What you’ll learn in this episode:
- What it means to be a personal jeweler, and how Jessica helps repurpose people’s unworn jewelry
- How Jessica came up with the idea for her podcast, Inside the Jewel Vault
- What pieces Jessica would include in her fantasy jewel vault
- Why wearing jewelry connects us to our humanity
- Why Jessica is creating a gender-fluid jewelry brand
About Jessica Collins
Jessica Cadzow-Collins fell in love with jewelry and gems aged 18, whilst working as an intern at Sotheby’s, and trained as a professional gemmologist. For over 30 years since then, she’s held senior roles in fine jewelry at luxury retailers such as Harrods, Garrard and Asprey where she helped all kinds of amazing clients with their precious pieces, from tiaras to engagement rings, all over the world.
Jessica is now a personal jeweler. She started a business, Jessica May Jewels, to help people find their dream designs and remodel their unworn pieces. Using her high-jewelry know-how, she creates bespoke pieces that don’t compromise on luxury, quality, service, value or ethics.
The cross over ring created out of 3 generations of strong women’s diamonds for a private customer
My pinky ring, bought by my father as a coming of age gift for my 18th birthday, which I chose instead of a traditional engraved gold signet ring, because it was different
The weirdest item chosen to go Inside the Jewel Vault – “Rocket Man” created by the fashion designer Walter von Beirendonck, chosen by my podcast guest Darren Hildrow,
Negligee necklace and matching earrings made for a private customer, with the original brooch and ring that they were created from
The Koh-i-Noor diamond
the Moussaieff Red Diamond and
“Sadly, I don’t have an image of the diamond sea green diamond I lost my heart to, but it looked like the Aurora Green diamond bought by Chow Tai Fook in 2016 for $17m – a staggering price compared to thirty five years ago. The one I described in our podcast cost us £10,000 per carat, which was about US $70,000 total… if only we’d kept it!”-Jessica
- Jessica’s article on the Koh-i-Noor ‘Curse or Blessing’
When Jessica Cadzow-Collins isn’t designing jewelry, repurposing her clients’ old jewelry, or developing her own line of jewelry, she’s talking to people about jewelry on her podcast, Inside the Jewel Vault. A lifelong jewelry lover, Jessica joined the Jewelry Journey Podcast to talk about what it means to be a personal jeweler; what she would include in her fantasy jewel vault; and why wearing jewelry is distinctly human. Read the episode transcript here.
Sharon: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Jewelry Journey Podcast. This is the second part of a two-part episode. If you haven’t heard part one, please head to TheJewelryJourney.com. Today, my guest is Jessica Cadzow-Collins speaking to us from London. She is the founder and designer of Jessica May Jewels. She is also the creator and host of the podcast Inside the Jewel Vault. Welcome back.
If you’re at a party, how do you describe what you do? If somebody says, “What do you do,” what do you say?
Jessica: At the moment, I say I’m a personal jeweler and I can make your jewelry wearable or make it new or make the jewels of your dreams. That’s what I say if I’m asked what I do. [REPEAT OF ENDING OF PART ONE]
Sharon: What’s kept your attention about jewelry for decades? What’s kept your attention?
Jessica: It’s the connections. It’s the story. It’s everything that ripples below a piece of jewelry. It could be a treasured gift that reminds you of the people that gave it to you. It could remind you that you’re loved, that somebody loves you for it. For instance, I wear my signet ring my father gave me. Actually, it’s not a proper signet ring. You can see it’s just a pinky ring, but that was me being different when I was 18. Every time I put that on in the morning, I think of my father and my connection with him. It could be a piece you bought yourself to celebrate an achievement or a promotion, something that celebrates a brighter goal or future you’re dreaming of.
There are all of these things connected with a piece of jewelry, and when I’m involved in creating that piece or selling that piece or finding that piece for somebody, I feel a little part of that story as well. That’s what I love. The other thing that is so special about jewelry is it’s not like a piece of fashion or an accessory. These are pieces that endure, that will travel with you all your life. Then one day it will travel along with somebody else, which I think is so special.
Sharon: It is special, especially when you look at an estate piece or an antique piece that’s been owned by several people. You want to know the story behind it.
Jessica: Oh, absolutely. I love those stories. Sometimes I’ve recreated them into a piece. For instance, for one lady, I had three diamond rings that had been worn by her grandmother, her mother and herself in her previous marriage. She wanted to combine all of these symbols of strength, these symbols of strong women in her life, and turn them into a ring for her right hand. It was a power ring.
That was a wonderful thing to do. Each gem was a different style of cut. Her grandmother’s ring was an old mine cut, a rather brilliant cut. Then she had an oval cut in her own engagement ring, so they’re all totally different. I created a cross over ring for her, which was really unusual and really suited her. She was from this strong line of Caribbean women. She was a wonderful client to work with. All my clients are wonderful because they have their own stories and their own futures as well. I love my job, as you can tell.
Sharon: I can tell. Do you ever feel stymied, like, “What am I going to do with this?”
Jessica: Yes, sometimes I do. What I tend to do is say, “Look, I need a week or so and I’ll get back to you.” When you’ve got a little problem, and you let it sit there and play around in your mind, quite often—I don’t know about you, Sharon, but I find just before I go to sleep is the time when my brain sends me all the pictures of things I should be designing or need to design. That’s my good time. Quite often I will see the piece in my mind’s eye. Then I just need to sketch it and work on it with the CAD artist I use and we’re off.
Sharon: Have you ever presented something and people said, “That’s not really what we had in mind”? Or do people not know what they have in mind?
Jessica: Yeah, people are different, aren’t they? Some people are really good at taking a sketch off the page and seeing it and playing with it in their mind’s eye and turning it into 3D. Other people, you have to do a full-on set of renders of different pieces, which is brilliant because 3D technology is so good now. I can send them a 3D CAD so they can touch the screen on their phone.
In fact, I’ve done that for an engaged couple. He wanted to propose to his girlfriend, and we didn’t have time to go around and find the right diamond and sketch out the right mount and everything. So, we adapted a CAD sketch I already had and tweaked it to make it into something he thought she would want. He proposed with it on his phone. That was the best; I loved that. It was a digital proposal, and she said yes. He didn’t need to change it that much. That was certainly a wonderful way of doing things. You see, anything is possible.
Sharon: It is possible. I like that term, digital proposal. I bet that’s a term you can coin and do something with. I’ve never heard it before. Can you imagine life without jewelry?
Jessica: No, Sharon, I can’t. I’m sure you know this, Sharon, but humans are the only beings on the planet that have draped themselves in things they find attractive. If you go back all the way to early man’s beginnings, 90,000 years ago in the Blombos Caves in South Africa, you find pieces of jewelry that are made from shells from the coast a few miles away from where the cave system was. It’s a deeply human need, I think, to carry something that gives you good luck, like an amulet, or makes you special. It could just be because these people find something lovely on a beach and think it’s beautiful, and they want to carry it with them. It’s such a human thing. I personally can’t imagine a life without some sort of jewelry.
Sharon: Do you think people want jewelry, or do they come to you because they want something valuable or sentimental? What do you see on your podcast?
Jessica: The most valuable vault from the podcast was by Josie Goodbody. She had the Red Moussaieff Diamond in there, which is probably one of the most expensive gems on the planet. Arguably, there are some in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington that could be also. I’ve also been lucky enough to go around the treasury in the Kremlin. That’s closed to westerners now, obviously. That was a staggering display of gems. There are some stupendous pieces in people’s choices. That’s the fun of it; it’s a game. The podcast is a game. Select six pieces you would put into a fantasy jewel vault. I wonder, Sharon, what you would put in.
Sharon: I don’t know. That’s an interesting question. I would throw the question back at you. You ask everybody in the world what’s inside their jewel vault.
Jessica: I haven’t asked you, but there you go. I have now asked you, so maybe you can tell me what you want. I definitely like the Moussaieff Red as well. Alisa Moussaieff was my boss for a short while, and she’s an amazing connoisseur of gems and the very best of the best you can find. Goodness knows what she’s got in her own personal safe, her private safe. I love color. I love diamonds, so when you put the two together in a spectacular large stone like the five carats the Moussaieff Red is, that would be something else. I’ve never seen it in the flesh, but I’d love to.
I think the other piece I would want is the Koh-i-Noor, the diamond that’s in the Queen Consort’s crown. We’re going to see a lot of that in May during the coronation here in Britain. The Koh-i-Noor has a fantastically tangled, bloody history. It really is the gem of kings. I would love to have it, but not the way it was cut by Prince Albert in 1852. I’d want it cut in the traditional Indian rose style so it would look like a mountain. So, there’s those two.
There was a sea green diamond I bought early on in the 90s, before colored diamonds were a big thing. It was very inexpensive at the time. It was probably around 10,000£ or so, and I knew I could sell it for a better price in New York. I flew with it over the Atlantic to New York to sell it there. It was so valuable we had to insure it. Our insurers wouldn’t let me travel without an armed bodyguard when I got to New York. Remember, New York was quite a scary place in the 90s, especially if you were young and female and carrying a large amount of goods. My insurance company insisted on having an armed bodyguard, so I asked my friends in the trade how to find an armed bodyguard when I went to New York with this diamond. They said, “Phone the NYPD. There’s always an off-duty detective who can act as an armed bodyguard.” I did that, and when I flew over with this sea-green diamond and landed at the customs desk on entry, there were these bodyguards who looked just out of central casting. These off-duty NYPD officers were chewing their gum with their hats on and holding a paper cup for coffee. I got into their car and we set off. I said, “So, which one of you is packing the piece?” The smaller of the two said, “I’m not, but he is.” My bodyguard had an armed bodyguard.
So, I left the sea-green diamond there in New York. I flew back without any bodyguards, but that was so much fun. The sea-green diamond was the most beautiful color. It sold for a fortune. I would love that stone because it’s my fantasy. I would love to have that stone. So, those are my three.
Sharon: That sounds gorgeous.
Jessica: It was the most beautiful color, quite indescribable, really. Sea green is the best I can come up with. It was quite a big stone. It was just under five carats and a radiant cut. It was just gorgeous.
Sharon: That’s an interesting question. I was thinking about what I would choose. I wouldn’t choose very many gems. I love color, but if I think about my own jewelry, I’m not a gem person. I think somebody once said, “What can you say about a gem? You could say it’s big; it’s large, it’s this cut; it’s that cut. Where is the artistry?”
Jessica: I know what you mean, yes. That’s a good point. There is artistry in how you would set it. For me, it would be fun to look at this stone and think of all the things you could do with it.
Sharon: Have you ever had somebody come and say, “Just do whatever you want with this jewel. I don’t like any of the jewels in this jewel box. Just do what you want. My mother-in-law gave me this stuff and I just don’t like it. Do whatever you want, however you think it should be”?
Jessica: Yes, sometimes ladies say that. More often than not, there will be something obvious you could do with it—well, something obvious to me. Probably not obvious to them at all, because they look at me and say, “Can we make a pair of earrings out of this brooch?”
But I had a lovely customer just last month who had a number of antique pieces, including a big diamond brooch she never wore because most people don’t wear brooches anymore. She also had a big cluster ring she never wore either. There’s no money in these big brooches, so I literally cut up the brooch into a pair of detachable drop earrings. Out of the cluster ring, we made a negligée pendant with the rest of the brooch, and it really worked.
So, out of two pieces of jewelry she never wore and one that was really worth nothing—even the secondhand market isn’t that good for these brooches—she had something she could wear, and it looked amazing on her. Should she ever want to put the pendant drop into a ring again, she can easily do that because all we did was carefully slice the shank off the band and leave the head intact. Although she couldn’t put the brooch back together, I can’t imagine the brooch ever being worn again as a brooch. It was a big Victorian lump of a thing. So, she was thrilled by that. I did a number of other little things for her as well. She completely transformed her jewel box into pieces she could wear and have fun with now.
Sharon: You must have been ecstatic.
Jessica: Yeah, she’s very happy. It’s nice. What I love is seeing people’s snaps. She sends a couple of pictures when she’s all dressed up in new jewels, and that’s always fun. I love working with young girls. I’ve done a dozen rings for people who’ve inherited their granny’s jewelry, and it’s really fun for these girls in their teens and early 20s to be designing jewelry. It’s such a fun thing to do, isn’t it?
Sharon: Is it because they come with more of an idea when they’re younger? Or can you turn it into something you relate to more? What is it?
Jessica: It’s making something for them that will be with them forever, that they can hold every day and think about. It’s a little bit of them and a little bit of the past all in one piece. I find that very invigorating.
Sharon: What do you like about being a podcaster? What holds your attention there? Is it finding guests? Is it the human connection?
Jessica: I think you’re absolutely right, Sharon. It’s definitely the human connection. Tell me, is the reason you do your podcast so that you can chat with people?
Sharon: I like the term you used, passion project. It’s a passion project. It’s the same thing you’re saying. What reason do these people have to talk to me, really? It’s a passion project. I think that confuses people because I don’t have a jewelry store; I’m not a designer; I don’t have a brand.
Tell us about the brand you’re developing. Is it a Jessica-made brand?
Jessica: No, it has its own name. That’s the amazing thing, Sharon. I’ll start at the beginning. The reason it’s coming together is because enough of my friends said to me, “I’m looking for a gift or something for me, but I don’t want to spend half a year’s salary. I want to spend a few hundred pounds, but I want something that’s going to last. I don’t want to buy plated jewelry, like all those other repetitive designs out there online. I want something that’s quality, something you could make me, Jess. Something top-rated, top quality, built to last but beautifully designed and completely different from everything else.” So, I thought, “Well, enough of them have asked me to do this for them.” I felt we could have a business here.
So, I’ve been putting together this brand. It is taking a very long time because I want all the sourcing to be transparent and totally traceable. I want these things that are at the top of my agenda, the ethical, sustainable sourcing story, to be very clear. I think that is the foundation the brand needs to sit on because my customers for this brand are younger people. They’re younger men and women who are looking for jewels that reflect their own spirit, something that’s different, bold, contemporary and made with fine jewels, fine materials, fine metals. The bit I’m adding to it is the fact that everything is ethically sourced.
Sharon: Wow! That’s a lot. You have to really think about the pricing and who’s going to produce it. Between launching your own business and the podcast and everything, has it allowed your inner entrepreneur to blossom?
Jessica: I love it, Sharon, thank you. An inner entrepreneur. Yes, I suppose so. For so many years, I was working for other brands. Now I have to dig deep and create a brand from nothing. It isn’t going to be named after me. It has a name we’re still working on. It’s a strong name. It’s got a story behind it. As soon as I’m ready with it, I will tell you, Sharon.
Sharon: Yes, I’d love that. When do you expect to launch this?
Jessica: We’ll do a soft launch in the late spring. I was hoping to get some pieces ready for a launch on International Women’s Day, but it’s also a brand for kids. I have two sons. My eldest son is quite conservative; he just wears a signet ring, but my youngest son loves jewelry. He wants new pieces. He wants an index finger ring; he wants a pearl necklace. So, it’s a multipurpose jewelry line, and it can be worn by girls and boys.
I want a few pieces I can launch in the spring. It was going to be launched on International Women’s Day, but because of the gender-fluid aspect of it, that’s not that appropriate. It doesn’t matter if it launches a bit later, so long as I’ve got a few pieces that will do the brand justice. I don’t have to have all the pieces out at the same time. That can come as months roll by, but I’m very much hoping I’ll have some pieces for the spring.
Sharon: Wow! We’re at the end of 2022 right now. You must be very busy. I know it’s a very busy time of year. It’s hard to get ahold of guests and that sort of thing. Are you busy with a lot of people coming to you?
Jessica: Yes. I don’t know how to say it, but it is Christmas, so it’s crazy. The thing I love about Christmas is that it’s a date we all know.
Sharon: Yeah, that’s true.
Jessica: It’s at the same time every year, yet these last few days before Christmas are bonkers. It’s just hilarious. So, yeah, I’m working through the night and through the weekend. Finally, I’ll pack up my digital shop and take a long break for Christmas and New Year’s.
Sharon: I would guess that people say at the last minute, “Oh my gosh, I have to get something. I’d better talk to Jessica about designing something because I don’t have anything.”
Jessica: There’s nothing I can do now about designing something new, but I’ve definitely got some pieces that have longer delays than I would have liked, or people have thought of them a little bit too late ahead of time for me to be totally relaxed about it. I’ve got some last-minute orders that are still in the workshop that I need to get out within the next couple of days. Here in the U.K., we’ve been blighted by rail strikes and tube strikes and post strikes, every sort of strike. So, we’ve had to be quite inventive. I feel like a little human shuttle darting around with jewels.
Sharon: It must be very challenging. Good luck. I will let you get back to your drawing and everything else you have to do for the holidays. Thank you so much for being with us today. I really appreciate it.
Jessica: Sharon, it’s been a joy. It’s been so nice speaking to you. I’m so honored to be a guest on your show. Thank you very much for asking me.
Sharon: We will have photos posted on the website. Please head to TheJewelryJourney.com to check them out.
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