Jewellery giant David Marshall gives Kat Slowe a behind the scenes tour of his workshop and describes how he creates his unique designs.
“I don’t wear necklaces or anything,” the designer says with a smile. “I wear a wedding band, a watch and cufflinks.”
His lack of jewellery aside, David Marshall is not as intimidating in person as his reputation might suggest. The mystery behind the legend, however, is not made any clearer by the range of random machines standing on the surrounding countertops – the purpose of which he attempts to explain.
A strange looking contraption sitting in his CAD design studio makes wax models of the pieces that have made it past the concept stage. Once the prototypes have been created, Marshall will look at the pieces and make tweaks to design and composition before creating the final product. The machine works by placing around 500 layers of wax onto a foam base, the specifications of which are fed to it through a nearby computer.
Upstairs in the mostly open plan workshop, a number of craftsmen are working on the physical process of making and finishing some rings. There is an assortment of machines ready at hand to assist in soldering and polishing etc. One man has his arms inserted into a machine with gloves up to his elbows, where he appears to be doing something dangerous to a ring. David informs me this is a laser welding machine.
Dotted around the workshop and offices are pages of designs and ideas. We are not allowed to photograph any of the sheets, as Marshall is cautious that some of his creative themes could be copied. Under pressure, he finally admits that he has a big collection planned for release next year.
“Claire, can we give her a hint?” he turns round and asks his protégé designer, with a smile. She tells him it is up to him.
“It’s a new type of concept for us that is being designed for a specific purpose,” he says. “We are not using so many big expensive diamonds, but we are using large colourful stones.
“It is going to retail at between two and ten thousand pounds, but it is not like some of the stuff we have got already, some of which is valued at twenty to a hundred thousand.
“I cannot say much at the moment, because it is quite a big project we are doing. But it is very different from what we have done before, both design and style wise.”
It seems that is all we are going to be able to get out of him today. Marshall’s standard style is that of the traditional with a twist, with the designer making even his modern pieces in the same manner as an antique item. In fact, his methods of manufacturing jewellery are so well respected that other jewellery houses are clamouring for him to design and makes their pieces in his workshop and he manufactures jewellery for a number of clients at the premises.
“I spend more time on clients’ pieces,” he says, “because they commission us to make it in a certain way and so we put a lot of time and effort into their products. For all of our work, we are going to produce the same quality, whether it is for David Marshall London or for others.”
Dealing with clients is a large part of Marshall’s business and from the sound of it his clients are very varied. While Marshall is refreshingly lacking in arrogance, he is obviously not oblivious to his own success and displays no false modesty when discussing his personal talent. It does make one wonder what his approach is when dealing with difficult clients.
“I can deal with demanding clients – I can be equally as stubborn and as firm”, he laughs. “So I can deal with them.
“No, I like to deal with clients that are demanding, because if they are demanding that is the reason they are coming to us, because they expect a certain standard workmanship. If I was to buy a luxury product, I would be pretty demanding myself. It comes with the territory really.”
Marshall is not happy sitting on his laurels. Despite being, along with Shaun Leane and Stephen Webster, commonly described as one of jewellery’s ‘big three’, his ambition remains keen and he has plenty of ideas about how to take his business forward. Marshall’s latest idea involves expanding into retail, in order to create increased consumer recognition for his brand and to maintain the longevity of his product.
As part of this, he is also seeking to heighten international recognition for his brand, something that he considers key to long term success.
“Obviously, international exposure is a must for us and any company,” he says. “When things are tough in one country, it is not necessarily the same in another country, so if you are international, it helps keep the brand more stable.”
Marshall even admits he might even make some men’s jewellery, for though not a big jewellery wearer himself (aside from his wedding band, which he made himself), he recognises it is a growth market. Indeed, he already designs cufflinks for men and shows us through some of his latest designs. He apparently has no favourites, as yet.
“It is so difficult to pick out my favourite piece – we make so many nice things,” Marshall says, while opening the door of a huge safe in his office (to any aspiring thieves, security is very tight).
“You make it because you love it. We are always trying to improve on what we do. Sometimes it is hard to improve because we work to such exacting standards. I am very demanding, so once I have done something, I can always find fault in it.”
Marshall almost forgets his combination and has to make two attempts before pulling open the door and lifting out the treasures within. The pieces cannot be described, as they have yet to be released or photographed, but – sneaky hint – they look exquisite.
“When making something, we have loads of girls in the office, so we get let them try it on to make sure the pieces sit right and look good on lots of different people.”
Not many girls are lucky enough to be able to wear David Marshall jewellery, but those who are should look out for his new pieces, which will be released later this year. I can guarantee they will be worth the wait.