Meet Motley: the British brand shaking up the fine jewellery sector.
The fine jewellery market has been growing over the past couple of years both on the high-street and online, filling the sweet spot of affordability, durability and quality. Now new kid on the block, Motley, has taken it one step further with an innovative concept around design and manufacture, which has never seen before. We caught up with co-founder, Cecily Motley, to discuss the emergence on the brand, and how to curate an affordable jewellery collection, built to last.
CF TOP PICKS
When did your passion for jewellery begin?
If you had told me in my 20s that I would end up setting up a jewellery company, I would have been surprised! My background is in the art world; I hadn’t thought much about jewellery until I worked at Louisa Guinness Gallery in Mayfair, which specialises in jewellery made by artists. I discovered jewellery made by some of the greatest artists of the 20th Century, including Calder, Picasso and Braque- to name a few. At the gallery, we used to collaborate with famous contemporary artists, such as Anish Kapoor and Ed Ruscha on new pieces. It was then I realised how much it takes to be a great jewellery designer; you have to be an artist, sculptor, and engineer all in one. Making something beautiful is one thing, making something that actually functions on a body and works with movement is quite another. I was never really interested in diamonds and precious stones, but I was in awe of brilliant design.
What is your background in design?
I studied history at university (where I met my co-founder Ilana – we are both unashamed history geeks!). I realised there weren’t many careers in history other than teaching or academia. Art seemed like the next best thing. I worked at Christie’s before becoming the Director of Louisa Guinness Gallery in Mayfair.
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How did Motley come about?
I loved the pieces we sold at the gallery but I couldn’t afford them. My friends were always asking about pieces I would borrow and always complained that they couldn’t afford them either. As a result, I’d never really buy jewellery. It seemed that the only options were to either splurge on expensive fine jewellery (which I couldn’t); or resort to cheaper high street brands. But they’d usually end up breaking, or the gems would fall out, or worse, due to the poor-quality metal, they’d turn my fingers green!
I started thinking about a way to get the incredible designers I worked with at the gallery out to more people, at a price my friends and I could afford- without compromising on quality. That was my light bulb moment – when I came up with the “Motley model”.
I had started working on Motley full time, when Ilana (Cecily’s university friend) asked me where she could buy some great affordable jewellery. Ilana loved jewellery and had, fortunately for Motley, just been made redundant. She started helping me with the business plan and 6 months later came on as co-founder full time. We found manufacturers, found our designers, raised money and launched Motley in October 2018.
Explain the concept of how Motley works?
In a nutshell, we collaborate with top jewellery designers. They do the designing, we do the manufacturing, partnering with top ateliers around the world. We then sell the pieces directly to consumers from our e-commerce site as opposed to selling through retailers.
Motley means exceptional design of high quality at a reasonable price. Plus, since the collaborations are all unique and exclusive to Motley – you won’t find them elsewhere!
Who have you collaborated with?
I am proud to say that we have worked with some of the best British designers; from our first designer Sian Evans, the former Head of Jewellery at Central St Martins, to Hannah Martin, the rock and roll star of the jewellery scene, and of course, Alice Cicolini,who was recently voted one of the “15 Creative Women of our Time” by The New York Times T Magazine.
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How do you chose who you approach?
Art and science. Most of the time it is a mixture of my thoughts (and a long dream list), conversations with industry experts and most importantly, the designers themselves. Often our next collaboration has come from a conversation with a designer we are working with.
How do you keep the prices so affordable?
There are three key things.
- Silver is the base metal for all of our designs. We are able to create designs in silver that we would never be able to afford in gold, whilst keeping pieces heavy and solid. We use a high-quality gold plating, a process called vermeil which refers to a certain thickness of gold over silver base metal. We also provide a 3-year guarantee.
- Selling direct – by going direct to our customers through our website, we avoid going to retailers and their high mark-ups!
- Reasonably priced. There have been high profit margins in this market for too long. We believe passionately in making sure it is fair all the way through – from makers, to designers to the customer.
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How do you feel jewellery adds to a wardrobe?
Many of our customers are ‘jewellery’ people over fashion people. Jewellery is their way to express themselves: think simple clothes and wild jewellery. What I love about jewellery is its versatility. It can be a sentimental reminder of someone, or your first pay check, elevation for an outfit, or it can be armour. I think I use it as armour anyway!
Where does your job take you?
I often travel to Italy, Turkey and Thailand.