Jewellery designer Annoushka Ducas talks pearls, Links of London and her love of the Philippines

Briton who arrived in Hong Kong aged 19 and 'knowing nothing' sold property until a commission from her mother led her into jewellery design. She set up Annoushka to fill niche for casual, feminine jewellery

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 September, 2015, 7:32pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 September, 2015, 7:32pm

She designed her first piece of jewellery, her engagement ring, in Hong Kong.  Twenty-five years later the jewellery entrepreneur still has an affection for Asia.

“I have a tremendous fondness for the Philippines because that is where my career in jewellery started. I’m celebrating my 25th anniversary with the Golden Pearls collection using pearls from the island of Iloilo,  which was devastated by the 2013 typhoon. Pearls are normally sold at auction by the bucketload, and pearl divers receive a fraction of the value, but one day a Filipina visited me with some beautiful golden pearls from this farm that had been wiped out  by the typhoon. It gave me an excuse to visit the country and see the pearl farm, and this collection is how I  was able to help the pearl farmers reconstruct their farms, because I have so much to thank the Philippines for.

The first piece of jewellery I designed was my ruby and diamond engagement ring, which was made in Hong Kong. I arrived in Hong Kong in 1985. After school, I lived in Paris with one of my Russian aunts and then moved to Australia to run a business with a friend. I was due to meet another friend in Hong Kong to  ride the Trans-Siberian  Railway.  However, I arrived too late to meet her, so I decided to stay. I took a temporary job selling property and then met someone running Hamptons  who wanted me to fill in for a month while he took leave. I was 19, knew nothing, but he didn’t return and I ended up running Hamptons for three years.

My mother ran a fish supply business in London and wanted an original present to give to her chef clients, I suggested fish cufflinks and found someone in Manila to make them. Ironically, that is how we (my husband John Ayton, a serial entrepreneur, and I) launched our cufflinks business Links of London in  Britain in 1990. We began with a workshop of 20 people in Manila, which grew to more like 350 to 400 people. We helped them with English lessons and taught them their skills. We opened shops in London and then in Hong Kong, and had 50 stores by the time we sold it in 2006.

After selling Links, I thought I would go and be the perfect mother to my four children. It was never my intention to start another business, but I love working. It is a huge privilege, and I think my children missed my going to work. I still continued to design jewellery, but jewellery has really changed in the past five years. Before that, there was very little available between high jewellery and what Links was selling, and I couldn’t find the really easy, feminine, warm kind of jewellery that I would want to wear all the time.

I launched Annoushka because I wanted to take the reverence out of jewellery, to create pieces in diamonds and 18-carat gold that you can wear  casually. I wanted to create jewellery that wasn’t white gold and diamond bling, but more feminine and relaxed. Part of my plan also was to sell interesting jewellery from other designers that I admired such as Wendy Yue and Selim Mouzannar.

My mother, who died when I was 24, and my heritage inspire some of my designs. My mother was Russian. Her parents left Russia in 1922 after the revolution, moving to Berlin, then Paris, where my mother was born. My grandfather was a fur and grain trader and married three times – each wife strangely was called Nina, which has become the school nickname of my eldest daughter, Marina. My mother was great fun: she knew Lucien Freud and the Bee Gees, was a great horsewoman.  One minute she would be in a fishing boat and the next minute delivering the catch to Annabel’s nightclub. My father lived in New York, so as an only child, I was incredibly close to her. She is my real inspiration.”