What do you do at Motley?
I work between makers and designers. I take the big vision of designers and turn it into something we can make, in an accessible way, without losing the designer’s aesthetic. Think of it as the relationship architects have with engineers. The architect has the big vision, then the engineer works out how to build it.
How do you work with designers on new collections?
Each designer is completely different. That’s why I take an individual approach to each collaboration – sometimes, a designer will present detailed drawings, so our conversations are more technical. Others have more of a large-scale vision, so there’s more communication around technicalities. There’s laughs, negotiation, and a lot of back and forth. The designers are really important to us, so I never just take their ideas away without a deeper understanding of what they envision. It’s a two-way conversation, which is an approach that’s unique to Motley.
How are new, statement designs that haven’t been done before made?
All sorts of weird and wonderful ways. Take the Moon Landing collection as an example – there were lots of composite parts that couldn’t be made by our usual jewellers, so I used lego to picture how it might look. It was peak lockdown, and I asked my neighbourhood Facebook group for lego donations so I could visualise how all the different rivets would work and connect together.
There’s no blueprint, so I’ll often dip into my past and look outside of jewellery at how methods of construction can translate to this medium. Each Motley project is completely uncharted territory, so the moulds and processes we use are brand new each time.
Trickiest Motley to make?
I think that each collection is tricky in its own way. ‘Moon Landing’, which I mentioned earlier, was tricky because the process was an unknown quantity.
Frances Wadsworth Jones’ collection went through four different makers. Getting the detail right was desperately tricky, because of the nature of casting the screws with individual spaces between each ridge.
(Casting is the process of creating a mould for a new jewellery design, then using it to make it each piece).
The CAD (Computer-aided design which turns sketches into detailed shapes for makers) for Coline Assade’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Magic’ collection was desperately tricky. CAD is great with geometric shapes, but her collection was all about fluidity. I had to go back to the lessons you've taught about 3D drawing as a kid. I really wanted to do justice to her designs, and I’ll never forget the process for The Oberon Ring.
What makes good jewellery?
Great question. I think for me, great jewellery takes all sorts of things into consideration. It has to ‘wear’ well, and not just look good in a photo or on a table. That means making sure the balance, weight and composition works holistically.
Great jewellery is all about attention to detail – every person in the process, from me to the craftsmen to designers, are invested in that detail. Those small details like a hidden clasp, the shape of pendants, the heaviness that ensures pieces aren’t light and prone to cracks.
High end jewellery that’s properly made is all about detail. Jewellery is made by human hands, so the margin for human error is high. Quality assuring each step of the way is important.
What makes bad jewellery?
There’s so much bad jewellery out there. I would call it lazy jewellery, where certain elements haven’t been thought out. The main component can be beautiful – like the pendant or top of the ring. But often, the rest feels like an add-on, sort of like bits stuck on a Mr Potato Head figure. It can become top heavy, it can hang forward, and the weight distribution can be all wrong because of one missed detail. It’s not so much bad as poorly thought out.
Even though we use tech in our processes, such as Computer Aided Design or 3D printing, that’s only about 2% of the process. A well-made piece of jewellery will have 5-7 different processes – one might be the 3D printer, but 6 will be down to humans. In an atelier, each person has a speciality, from moulding and casting to polishing and assembly. To make something beautiful and functional across that many people is really hard.
Poor quality jewellery means poor attention to detail and fewer processes. Often polishing is cut out and it’s just ‘tumbled’. Jump rings and earrings posts will be soldered in a hurry, so the heat isn’t high enough and they just fall off. When cost cutting and mass production are prioritised, poor quality creeps in. There’s so many things that can go wrong.
Favourite thing you’ve ever made?
My career has been so varied it’s hard to say. The design I used to work on was quite out there and mechanism based. I used to do a lot of teaching, and it was inspiring to see someone make something with the skills you’ve given them. I’ve worked with a jeweller on bespoke work, which really comes from nothing more than an idea. Working at Motley is great because each collection is a massive challenge and no two are the same. I think my best bit of computer-aided design was definitely the Oberon Ring. It’s really hard to pick just one.
Favourite piece of jewellery you own?
This is the thing about jewellery designers, or engineers – we don’t wear too much of it because it’s work. But my favourite is a piece of jewellery I made when I first ever started, which is a hinged kinetic bangle. It’s made of anodized titanium (material science is my nerdy hobby) with two interlocking circles. I’m also really into mathematical ratios which exist in nature. I hardly ever wear it but it’s a nostalgic reminder of a really fun project.