Jewellery designer Ailsa Mackie is ringing the changes with sparkling contemporary and classic creations
DON’T expect to see Ailsa Mackie, new head of jewellery design at ROX, dripping with fantastic baubles and beads. The Edinburgh-born and bred designer wears very little jewellery and even her wedding finger has only a simple band, ever since her son flushed her engagement ring down the toilet when he was two. Then there was the imperial topaz and diamond ring from her parents that she lost pulling off a glove.
“We never got the engagement ring back, so I suppose if there was one piece of jewellery I would get, it’s a new engagement ring,” she says. “I don’t really wear jewellery because there are so many things I would like to wear, it’s hard to decide. I’m very subtle when it comes to jewellery and for special occasions I tend to be more classics and diamonds. Often what I do like is out of my financial reach,” she laughs.
“And designing for myself is difficult. I change my mind too quickly. It’s probably because I don’t want to be narrowed down to one thing or piece.”
Mackie’s evolving style is what she feels makes her so well suited to her role at ROX, where the focus of the designs is fashion forward and more experimental than many other jewellers where classic looks hold sway.
“I don’t think I have a particular style. What I like one year, I hate the next and I think everyone’s like that. It’s better to keep moving on. Of course, when it comes to the more high end, luxury items like diamonds, you have to go more classic because people aren’t going to spend on something that’s not going to look right in a few years. But there’s room for both,” she says. “Our customers are very willing to try anything new and move on.”
As well as developing current collections, a small leather goods range and new giftware, including candles and scarves, Mackie has been charged with developing more of an identity for ROX. Founded in 2002 by Grant Mitchell and Kyron Keogh, ROX has stores in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Newcastle and Leeds and online, and has been named as UK Jeweller of the Year for the past three years running. It also plans to expand into the wholesale market and get its products into department stores in the UK and overseas.
“ROX are very willing to try new things, and as well as developing the ranges we have, I’m looking at newer designs for next year. We want to develop something with a more ROX identity for spring/summer 2015,” says the designer who is fresh from the Basel watch and jewellery exhibition in Switzerland.
“We are trying to make it more of an on-trend brand compared with the other more traditional jewellers on the high street. Everybody needs classics, which we have too, but on the more fashion-led pieces we’ll be going a bit more geometric and also harking back to the 1980s with a chunkier, bold, heavier look in cuffs and rings and a lot of neck pieces. There’s a little bit of ethnicity and futuristic elements. For 2015, jewellery trends will be a bit more colourful, slightly more ethnic and freer.”
Mackie, who is based in Edinburgh, where she has a studio at the home she shares with her husband, nine-year-old daughter and six-year-old son, has worked in the jewellery business for more than 20 years, since graduating from Edinburgh College of Art.
“I fell into it by accident,” she says. “I went to art college to do illustration and took jewellery as one of my design subjects in my foundation year and was pushed in that direction. Then in third year I won a competition that included work experience in London and it followed from there. It wasn’t the direction I intended and I’m still using my illustration skills, so I have the best of both worlds. I’ve also done everything from high end to high street so I’m very lucky.”
Mackie has worked as a freelance jewellery designer with De Beers LV and other high-end companies, including royal jewellers Asprey, where she worked with light artist Chris Levine to create The Diamond Queen, a recreation of The Queen’s Coronation diamond diadem for the Diamond Jubilee in 2012. This involved 1,000 diamonds being overlaid on to a three dimensional image of Her Majesty to create a luminescent installation.
“I really enjoyed that. It was my first project for them and was a piece of art rather than jewellery. The rest of the time the designs were classic and I was working with very high quality stones, so you learn a lot. I was in London for 12 years altogether, working with various companies and freelance and then worked for Asprey for the last three years. ROX is a very different company to that and it’s refreshing.”
While Asprey prices start in the thousands and go up to “if you have to ask you can’t afford”, ROX’s designs range from about £50, although bespoke items can cost up to £100,000.
“We don’t really have a typical customer,” says Mackie. “It’s quite a wide bracket of people in their 20s to their 40s and each store has a slightly different market, with the Edinburgh customer probably older in general and maybe more likely to buy diamond and classic jewellery, while Glasgow and Newcastle customers are slightly younger and often like branded items. It’s interesting to design for a more diverse market.
“Things aren’t quite so traditional and classic in the jewellery world as they once were,” she says. “People are more educated about it and want something different from the next person and they’re more willing to buy coloured gemstones like tanzanite and manganite. Men are wearing more jewellery too and there are more right hand rings, or cocktail rings, being sold.”
While there’s an experimental, general love affair with jewellery going on, not much of it seems to be coming Mackie’s way.
“No, people don’t buy me jewellery much,” she laughs. “I’ve hinted, but they don’t. I’m too difficult to buy for.”
Perhaps it’s time she designed herself that new engagement ring.