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Exclusive interview: Jessica McCormack


Jessica McCormack’s unconventionally informal approach to high jewellery makes her diamond-based designs accessible, emotive and extremely covetable, says Beth Druce

Beth Druce portrait
Beth Druce,

Jessica McCormack is quietly changing the way that people shop for jewels. She creates high jewellery with a twist: antique-inspired pieces that fuse old-world heritage with a fresh, modern edge. McCormack loves creating what she calls a ‘snapshot of time’ – a piece that captures a particularly significant part of a client’s life, perhaps an anniversary or a birth – and her approach is refreshingly relaxed, as she explains at her ‘house’ on Carlos Place. McCormack calls it her house partly because it is, but also because having premises where her clients feel at home was instrumental in how her brand evolved away from the traditional high-jewellery retail model towards a bespoke, highly personal, approachable service.

Breaking the mould
‘I was too scared to go into a shop on Bond Street,’ McCormack says of her early days in London. Her own atelier is far from intimidating. ‘You can come and hang out in here, and you can look at books, and you can be inspired. I was working on a Saturday and these people came in and I didn’t have any shoes on. They asked: “But are you Jessica, and do you always work on the shop floor?”’

McCormack’s fresh, informal take on the high jewellery world is tempered by a serious approach to design. Prior to founding her company, she worked at the Sotheby’s auction house, where her appetite for precious jewels was unleashed. ‘I was exposed to Russian crown jewels, 1920s Cartier, Lalique, the most incredible jewellery. Being from New Zealand, I’d never seen anything like it!’ she recalls. It was at this time that diamonds first made an impact on her, and it’s these stones that characterise her work today.

‘Diamonds are really important to what I do now but it’s how I choose a diamond, how I look at a diamond, that’s very different to how anybody does it,’ she explains. ‘Everybody is obsessed with certificates and facts and figures and commoditising to the nth degree. I’m looking at it like I look at a piece of art, with my eyes. I think, “Is that beautiful? Is that something that I want?”’

Grand designs
McCormack’s signature styles include her Wing of Desire earrings, inspired by the Greek messenger god Hermès with his winged sandals. Made to order, with a principal round brilliant-cut diamond and set with more of the same, they can be worn curved up or down, depending on the wearer’s mood. The Tattoo hoop earrings are set with 500 pavé-set brilliant-cut diamonds and recall Maori tattoos, an example of McCormack’s capacity for storytelling through jewels, as well as a nod to her New Zealand roots. McCormack recently unveiled her Diamond Party Jacket collection, inspired by the keeper rings popular in the 18th century, which were originally worn to protect other rings and keep them from sliding off. The Diamond Party Jackets are halos of diamonds that wrap around an existing ring.

Make it personal
Many of McCormack’s creations involve reworking precious stones or existing pieces into something more wearable. Family heirlooms, such as engagement rings passed down through generations, are some of her favourite commissions, bringing with them the opportunity to breathe new life into heritage pieces. ‘I love that there’s that old-world sentiment behind it, because that’s the emotional side as well, that’s really important,’ says the designer. ‘You create these pieces that have layers and stories.’

These layers and stories are crafted through ‘conversation and drawing a little out of the person,’ an exchange that embodies McCormack’s philosophy. ‘There are little things that you pick up that they don’t even realise that they’re saying; whether they have children or grandchildren or animals, or they live in the country or have a certain affinity with somewhere.’ The result might be diamonds set alongside stones that recall the blue eyes of the owner’s offspring, or a diamond pendant whose underside is etched with the geographical coordinates of places someone holds dear.

Ultimately, McCormack’s work is about creating jewellery with emotional bonds that go beyond the material value of the piece – and a corresponding sense of joy and affinity. This is a far cry from conventional notions of fine jewellery – and the feeling that high-value pieces must be saved for special occasions, or treated with an uncomfortable sense of reverence. ‘I’m creating pieces that people can live a life in partnership with; wear it, use it, love it, appreciate it,’ McCormack explains. ‘You want it to live a life with you, not to just be something you wear once a year.’

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