very excitement that beams out her from and from her jewels along with a contagious love of life and a deep respect for nature and every one of the people she meets on her journey to making a jewel.


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