How Kiwi Jessica McCormack is Redefining Luxury Jewelry with ‘Diamonds of the Day’
Jessica McCormack subtly redefines the way we see, wear and define luxury jewelry.
The Christchurch-born designer behind the London-based jewelry brand of the same name is known for her ability to fuse traditional techniques with contemporary aesthetics and approaches.
Since launching her eponymous label in 2008 (after an internship at the highly regarded auction house Sotheby’s), McCormack’s pieces have become favorites of well-heeled Londoners and savvy Kiwis who want to stand out from the crowd.
They’re the kind of effortlessly chic people who can rock a plain white t-shirt and jeans and look incredibly well put together. They wear a jumble of jewelry and rings on each hand and look classy rather than, as I suspect, like they’ve raided a dress box.
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Operating out of a chic five-storey brick townhouse in London’s affluent Mayfair, Jessica McCormack the brand is deeply British, but McCormack the person remains a Kiwi through and through.
“New Zealand is the homeland and that’s where it all comes from,” McCormack says when we meet in Herne Bay in Auckland. She mixes business with pleasure on her trip home from the pandemic, visiting family but also snapping new countryside footage in Pakiri, north of Tāmaki Makaurau.
The separation of McCormack’s brand and personality, at least initially, was very intentional. “I didn’t want to be a ‘New Zealand designer’. I wanted it to be a London brand. It was a very conscious decision, but that definitely changed as I got older and established myself.
“It’s a British brand, but I’m not British,” she says. “It’s not British in the sense of the Union Jack, the green race, the royal family and the fine word – I’m not. But because the jewels are so slow – it’s not like fashion where you can enter and [disrupt] – you have to go through construction sites to reach a certain level.
Now that the brand has earned its stripes so to speak, McCormack feels emboldened to further incorporate its Kiwi identity into the business side of its offering.
“It’s all very New Zealand, South Pacific,” she says of a new floor in the brand’s London townhouse that houses the Love Beyond collection, where a mirror installation by Dutch-kiwi designer Sabine Marcelis and a Samoan tapa cloth stand proudly alongside the Edwardian Museum. showcases. “It’s nice to finally be able to do this as inspiration for interiors and ambiance.”
Although the brand now maintains a well-cultivated following among London’s heritage jewelery brands, breaking into a market that already seemed set in stone was no picnic. Initially, the English found it difficult to understand McCormack’s untraditional approach to jewelry.
“Changing their thought process about how jewelry should be worn and how it should be used took time. It was either the crown jewels or nothing,” she shares. “There’s a loyalty and a trust that has to be built, but once you’re in, you’re in.”
Helping McCormack “get in” was backed by two industry heavyweights: Michael Rosenfeld, a third-generation diamond merchant, and Rachel Diamond, whose great-grandfather Ernest Oppenheimer founded the diamond company De Beers.
Nearly 15 years after launching her brand, McCormack now counts celebrities, collectors, and “self-taught and self-shoppers” among her loyal customers. As they say on TikTok, girls who get it, get it.
It is mainly women who “understand” and appreciate McCormack’s philosophy. McCormack says 70% of her customers are women who buy jewelry for themselves.
While she constantly draws inspiration from her clients, McCormack’s inherent playfulness with jewelry isn’t all that recent – she recalls it was her father, art dealer and auctioneer John McCormack, who instilled in him a love of things that brought him joy above all else.
“When I was younger I would go to auctions and buy cases of jewelry that I had fun with, creating new pieces – that’s where it all started for me.”
The experimental perspective that shines through in his work today. Most people have heard of the four Cs associated with diamonds – carat, cut, color and clarity – but much of the intangible charm of McCormack’s pieces comes from what she calls the fifth C: character.
Her creations, such as her $36,200 Tripset Hoop with alternating hoops in blackened white and yellow gold as well as round, heart-shaped and pear-shaped diamonds, are, she says, intentionally “fun, but not too wacky. or extravagant”.
“They’re a bit feminine, a bit masculine, a bit fun but also serious, because there’s a price attached to it.”
McCormack skillfully mixes stones of different sizes or deploys slightly off-center settings to lend a casual touch to his megawatt pieces. She shows a pear-shaped diamond ring with the stone slightly angled as an example of how a classic design can be made more interesting and relaxed.
Most of the brand’s jewels are set using their characteristic cut-out technique used by Georgians. “Rather than using four claws, they pushed metal around the belt – the pointed end of the stone – to hold it in place,” McCormack explains. “It softens the diamond, it’s very classic but it’s very cool. For jewelry, the devil is in the detail, it’s those little tweaks and color blends.”
These technical details go a long way in setting McCormack’s jewelry apart. They may be imperceptible to the casual observer, who just knows that the pieces look and feel different. These are jewels made with and for the female gaze.
“Like the art world, diamonds can be very intimidating,” says McCormack. “With art – I know what I know and I know what I love – but I’m not an expert and I think that’s how it is with jewelry. You don’t have to be an expert, you just need to know what appeals to you visually and emotionally.”
That said, McCormack designs with the recognition that diamonds, even the funniest ones, are not a frivolous purchase. These are often a major purchase and therefore should work for all aspects of your life. McCormack’s answer is a concept she calls “Day Diamonds.”
“I’ll drop the kids off at school there, I can walk through Hyde Park to work, I can work all day and go out and don’t have to think about them. It makes things really easy and easy to wear “, she says. “Yes, we have things for special occasions, but even our best-selling necklaces, you should be able to wear them with a t-shirt and jeans.”
McCormack epitomizes this approach: when we meet, she wears a baggy but beautifully fitted blazer with a simple (read: chic) white t-shirt, on which she has layered a gold pendant necklace with a smiley face engraved with two oval diamonds for eyes. . That’s very cool, disarmingly for an item that sells for $14,750.
The brand’s look is one that speaks to the concept of stealth richness, a softened sense of style that’s still unmistakably expensive without screaming it. It’s a redefinition of the hallmarks of luxury, with barely a velvet cord in sight.
“The word luxury is so prevalent now,” admits McCormack. “Everything is luxury apparently. It’s a label.
“This idea of luxury where you can buy something at an airport of any brand, for me, it’s not luxury…
“When it comes to jewelry, it’s about being able to buy something that you really love, wear and use – and that brings joy to others. A luxury is something that is worn, loved and used. is not really a prize.”
There is also an appeal for rarity, which is not a new concept in the diamond game. “Part of the reason he’s taken [the brand] so long to mature, it’s because I never wanted to do this,” she says. “There was a decision point where we could have it made in bulk overseas and sell it in stores around the world or do this and so I’m sticking with that.”
Sticking to what she knows and trusts means McCormack’s exclusive New Zealand retailer is the Simon James concept store in Herne Bay, owned and operated by McCormack’s sister, Georgina, and her husband. , designer Simon James.
The store recently set up a dedicated in-store space to view McCormack’s artwork, aiming to replicate some of the experience honed in the brand’s Mayfair townhouse.
What’s next for Jessica McCormack, the designer, and the brand? There have been opportunities to expand to other places, but this friction between accessibility and control plays on McCormack’s mind.
“I wish I could do more,” she says. “It’s a good problem to have – not being able to keep up with demand. It’s special and it’s luxury.”