Jewellery by Monica Vinader is priced between costume and expensive
After opening a store in London's prestigious Sloane Square last month, British jeweller Monica Vinader is now in Hong Kong to inaugurate her eponymous IFC boutique, the first in Asia.
"The space is right next to J. Crew," she says, over afternoon tea at Harrods in London. "We have oak parquet inlaid with brass patterns and a golden brass counter. The back wall is pleated linen in our signature colour, and we're having an amazing chandelier flown in from New York."
Monica and her sister Gabriela (chief operating officer of the label) are partners in the business, and "big planners", Monica says.
This year, a second round of successful fundraising marked their international expansion, which started with Dubai and Hong Kong, and included more spaces in London. They've moved to a bigger head office and design space, "creating a real brand headquarters".
"We've been trying to do something in Hong Kong and the Middle East for many years. That's where a lot of our customers come from. It feels a bit like a milestone," Monica says.
It's a savvy move for the chic jewellery label, which espouses a serene, cultured elegance that designer and co-founder Monica herself emanates. In 2008, after seeing a gap between costume and fine jewellery, Monica and Gabriela, who previously worked as an analyst at Merrill Lynch and Amazon, decided to start something that catered to this niche.
"We self-funded, borrowed money against our house, and set off by ourselves. It was the two of us against the world," Monica says. "We wanted to do beautiful jewellery that was very well made but not super expensive. We use real stones, and we cut our own stones in India.
"The brand is something accessible in price and in looks. It's something I feel I could wear every day. I had my mother's beautiful vintage 1950s jewellery in gold and diamonds, but there was nothing in fashion that I felt I could wear," she says.
The designs started off with cool cocktail rings that were stackable and versatile for either an everyday look or a more dramatic effect. But it was their Fiji friendship bracelet (starting at US$133), launched in 2009, that put them on the map.
This had the appeal of a friendship bracelet, but without any of the associated grubbiness. It was a chic, classy version that mixed cord and silver or gold, and it hit home. Monica admits that jewellery was not her first calling. Growing up with parents who owned an antiques store and auction house, Monica aspired to be an art dealer. After completing a fine arts degree in London, she worked in a contemporary art gallery before starting at a jewellery brand, where she did everything from "designing, press, meeting customers, and production".
After this steep learning curve, Monica set up her own "little bespoke business in London" before spending 10 years in the travel industry working with her husband.
Her life story has impacted her label, and she has named the current collections after some of the exotic locales she's visited. Travel remains a major source of inspiration. When on holiday, the designer sketches natural forms, especially stones and pebbles, for her jewellery.
"It sounds basic, but if you look at every shape and contour there, you start to get a certain feeling," she says. "I love organic, fluid shapes, I'm an avid collector of natural minerals, shells, corals, pebbles and I love forms found in nature. I wanted to be able to cut stones that looked organic. Everything is cut by hand, so each piece feels loved."
Her organic forms have become a signature. Evening pieces such as the Siren Bib necklace in green onyx, or the more discrete Baja ring in lapis, make the brand subtly different to others in the price range. As does her branding and very modern campaign imagery.
Monica's most popular pieces have a "talisman" quality, according to fans, and they can be personalised, or mixed and matched.
The free personal engraving service has been popular with clients; a trained engraver will be stationed at the Hong Kong store.
She is optimistic about the future. "We've just launched more precious stone items, apart from diamonds, which means lots of emeralds, rubies and sapphires," she says.
The 1930s-inspired settings have an elevated price point because of the precious gemstones (the Baja precious stud earring in blue sapphire is US$625 on their e-store).
"Exclusive collections, like those we'll have in Hong Kong, are something we're going to do a lot more of," she says.