Margot McKinney’s Kaleidoscopic Art
Australia-based MARGOT McKINNEY’s jewellery compositions are an aesthetic assembly of colourful gemstones – a bright and muted harmony of hues that evoke striking, polychromatic imagery. A traveller at heart, an astute business woman, a fearless pursuer of her dreams, and an elegant fashionista – Margot is all of this rolled into one. A diva in her own right, she is the most celebrated jewellery artist of her times in her country as well as in cities across the globe where she has left an indelible mark with her varicoloured collections.
Travelling around the world for almost half the year to single out gems and pearls for her bold creations, Margot uses this time to take in the beauty of the various landscapes and natural bounties. Back home, an energised Margot gets into the design mode and confesses to literally dreaming up forms and colour combinations – depicting nature in its most captivating avatars. By SHANOO BIJLANI
Since when has your family been engaged in the business of jewellery?
I am a retailer first and foremost. Our family business was started in Australia by my greatgrandfather, in 1884. He travelled to Australia from Ireland to hopefully find his fortune in the goldfields. As life often does, it took him in another direction and he established a small shop that later turned into a department store. It was my grandfather who started the jewellery side of the business with engagement rings, pearls and classic, traditional jewellery.
Opting for jewellery designing must have been a natural choice for you?
Growing up in the family business provided me with significant retail experience. The family dinner table talk was always about the store, and to drift into the business seemed so natural to me. It truly was all I ever wanted to do. Jewellery designing came later – my first experience was rather grass-roots shopkeeping. When I joined the family business straight out of school, it was a true department store selling everything from boats, sporting goods, toys, furniture, electrical goods, women’s fashion, fine china, silverware and of course, jewellery! I credit this early experience with giving me an understanding of why people shop, their purchasing decisions, marketing, advertising and the financial side of running a sound business. All of these early skills have held me in good stead in my own business.
Did you get to train on the job? Or did you arm yourself with degrees in jewellery designing?
Years of working closely with my parents in the business, and with some of the finest sales people I have known, was an extraordinary start for me. I was also able to train with qualified gemmologists and watch our fine craftsmen at work. I completed a gemmology diploma, but for me it was on-the-job-training that took me on my path.
Your jewellery pulsates with colours. Tell us more about how your aesthetic signature came into being.
I have always loved colourful gems and always loved jewellery that was significant in size! I remember my friends at an early age would look askance when I wore more than one strand of pearls and add a large-sized gemstone to
drop from it. I always believed jewellery should say something about who I was, and from an early age, I saw precious adornments as very important.
What inspires you the most?
The gems I travel the world to source are largely my inspiration! They almost always talk to me; and I become excited when I find a gem that I know will ‘just live happily’ with something else I may already have. This happens all the time – and recently, I was offered a truly magnificent 23-carat untreated pink sapphire that will now grace a gem strand of naturally coloured pink pearls. It’s a match made in heaven, as the saying goes, but it’s Mother Nature at work. I am constantly marvelling at the extraordinary gems nature provides.
We believe that you are an inveterate traveller. How does that influence your designs and ideas?
You are right! I am almost constantly travelling, and this influences my designs. When I visit tropical and the most exotic locales, I think that almost by osmosis, the scenic visions stay embedded in my psyche, and then re-surface during the design process. In fact, travelling is a huge source of inspiration – be it to a busy city where galleries and theatres abound, or the solitude of a walk along a deserted beach – every experience has an impact on one’s vision.
When did you start your own brand and where do you operate from?
I have been in the family business since I left school and worked my way up to being managing director of Australia’s oldest jewellery company which my father bought in the 1980s. This was a wonderful business, having stores in the major capital cities, and a valued Royal Warrant to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
When we sold that business in the late 1990s, I found I had the time to indulge my passion for design and it was then that I started my own company. We live in Brisbane in Australia, and my company is headquartered there, including my new flagship store, of which I am immensely proud.
Tell us about the first ever collection that you designed. How did it fare and how was the journey from thereon?
I still remember vividly the first ornament
that I designed. It was centred on South Sea pearls and large coloured gemstones. It was a jewellery piece that I was so proud of, and I loved to wear it. Fortunately, so did the people to whom I offered it, and thus started my journey!
List some of your favourite gemstones. Colour is vitally important to me! I dream in vivid colour and architectural detail so I often literally design in my sleep! My favourite gemstones are Australian South Sea pearls, opals, spinel, tourmaline, sapphires, peridot, garnet... I love them all. Like one’s children, I love all of them, but some days some talk to you more than others.
Your fascination for South Sea pearls and home-grown gems is legendary. Your comments.
My passion for pearls has earned me the title of ‘Pearl Lady’. Each year, I am fortunate to travel to the only independently owned pearl farm in Australia, in East Arnhem Land – one of the remotest places on the planet. Here I live on the pearling mother ship and watch as each pearl is harvested. It is one of the most amazing experiences of my life. To witness the enthusiasm and care with which the highly trained pearl technicians and the fifty people who work at the farm care for the mighty Pinctada maxima oyster that produces these most magnificent pearls, is truly inspiring.
Pearls are the only gems that emanate from a living organism – it is a miracle of nature. The pristine environment and the care for the sustainability of this amazing pearl farm are inspirational and a story I share far and wide.
Are you open to working with metals other than gold?
I work mostly with gold, but am designing a titanium collection at the moment. I love the scope that the lightest of the metals provides for making large pieces of jewellery. How much time does it take to make your collections?
Some of my most complex pieces can take up to 6-8 months to complete, others take about 6-8 weeks. Patience is a virtue with jewellery design and creation.
Tell us more about your ‘concept-to-creation’ process.
I start off with sourcing the gems. I have the most wonderful group of gem cutters with whom I work. Being in business for so long means that I am often offered gems even before other jewellery houses get to see it, and that is a great honour. The relationship with my cutters and my craftsmen and women is very important to me, and these people are like family.
Sitting with my gems I go into a designing zone and think, sleep and live the process. Often this means waking during the night to capture a thought on paper and usually refining a design over a long period of time.
Sometimes a collection can come from inspiration gathered on a trip and I may experience an outpouring of creativity. For example, notwithstanding that Australian Opal from Lightning Ridge comes from almost desert-like conditions, for me it evokes visions of the Great Barrier Reef with its enigmatic play of colour. I like to frame my opals with the colours that are in them and I think they become wearable art.
Do you intentionally make your collections versatile?
I make my jewellery as adaptable as possible with detachable pendant drops on necklaces and earrings, literally enabling you to go from the office to dinner.
My collectors and the extraordinary women who wear my jewellery are a constant inspiration to me. The confident way in which they wear their jewellery so creatively is humbling and reinforces my design philosophy of being able to wear my jewellery in many ways.
I hope that a fabulous Margot McKinney collar can be just as happily worn with a classic white T-shirt as it can be paired with a fabulous gown.
If you weren’t a jewellery designer, what would you be?
I truly can’t imagine doing anything else! For sure, if I wasn’t a jewellery designer, it would still be designing – perhaps fashion. I also think I would make a good travel agent!
What else occupies your time?
I have little time for hobbies, but I do like to sit quietly with my tapestry. I started one for our granddaughter when she was born and I just gave it to her for her sixth birthday! I practise yoga and several years ago, I started with a personal trainer and work out with weights. Being physically fit, I believe, supports the creative process as well as the obvious health benefits. Growing older makes one think more of health and well-being and notwithstanding my sometimes gruelling travelling schedule, I try my hardest to stay with an exercise regime.
What are your expansion plans? Apart from America and Australia, are you planning to expand your footprint in other countries?
I am currently working on expansion into the UK and Asia, and am very excited about this. They are different markets from the USA and I feel ready for this exciting new challenge.
I love the marketing aspect of the business and am working closely with my creative director and graphic designer. I am particularly proud of our latest campaign, Exotic Abundance, which we are about to launch. The campaign involved travelling across the vast continent of Australia to capture images in nature that I find so inspiring for my jewellery. Experiences, connections and nature are the crux of my business.
(Left to right, top, this page) Striking Lightning Ridge Opal earrings in 18-karat rose and white gold are surrounded by a myriad of gemstones, including dark and medium blue sapphires, pink sapphires, tsavorites, amethyst, peridot, tourmalines and...
(Clockwise from top left) Drop earrings in 18-karat rose gold populated with a matched suite of pink tourmalines, round brilliantcut diamonds, pink and purple sapphires. The earrings are completed with a detachable pair of 14mm pink cultured freshwater...