Ask the Editor: Your questions to Annoushka Ducas

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From creating a luxury brand from scratch to advising new generations.

This month’s Professional Jeweller Guest Editor Annoushka Ducas is a leading British designer with a career in jewellery that has spanned more than 25 years. As part of this special issue, she answers your business and design questions.

Has the way consumers shop for jewellery changed in recent years? Maia Adams, co-founder, Adorn Insight
Women today are buying jewellery in the same way they buy fashion, and the internet is becoming very important. The industry has become very competitive, particularly in the area of affordable luxury jewellery. Pandora, Links of London, Astley Clarke, Thomas Sabo and Monica Vinader are all strong brands with their own retail formats competing for a similar customer. It is also now possible for designers to have their own shop on a marketplace such as Boticca.com; I am really interested in how Boticca is connecting new designers with a global audience.

What distinguishes a superlative sapphire from an ordinary one? Eric Drosin, The Prodigal Guide
To be absolutely honest I can’t answer that from a gemmological perspective, having no formal qualification in gemmology. But, over the years, I have gained sufficient knowledge to know what I like. If superlative is used to describe best colour, cut and quality, I guess that the overriding feature would be the colour – the best sapphires are described as cornflower blue and are a lovely bright colour a little lighter than royal blue ink. A stone needs to be clean and really well cut so that it displays a lot of life, as well as the hit-you-in-the-face blue. Personally it depends on whether I feel a connection to a particular stone.

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We are a mother and daughter team that are both very committed to our jewellery brand, having only launched in 2013. We would like to grow as a business, although we have little experience in where to start. Having a physical shop seems like a scary idea right now; what advice can you give us? Nora and Marina Hyasat, Enem Design
I think it is very important to establish a direct business as soon as you are able, probably starting through a jewellery and accessories marketplace such as Boticca, as well as your own transactional website. Wholesale opportunities will come as you establish a following.

How do you see the industry supporting and encouraging the next generation of jewellery designers? Caroline Broadhead, BA course leader, Central Saint Martins
I would like to see an internship offered as part of the curriculum. Involvement in a creative commercial design studio can bring so much more understanding as to how to design jewellery for women who like to wear jewellery. The new graduates I have employed are full of ideas but often struggle with designing jewellery or collections that are realistically ready to brief. I am lucky in having Liz Olver, who was a senior lecturer at Central Saint Martins, as my right-hand person. She is brilliant at making my ideas work in practice.

What kind of challenges have you faced launching a luxury jewellery brand from scratch? Kathryn Bishop, editor, Professional Jeweller
The challenge is building awareness around the brand and that takes years – a wiser person than me advised it takes at least 10 years to establish a brand in your home market and another 10 years to become established globally. The price of luxury advertising and the price of prime retail property are geared to the return that a large global player can justify, making it very difficult for smaller players to break through. New brands have to do it differently, as brands such as Bremont Watch Company have shown with success through the mastery of social media.

Aesthetic identity plays a pivotal role in influencing a brand’s design direction. How would you describe Annoushka’s aesthetic identity and what are the key influences that have shaped this? Naomi Newton Sherlock, creative director, Domino
I started with a blank piece of paper knowing that I didn’t want to create another Links of London. I had had enough of high-polish silver and wanted to move onto a more sophisticated aesthetic using texture and colour. Looking back, designing the gold Annoushka packaging was a clear statement of intent – I have continued to work predominantly in gold, incorporating stones chosen for their individuality rather than their brilliance. Drusy is a good example – I used it in my first collection – as every piece is different. I will work on a number of collections at the same time and, although they can look quite different, I hope they share a common aesthetic. Nevertheless, I carried from Links a love of narrative. I love stories and I based my Mythology Amulets on Russian folklore, as read to me by my mother, with firebirds in burnished gold and black rhodium and diamonds to create an antiqued effect that is heavy with nostalgia of happy times.

If Links ever came up for sale again at the right price, would Annoushka and [her husband] John Ayton ever consider buying it again, and if so what would they do with it? Jim Conlon, owner, Midas Jewellers
I feel that part of my life is over and I would find it difficult to get excited about designing for Links again. John, on the other hand, is a businessman, and is more likely to have a turnaround strategy up his sleeve, though he hasn’t shared it with me!

Have you noticed a shift in buying patterns from branded, mass-produced jewellery to bespoke or one-of-a-kind pieces? Juliet Hutton-Squire, co-founder, Adorn Insight
I believe women are becoming more interested in the design and making of jewellery. I regularly hold client events demonstrating how my jewellery is conceived, which are always very popular, unravelling the mystery of the design process and explaining how fine jewellery is made. People are genuinely intrigued about how our designs come to life. Even our production pieces are made in small quantities, so they are not mass produced, though I definitely agree a shift is happening.

Given that you have employed many graduates over the years, what one aspect of their education do you feel we, the educators, could do better? Jack Cunningham, head of the School of Jewellery, Birmingham City University
While we educate our graduates to be fabulous creative thinkers, more often than not I have found that graduates are quite unrealistic about the real working world. In education it is right and proper that there is time to explore and develop skills, but graduates often seem to lack initiative and the hunger to succeed. Success does not come easy and you have to be prepared to work really hard, use your initiative and do all it takes.

What advice would you give, as a self-trained designer with a hugely successful business, to others considering a career in the industry? Lee Lucas, principle, Holts Academy
There is no substitute for practical experience in order to understand where one’s strengths and weaknesses lie, so early work experience is invaluable. This can then be supplemented by additional focus on one’s weaker areas through training and relevant experience. I am very careful to employ people who have complimentary skills to my own.

With Annoushka now well established, if you could go back four years what piece of advice would you give yourself to help face the challenges of setting up a fine jewellery business? Jos and Alison Skeates, owners, EC One
I think we might have concentrated more on direct sales channels earlier and invested more in online marketing and social media at the beginning. I see social media as increasingly important and the only way of building an international following. We cannot afford to take on the big jewellery brands through conventional media; only in areas like social media where larger brands can be a bit sleepy.

John mentioned at the CMJ’s UK Jewellery Conference in 2012 that Annoushka was planning to move into wholesale when the time was right. Is this still a strategy that you are pursuing? And if so when do you think the right time will be, or what do you need to make it the right time? Rachael Taylor, editor-in-chief, Professional Jeweller
I don’t have any immediate plans to move into wholesale, so I am not sure whether I am ready to answer that question yet. We have been approached by jewellers wanting to stock Annoushka designs and I would like to extend our reach but, having said that, I was very clear when I started Annoushka in 2009 that I wanted to find my feet in my reincarnation as a fine jeweller.
It would have been wrong to have been too quick, selling an untested collection to retailers, though I feel more confident now that Annoushka is one of the very best performing jewellery brands in department stores such as Harrods, Selfridges and Liberty.

This Ask the Editor Q&A was taken from the January Guest Editor issue of Professional Jeweller, led by Annoushka Ducas. To read the issue in full online, click here.
 

 

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