t would be easy to dismiss fine jewellery as one of those things that the French or the Italians just do better. After all, Paris is the home of high jewellery and the Italians have a well-documented heritage stretching as far back as the Romans. Accordingly, from Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels to Bulgari and Pomellato, mainland Europe is now home to some of the most dominant names in the modern jewellery industry.
But, if you’re in search of a glorious engagement ring or looking to gift something dazzling, don’t book those plane tickets just yet. There are plenty of masterful fine jewellery houses to choose from on our own fair shores, drawing on a British jewellery tradition that dates back to ancient times. From Hatton Garden stalwarts to independent designers putting a modern twist on British jewellery traditions, meet the UK’s best homegrown jewellers.
“London has a tradition of jewellery and silversmithing unsurpassed anywhere in the world,” says Theo Fennell, the jewellery designer whose eponymous brand has been resident in Chelsea for more than four decades. “The system of apprenticeship that medieval hopefuls entered, unrivalled as a craft education, has been going here for more than 800 years and still exists in a modernised version.”
An evangelist for the British jewellery industry, Fennell’s signature ornate designs and irreverent silverware draw inspiration from all corners of our nation’s history, be that pop culture and West End musicals or Elizabethan art and Victorian architecture.
“We need to take ourselves far more seriously,” he argues. “After all, the rest of the world comes here to learn at our colleges and plunder our design skills. So we must educate potential customers into the wonders of owning unique and fabulous British work.” With this in mind, Fennell founded Gilded Youth, a programme designed to support emerging British jewellery designers through prizes, awards and bursaries for secondary- and university-level students studying at Central Saint Martins, the Royal College of Art and the Goldsmith’s Centre. Pop into Fennell’s Chelsea showroom to admire works by past recipients – we defy you not to commission something of your own while you’re there.
The eponymous second act from Annoushka Ducas, the jeweller who rose to fame as the founder of Links of London, Mayfair-based Annoushka offers delicate, whimsical jewels inspired by the designer’s life experiences. "I've always loved travelling and exploring new places, and, like a magpie, I constantly have my eyes open for unusual, interesting objects and designs,” she explains.
"A few years ago, I was fortunate to have been given my mother's jewellery box, crammed full of a wonderful array of jewellery that she had accumulated during her life. From this collection, you could tell so much about her past and her travels. It was from this that my idea of a modern parure evolved and became the inspiration for Annoushka Fine Jewellery."
Accordingly, charms quickly became a signature of the brand, with everything from talismanic symbols and zodiac signs to palms trees and corgis picked out in 18-carat gold and precious stones. Designed to be mixed, matched and layered with the brand’s collection of chain bracelets, necklaces and delicate drop earrings, these are family heirlooms in the making.
Founded in 1985 and borne of its titular designer's passion for coloured gemstones, Kiki McDonough’s jewellery is exemplary of the creativity and craft of independent British jewellers. Her rainbow-hued designs, many of which take their cues from McDonough’s own fascination with ballet, have won the house legions of fans across the globe, most notably the Duchess of Cambridge, who is regularly seen wearing a pair of Kiki McDonough yellow-gold citrine drop earrings.
“We‘ve been fortunate to have grown a totally international client base of style-conscious women of all ages, many of whom come to us because we are recognised as being at the forefront of British fine jewellery,” says McDonough, of her success. An ambassador for Made in Britain since the beginning of her career, one of McDonough’s first designs – a pair of crystal heart earrings – was put on display in the V&A’s jewellery gallery and, more recently, a tiara from the house was showcased as part of a Platinum Jubilee exhibition at Sotheby’s.
“It is an enormous privilege to see my pieces being selected by such iconic British institutions,” adds McDonough. “That, coupled with seeing clients wear my pieces, ignites my ambition to share the joy jewellery can bring, and how a little colour can elevate the everyday.”
Few British jewellery houses can claim to have quite the heritage of Boodles, which will be celebrating its 225th year in business in 2023. It is, claims the company, the only fine jewellery brand to hail from Liverpool and continues to be run by sixth-generation members of the Wainwright family who established the house.
Across two centuries, the house has built up quite the order book, with notable commissions including a solid silver stand for one of the Queen’s wedding cakes, Grand National winners trophies and collaborations with Patek Phillippe. Today, the house specialises in bespoke commissions and fine-diamond jewellery and boasts 10 boutiques across the UK and Ireland, as well as hosting key society events, including Boodles Tennis, the Boodles Boxing Ball and Boodles May Festival race day.
The house's signature Raindance collection (pictured right) remains exemplary of Boodles' approach to design and stone setting more than two decades after it first debuted. “Much of our design inspiration comes from the very things that make us British; the landscape, the architecture, gardens, films, ballet and storytelling,” explains James Amos, Director of Boodles. “But it is British craftsmanship at its very best that brings it all together in the finished jewellery.”
If you like your jewellery big, bold and beautiful, you could do far worse than turn to Minka Jewels for your next investment piece. Founded by former photographer Lucy Crowther and based between workshops in Birmingham and Hatton Garden, Minka takes its name from Crowther’s jewellery aficionado grandmothers – Minnie and Katrina – and aims to create timeless pieces with exceptional stones at their heart.
“I love that we work and produce in the UK. It is a real honour to be working with exceptionally talented craftsmen and championing the 'Best of British' is something I am really proud of and think our clients really love this about our designs,” says Crowther. “Everything is made by hand in the UK so when you purchase a Minka piece you are supporting the wonderfully talented UK-based workshops which have a real history to them.”
As well as a thriving bespoke business, Minka’s pieces trade on Crowther’s background as a gem trader and are characterised by exquisite and unusual coloured stones in hues of vibrant pink, tropical teal and forest green. If you manage to add just one to your wish list you’re far stronger than us.
Gold vermeil may be ubiquitous among the world’s demi-fine jewellers today but, back in 2008 when Monica Vinader formed her eponymous brand, it was a practically forgotten Victorian technique. Working from her home in Norfolk (which remains the business HQ today), Vinader’s line of engravable name bracelets, stackable rings and everyday diamond pieces quickly made the brand a household name, appealing to young fans buying their first piece of ‘proper’ jewellery as well as customers looking for sophisticated pieces that didn’t cost the earth.
As well as continuing to create collections that appease its legion of loyal fans, which include Lupita Nyong’o, Selena Gomez, Kendall Jenner and Gwyneth Paltrow, today Monica Vinader is a house that takes its commitment to sustainability seriously. As of April 2020, all of its pieces are made using 100 per cent recycled silver and all packing is FSC Certified, while the brand is also taking steps towards carbon neutrality and removing single-use plastics from its supply chain.
Founded by Amelia Bainbridge at the kitchen table of her South West London home in 2014, Auree is a relative newcomer to the British jewellery scene but has quickly become a go-to for the kind of easy pieces ideal for wearing every day.
"I had always wanted to set something up myself and I saw a niche in the market for beautiful jewellery that would travel through life with you – but which was affordable and didn't need to be kept in a safe,” explains Bainbridge. “We design classic pieces that last a lifetime and that can be worn by your mother, daughter, sisters or friends and I think there is something very British about that.”
Price points are kept at bay thanks to the use of semi-precious stones, such as citrine, topaz, garnet and moonstone, while a wide array of gold vermeil pieces are perfect for anxiety-free travelling.
Another newcomer to the UK jewellery scene, Matilde Mourinho’s eponymous London-based jewellery brand is a thoroughly modern one. Inspired by the lack of transparency Mourinho discovered when looking into the provenance of her own jewellery box, Matilde was founded on the ethos that nothing that brings as much joy as a gorgeous piece of jewellery should cause environmental or social harm.
Accordingly, Matilde eschews mined diamonds for their lab-grown counterparts, as well as using 100 per cent recycled gold across its entire collection. It is also committed to complete transparency in its production chain, maintaining close relationships with suppliers and manufacturers to ensure ethical standards are met while being completely open with customers about from where their jewellery comes. Which would all mean nothing if the jewellery wasn’t stunning. Happily, it is.
Run by father-and-daughter team Jessie and David Thomas from their workshop and boutique in Chelsea, Jessie Thomas prides itself on employing only the highest levels of craftsmanship. David, a Master Goldsmith who trained under Georg Jensen, has pieces held in the permanent collections of the V&A and the Goldsmiths Company and schooled his daughter in the art, instilling within her the importance of handcrafting every piece for her eponymous brand.
“I’m happy to be part of the long tradition of jewellery-making in Britain. I’m lucky to be able to work with brilliant craftspeople in the UK and put emphasis on the high-quality craftsmanship that we all strive for,” says Jessie. “The avant-garde artist jewellers of the '60s, including my dad, really pushed the boundaries of jewellery design forward and I’m inspired by that legacy to keep creating new and beautiful pieces.”
This focus on heritage is evident in Thomas’ designs, which heavily feature natural pearls and diamonds suspended from contemporary takes on classic gold chains. At once delicate and graphic, sustainability also forms a key tenant of the house, with recycled gold, Fairtrade metals and Canadamark diamonds used throughout.
The very epitome of British fine jewellery, Liv Luttrell creates limited-edition and bespoke pieces in sculptural designs guaranteed to turn heads. Trained at the Gemmological Institute of America, before cutting her teeth in London’s workshops, many of Luttrell’s pieces are inspired by the works of her grandmother Rosemary, a fine artist who specialised in abstract art, as well as her day-to-day life in the capital.
“Being a British designer is a really important part of my work identity and practice while being in touch with every aspect of the creative process in all my designs is a keystone of my business,” says Lutrell. “I find living and working in London very inspiring. Here we are surrounded by interesting and sometimes challenging visual stimuli from avant-garde art exhibitions to museums celebrating our past.”