It’s the first week of April and Spring is looking good in the English countryside. On our three-hour journey to jeweller Monica Vinader’s Norfolk headquarters by train and car, we – members of the Singapore press – whizz by a blur of endless green fields and unsullied blue skies. The office is housed in the Jane Austen-esque surroundings of Holkham estate: more unspoiled nature, herds of deer roaming freely, and also where the Earl of Leicester and his family – yes, nobility – reside.
The Spanish-born Vinader, 48, meets us dressed casually in a black leather jacket, white blouse, jeans and glitter pink Gucci loafers. Over lunch, she shares snippets of her life, travels and what she loves about working in Norfolk. Speaking confidently and animatedly, she is effusively passionate about her eponymous label, something that becomes only more evident during my one-on-one interview.
She has lived in “incredibly remote places”, she tells me. She grew up in Spain, but did a stint in New Mexico in her 20s, interning for a sculptor. She then moved to Argentina with her husband before taking root in Norfolk. Her parents’ antique and auction business played a part in cultivating this thirst for adventure. As a child, she would accompany them on buying trips to Sotheby’s, Christie’s and antique markets all over England, she recalls with a soft smile.
Today, travel remains a big – and key – part of her job as founder and CEO of her label, which has seen phenomenal growth since it was founded nine years ago. Celebrity fans range from Kendall Jenner to Kate Middleton aka HRH Duchess of Cambridge. There are stores in 14 countries, from North America to the Middle East, Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore. Last year, it attracted £20 million (S$35.8 million) worth of funding from two private equity firms to drive its international expansion. And according to The Telegraph, sales for the first half of 2016 totalled £26.4 million (S$47.3 million).
It’s no chump change for a company whose USP is, admittedly, rather straightforward: semi-precious jewellery great for mixing and matching, and meant for everyday wear. Made of 18K gold-plated vermeil, rose gold-plated vermeil and sterling silver, the aesthetic ranges from the organic to Art Deco, and designs often feature brilliant-coloured stones such as rose quartz, amazonite and blue lace agate. One of her most popular and enduring designs is the friendship bracelet (both her mother and her daughter wear them).
Vinader designs most of the pieces herself. “I always carry my sketchbook with me… I draw the most during the summertime because that’s when I go on longer holidays with my family and ‘switch off’ the most,” she says. The coral reef-like patterns in the Nura collection from S/S ’17, for example, were conceived on a trip to Majorca, Spain last summer.
Other new collections, such as the Baja line, draw on yet another of her biggest inspirations. “I’ve always been fascinated by mid-century British art,” she reveals. Having studied decorative art in the City and Guilds of London Art School, she adds: “I find the simple, clean lines and the references to nature in the works of (English sculptors) Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, and (British abstract painter) Ben Nicholson really exciting.”
What she craves the most as a creative person, though, is space. It’s why occupying the 10,000 sq ft-wide Holkham Studios – a cluster of 18th century squarish, brick-walled structures amid a sprawling 25,000-acre estate – made perfect sense to her. “Having the space to design, and be able to enjoy fresh air and a big, empty beach just five minutes away, is such a luxury in life,” she says.
An unlikely office locale isn’t the only way Vinader has set her business apart. As friendly as her designs are, she has a meticulous eye for detail. All the stones the brand uses are cut in India with technically challenging specifications like arcs and fluid shapes. She regularly introduces unexpected shapes and ornamentation like the delicate chain fringing in the F/W ’17 update of the Baja.
Her take on diamonds hints at what’s made her label such a forerunner in the mass luxury jewellery scene: They shouldn’t just be for occasions only. She says: “When I started out designing jewellery, pieces that featured diamonds were old-fashioned and boring. Now, there are a lot of diamonds that are fun, contemporary and exciting, and women want to wear them every day.”
Her ethos, ultimately, is to empower women with the ability to buy and wear jewellery however and whenever they want to. It’s why engraving services were introduced from the start – way before personalisation had even become a buzzword – and why all her pieces are stackable and complementary to one another. She says intently: “(We give you the) freedom to mix and match as you want, when you want, because there is no right or wrong way to wear jewellery.”
This story first appeared in Female’s June 2017 issue.