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...

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