In conversation with Monica Vinader, the British-based, Spanish jeweller inspired by wonky gems, Norfolk and sculpture. First published in the May 2013 edition of ELLE Decoration UK
Monica Vinader makes jewellery that’s all a bit wobbly, as in the gemstones she uses are deliberately irregular in form and multi-faceted, rather than the perfect ovals and straight cuts commonly seen elsewhere. She describes them as having ‘a pared-down simplicity that’s also sophisticated; not overly feminine but soft and handmade.’ It’s a good description for jewellery aimed at women who’ll buy it as a treat for themselves. Think organic jewels you’ll want to wear every day. And she makes them for herself. ‘I am my customer. I have to love it and want it,’ she says. Personally, I’ve always admired her jewellery, specifically its wobbliness, and marvelled to boot at its relative affordability (from amethyst stacking rings in 18ct gold plate for £75 to sterling silver-set labradorite earrings for £90). Plus, I’m fascinated by the notion of the jeweller’s eye for detail, colour and materials, so I wanted to understand how Vinader views the world.
‘I’m quite obsessive,’ she proffers. ‘I’m particular about what I like and don’t like. I’m very affected by my surroundings, from home to office.’ Certainly, even her diminutive boutique on London’s South Molton Street boasts comfy sofas, personal artefacts and artwork on the walls downstairs. Quizzing her then about her home, I imagine it to be very tidy. ‘No, not at all. It’s very ordered but lived-in. It’s not a minimalist place!’
Born in San Sebastián in Spain and brought up in Madrid, Monica was schooled in French and moved with her parents to England at the age of 16, subsequently enrolling at art school. As a result, she’s trilingual, but to my ear she speaks with an extremely precise English accent. She’s open and happy to talk, but I sense a just-perceptible nuance of impatience, a keenness to get the job done so she can move onto something else. Not remotely rude – merely, I suggest, a gently pervasive air of crisp efficiency, a palpable need to make every minute count. Perhaps it’s because with her home, studio, husband and daughter based on the north Norfolk coast amid natural marshes and open skies, time spent in London away from them must be maximised, and therefore carefully scheduled. I wonder aloud: why Norfolk? Turns out her husband’s family hail from the area, and ‘it’s good for my temperament’, she adds, explaining, ‘I get quite over-excited by a lot of stuff, so home has become a bit of a bubble for me, a buffer. I get a great deal of comfort from being in the countryside. Living in the city isn’t right for what I do. I need to escape to a more isolated world.’
It’s a sentiment shared by many today, the contemporary need to flee 21st-century urbanity to find space to think, but Monica has form on living in the wilderness. Before committing to jewellery, she lived in Chile, Mexico, Argentina and a barely inhabited island in the Bahamas while setting up remote fishing lodges with her husband. ‘In Mexico we lived among the mangoes and turtles. No telephone. Just radio contact with Cancún.’ It was only after 12 years of this exotic yet peripatetic existence, aged 39, that it felt right to come home, to England. Their daughter Scarlett was born soon afterwards. Nevertheless, the travel bug has never left, and neither has an innate love of adventure. Vinader regularly departs for Mexico (‘I’ve always found it very inspirational’) and India, where all her stones are cut (‘The place and the energy of the people – the buzz is contagious!’).
But why jewellery? ‘As it is so often in life, sheer luck,’ she admits. ‘My first job after art school, aged 23, happened to be with a jeweller. I loved it, and it started from there.’ But then Vinader doesn’t actually think of herself as a jeweller. ‘I consider myself a creative person who does jewellery. At the moment this is my focus, but I’ve done furniture and interiors before, too. And I’d love to design cutlery and glassware. I need to discipline myself, though, as there’s so much more I want to do. But I still have time!’
Indeed, at one point in our conversation she describes her jewellery as being like small sculptures, having studied sculpture at art school. And it’s this imbued hyper-sense of the three-dimensional that I believe distinguishes her work. Her jewellery isn’t merely adornment, just as lights in the home aren’t solely illumination. In both cases they are absolutely integral to the overall feel of an outfit, or room: a considered component from the beginning, not an indulgent afterthought. As she puts it, ‘I want the consumer to make an individual statement. It’s about the freedom to be whatever you want to be. We are simply giving you the tools, through the jewellery, to create your own look.’ She cites her mother as an early aesthetic influence. I think it’s significant that she ran an antiques business for 25 years in Madrid, no doubt establishing in her daughter an early appreciation of the old, the patinated and the narrative quality a piece might possess. For a while, Vinader opened a design studio-cum-lifestyle store in Norfolk, selling her own furniture designs, made in her parents’ Spanish workshop, alongside antiques, fabrics and candles. But eventually her parents decamped to Norfolk, too, and the shop is no more.
It’s intriguing to me that Monica’s sister Gabriela, her business partner since 2008, was brought up exposed to the same influences and yet took such a different path, studying PPE (philosophy, politics and economics) at Magdalen College, Oxford, followed by stints with Amazon and the American banking institution Merrill Lynch. However, now that she’s firmly within the family creative fold, Vinader credits the current growth of the business entirely to her sibling’s arrival. So the focus, for now, may well be on jewellery, but watch this space, for methinks this is just the beginning.
Tell me five words to describe yourself. Creative. Energetic. Positive. Enthusiastic. Driven.
What scent do you wear? I always, always wear Annick Goutal. I have three or four of her scents and mix them together. I’m very loyal to and specific about scent.
Who is your favourite painter? I love Rothko. Also Chillida, a sculptor from San Sebastián.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? Perhaps my daughter, but I think that was more a stroke of luck than an achievement. In business, it was persuading my sister to join my company. She’s made it what it is today.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? My impatience.
What is your most marked characteristic? My passion for things, and life. I could never get bored.
You’re hosting a fantasy dinner party and can invite anyone you like, living or dead. Who do you invite? I’d definitely want Paul Newman there. Barack Obama – I think he’s very impressive; I’d love to know what he’s like in person. A painter, like Rothko or Picasso. My mother’s great-great-grandmother, because we know very little about her and I’d love to get to know her. And then maybe a strong, crazy woman: Queen Elizabeth I?
Your house is burning down. What do you grab? After the family and the dog, anything photographic. To lose photos would really upset me, but faced with it, I’d probably just walk away.
Would you ever go to a bullfight? Yes. I absolutely adore bullfighting! I know that’s controversial, but the passion, the danger and sheer thrill of it create an extraordinary atmosphere. When it’s well executed, it’s sublime. But when it’s not done well, it’s awful.
Do you collect anything? Yes. Corals, minerals, stones from the beach – heart-shaped ones particularly – and shells. I have a lot of shells.
Do you believe in love at first sight? I believe in chemistry at first sight.
Do you believe in luck? I believe in opportunities. You make your own luck. The harder I work, the luckier I get.