The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day on Tuesday, March 8, is #BreakTheBias. The purpose of this campaign is to highlight the utopian ideal of a world that’s free of stereotypes and discrimination, within which all differences are valued and celebrated. While I can only hope that such grand ambitions are achieved, I can definitely celebrate and champion diversity, talent and innovation in jewellery, where we are privileged to host many brilliant women. In this article, I am pleased to highlight eight women who are following their own path, creating covetable jewellery and running businesses that are recognised around the world.
As you can imagine, this list could easily extend beyond eight if I could feature all the women who have inspired content on this website. In fact, choosing this small group was remarkably difficult! However, they appear here because they have contributed to a specific facet of jewellery, whether the art of gem carving or the elevation of natural pearls. Continue reading below to find out more.
Australian-born, fourth-generation jeweller Margot McKinney is inspired by the exotic textures and vibrant colours that are so abundant in nature. From coral reefs to the dusty red hues of the outback, Margot creates one-of-a-kind jewellery pieces set with bold gemstones and, in some of her most remarkable pieces, Australian boulder opals. It is difficult to work with gemstones on such a large scale, not simply because of their volumes, but because there is an even greater need to focus on balance, comfort and style. Margot McKinney is a master at taking gems that others may find intimidating and transforming them into wearable pieces of art. She does this time and time again, without compromising her signature aesthetic. It is for this reason, among many others, that I include her here.
As the youngest daughter of a traditional Indian family, art jeweller Neha Dani says she was expected to “marry young and dedicate herself to raising a family”. However, she opted to study gemmology both in America and in the United Kingdom before returning to India to work in a laboratory environment. Nothing could quash her passion for design though, and today she creates three-dimensional jewelled sculptures that she hand-carves from wax personally. This meticulous talent for 3D carving wax – which is really quite rare among contemporary jewellers – is one of the reasons I am so drawn to her complex designs.
Raised in Macau, Sarah Ho has spent 15 years honing her brand in London and developing a unique signature style that includes revamping natural pearls, including melo, conch, clam, bronze buttons and many more. It is unusual to find a contemporary jewellery designer working with natural pearls, largely because they are so rare and so typically associated with classical designs that stick to the status quo. Instead, Sarah creates romantic, feminine and colourful pieces that capture these rare oceanic treasures in cool, modern jewels that can be worn for special occasions and during the day. I admire her bravery in specialising in such an unusual material and defying the lure of classicism in favour of something far more exciting.
Taking an ancient jewellery-making technique and transforming it into something contemporary is no mean feat, and yet that’s exactly what Gioia Placuzzi has achieved at micro-mosaic specialist, SICIS. She joined her family business after graduating from the Bocconi University of Milan and swiftly put her business, management and marketing skills to good use. She became the brand’s creative director in 2018. Today, she is at the forefront of a special micro-mosaic atelier that can translate the technique into jewels and timepieces with a modern twist. What amazes me is how Gioia has forged a new era for micro mosaics without references to draw from – no one else is presenting micro mosaic high jewellery in the same way, which means she’s setting the precedent.
Whereas Gioia is preserving and reinventing a technique, Chinese artist Feng J has created her own – the ‘Floating Set’. Officially revealed in 2017, the Feng J Floating Set is a method of placing thinly sliced double rose-cut gemstones in supremely delicate settings to give the impression of paints on a canvas, like colourful watercolour brushstrokes. It is for this level of innovation that I have chosen Feng for this Women’s Day list, but I could have equally chosen her for the beauty of her designs, which are feminine, whimsical and natural in origin, often taking the form of butterflies, floral blooms and leaf shapes.
Is it possible to consider the art of gemstone carving without thinking of Naomi Sarna? In fact, during all the years I have been writing about jewellery, I have never met another female gem carver and designer! She’s an award-winning lapidarist, creating pieces that highlight what can be achieved with training, imagination and passion. I chose her for this article because of her ability to surprise us with carved gemstones that appear like fluid or fabric, subtly rippling in the wind or flowing over curved surfaces. Her latest piece – the Jubilant Waves bracelet – is the perfect example with a swirling loop of Guatemalan jadeite that’s accented with gold.
I will admit that whenever I am invited to see Boucheron’s latest high jewellery creations, I get a little giddy with excitement wondering what Claire Choisne has in store. Her level of innovation, especially in the tradition of multi-wear jewellery creations, is second to none. What is most impressive is how Claire is able to preserve the ethos of Boucheron in her collections and celebrate its history without sacrificing modernity. She has undoubtedly been one of the driving forces behind a new, gender-neutral aesthetic in high jewellery, including pieces that will be fought over by husbands and wives all over the world!
It feels pertinent to mention here the late, great Christina Lang Assael, who sadly passed away aged 75 in January 2022. Her vision transformed Assael into one of the world’s most respected and admired pearl specialists, with a focus on responsible sourcing, building long-term relationships with producers, and giving new dynamism to precious coral, among other achievements. Christina took her passions seriously, including a dedication to conservation, animal rights, and serving on the board of various organisations such as the Natural Resources Defence Council and World Childhood Foundation. She will be remembered for her tireless dedication to such myriad causes and her affinity to the treasures of the sea.
Tuesday, March 8 isn’t just International Women’s Day, it’s also an important day for women in Russia. The link to the number eight is what’s kept me reigned in when creating this article and has stopped me from writing about 20, 30 or perhaps 50 women who I admire! I hope it inspires you to consider the women who bring the extraordinary to life, both in the past, the present and the future.