I know a lot of girls spend countless hours dreaming up the perfect engagement ring. I was not that girl. Honestly, I spent more time dreaming up the perfect man to give me said ring. After I found him, all of my friends and colleagues kept asking me what I wanted. I’d think: I want to marry him, duh. But then I realized they were talking about the engagement ring. In lieu of the truth—that I had absolutely no idea—I would say “um, something pretty?” In order to avoid the extreme disappointment that would immediately follow my lame response, I quickly switched to a more definitive approach. “I want an emerald cut! Or a cushion cut!” I’d declare. Then I’d secretly google what these “cuts” actually looked like.
“Honestly, I spent more time dreaming up the perfect man to give me said ring.”
While the timing of the proposal was a surprise (I was in head-to-toe hiking gear in the Lake District, not sipping Bellini’s in Dolce on the Amalfi Coast as I’d imagined), I knew it was coming. And while I knew without a shadow of a doubt that the man was right, I’d be lying if I said I wasn't nervous about the ring. “What if I don’t like it?” I’d ask friends in hushed whispers. I was confident in his taste (evidently, it’s impeccable) but I wanted to genuinely L-O-V-E it because I knew he would have put so much time into it. And also because I am a terrible liar. “You’ll love it because he picked it out!” some sweet friends reassured me. “Just pretend to love it and we can rework it later,” came far more practical advice from LSD.
In the end, the “dream ring” conversation stressed me out so much that I decided to stop talking about it completely. Luckily (for us both), one of his very well informed friends directed him to Jessica McCormack.
Jessica’s name hit my radar when I first moved to London. I’d seen her absolutely gorgeous townhouse in Mayfair (as well as a steady stream of adorable and nervous men popping in and out of the shop) across from the Connaught while having one too many glasses of rose. I looked her up on Instagram (my go-to for any kind of recon, naturally) and saw that many of my British friends already followed her. One click led me to a dreamy image bank of gem-stacked fingers which hooked me immediately. Her engagement rings have induced lots of “She said Yeses” in this country and her “jackets” (more on that later) are the perfect addition for birthdays, christmas, push presents…casual Wednesdays…
Not only do I absolutely adore my ring (for those interested it’s an emerald cut with tiered baguettes along the sides and a gold band—which I love because I pretty much exclusively wear gold jewelry), I’ve equally come to love the woman behind it. As she prepares to launch her business in America (hurrah!), we sat down over tea in her townhouse to talk diamonds and more. Read on—her own engagement story is a real gem ;-)
H.B: So Jessica, how did you get started in the jewelry industry?
J.M: My father was an auctioneer and art dealer, so I came to London to do an internship at Sotheby’s. I spent most of my time in the safe; Russian crown jewels, 1920s Cartier... I just loved it so much! I came from the middle of the middle of the south islands of New Zealand and had never seen anything like it. What really struck a chord with me was the way the jewelry was made.
H.B: So then what happend?
J.M: I said, “I would like to make jewelry.” You think, “yeah I can do it!”—Ignorance is bliss, right! So then I went to work with a diamond wholesaler and counted diamonds all day.
H.B: Well that sounds like a fun job!
J.M: You think it’s fun until you have to count 5,000 teeny tiny diamonds—sneeze and they go everywhere! But what I did learn was how to look at diamonds. I began to hone my own perspective. It wasn’t about the four C’s for me. Now, within this house, we have our own four C’s representing what I think is important when buying jewelry.
H.B: And they are?
J.M: Craft, collect, curate, cult. The cult part is, you know, when you’re in you’re in. From there I designed my first collection, Messenger of the Gods, which we still sell today. One of my best sellers is the wing rings.
H.B: How did it go from that to where you are now?
J.M: I did a big ring which Rihanna bought. A stylist saw a friend of mine wearing it in New York and was like, “Oh, Rihanna would love this,” and so she came to London and bought it.
H.B: So by word-of-mouth? Instagram didn’t really exist back then...
J.M: Right, those were the good old days. We opened here five years ago and that’s when we were able to really start a proper business. It’s a huge store, about 5,000 square feet, in the middle of Mayfair.
H.B: You’ve done a great job with the space, it’s very well curated. Can anyone just walk in off the street?
J.M: I didn’t want it to feel like when you walk into a store and it’s all white and shiny and everyone is staring at you and you’ve got nothing to look at apart from jewelry; and you feel like you made a mistake and just want to run out the door.
H.B: I’ve done that a few times.
J.M: Yeah, there are stores that I’m still intimidated to go into. I hope that people feel they can find something of interest or beyond the jewelry [at my store]; that they could just sit on the sofa and read the paper.
H.B: Which is especially nice because you probably get a lot of men in here without their significant others. I want to talk about engagement rings. Are people like, “Help! What do I get?” or do they come in knowing what they want?
J.M: Honestly there are so many ways that it happens. I love engagement rings, especially because they are usually people’s first foray into jewelry.
H.B: Which I can confirm is 100% true because now I want a lot more!
J.M: Exactly. It’s kind of like a first step into the world of diamonds.
H.B: What does her box look like?
J.M: It has compartments with different messages intended for different times in her life. For example, one for when she was born and her first birthday, when she’s 16, 18, 21: they’re all jewelry birthdays. There are sections from where I grew up in New Zealand and where my husband is from in Scotland. And there are other little sections that say things like, “Be brave”, for a time in her life when she’ll have to be brave or a time in her life when she’ll need strength. They are all very personal.
H.B: That is such a great gift. For a daughter or even for a special occasion like a birthday or wedding (hint, hint, if my mom’s reading this!).
J.M: Oh yes, I’ve got mother-daughter boxes! Also for weddings, the Lovers Box which is from husband to wife or lover to lover. I’ve done them bespoke—a father did one for his daughter’s 16th birthday. That was amazing. This will be the first time I’m doing the boxes as an official collection for sale.
H.B: Which is so exciting, especially for those who aren’t familiar with your work yet. Everyone in London knows who you are, but in America you’re not quite as well-known.
J.M: Right, I don’t know how anyone would even know I existed in America. This shop is the only place we sell in the world. Instagram does help but all my American clients travel to the store in London.
H.B: Is the American woman a different client?
J.M: My American clients are my best clients. They just get it. My English clients often require a leap of faith while the American clients just go with it. It’s more of a journey for them.
H.B: You’ve also never been online before. How do you feel about that?
J.M: You know, I’m a little apprehensive. Jewels are like my babies. I’ve looked at all different sorts of wholesale opportunities and I’ve never been able to let them go, I need to have them here. So I’m excited. And nervous.
H.B: What are your favorite pieces at the moment?
J.M: We have a really amazing ring that’s a 5-karat pear shape which is all bamboo… It’s called Princess From The Moon and it’s all bamboo leaves. And then we have Space Odyssey which is kind of a shield-cut diamond. And I always love our party jackets.