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A Celebration of Female Jewellery Designers

By Laura McCreddie-Doak 4 Minute Read

Valerie Messika, Kiki McDonough, and Suzanne Kalan are pushing the boundaries of fine jewellery design

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On International Women’s Day, Tuesday 8th March, we look at three female designers who have transformed the way women wear fine jewellery.

The stories of Valerie Messika, Kiki McDonough and Suzanne Kalan are all ones of fathers and firsts. Valerie Messika learnt about diamonds from her dealer father, playing with them as one would marbles, which bred such a comfort with these gems that she was able to change the way women wear them. McDonough comes from five generations of jewellers, but she is the first woman. Suzanne Kalan founder, Suzanne Kalan, had a father who owned a fine-jewellery store, but it was the birth of her first child that galvanised her into designing her own pieces.

This trio are also linked by the way they have transformed how women wear fine jewellery. Used to playing with diamonds, which her father would bring home, Messika played with them as casually as one might play with Lego, she was frustrated when, as a young woman, she couldn’t find any stone-set pieces she liked. Diamond designs were either for engagements or evening wear. So Messika did what women generally do: she took matters into her own hands. Her first collection, Move, featured tiny diamonds that slid up and down the middle of a pavé-set bevelled rectangle and was inspired by the way the stone would slip through her father’s fingers as he was examining them. It was fresh, witty, and totally disruptive. It proved that precious pieces didn’t have to be kept in a safe and worn only on special occasions, they could be everyday elevators; designed to add drama to denim or give leather a punk luxe aura. It is that love of graphic minimalism that inspired her Gatsby collection. Bold bars of diamonds are suspended on delicate chains, stacked on fingers or made to dangle from lobes – sparse, sophisticated, and a refreshingly modern way to play with centuries-old stones.

McDonough had a similar vision. When McDonough set up her business in 1985, the notion of wearing fine jewellery with the same insouciance you would a white T-shirt wasn’t around neither was the idea of mixing coloured stones in unusual combinations. Colour was for costume, and precious metals and stones were for special occasions.

McDonough didn’t see why women couldn’t wear mood-lifting pieces set with precious stones as part of their everyday wardrobe. Her instinct was right. Her joyful jewels have been seen on the likes of Kate Middleton and she has encouraged many women to embrace the rich and varied world of coloured stones. It’s not all bold pieces; this trio from her Grace collection, which features a baby-blue topaz surrounded by a halo of diamond is understated, elegant, and beautifully simple. Ideal for everyday wear, in fact.

It was her experimental settings that got Suzanne Kalan noticed. Kalan started designing jewellery as something to do while her child, Patella, slept. A chance encounter with a store owner who complimented her on what she was wearing and then asked if she could make more saw her turn her hobby into a business. It is her love of baguette stones and her trademark Firework setting that marked her out as something different. Like McDonough and Messika, she displays an irreverence towards precious metals and gemstones, allowing her to push the boundaries of fine-jewellery design. Which is precisely what she’s done with her signature firework setting – a haphazard jumble of baguette-cut stones of which light ricochets making them flash and sparkle as seen on this gorgeous diamond and yellow gold necklace and hoop earrings. Kalan has also been joined in her fine jewellery business by her daughter, Patile, ensuring her story is no longer one of fathers but of mothers and daughters. These women, looking at gemstones through a uniquely feminine lens, are changing the tastes of a new generation of fine jewellery lovers.

Discover more from Messika, Kiki McDonough and Suzanne Kalan here at Goldsmiths online, or visit one of our showrooms where our jewellery experts will be delighted to show you their collections.

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