Top Australian Jeweller’s Sparkling International Success

Meet the Brisbane jeweller who’s killing it overseas: Brisbane’s Margot McKinney, whose rapid US success has seen her jewels adorn the likes of A-list stars such as Dita Von Teese.

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Fine jewellery design is in Margot McKinney’s blood as a fourth-generation fine jeweller proud to carry on the family’s 131-year-old business. But the grand dame of Australian jewellery is the first to expand her family legacy into a global success story as the only Australian jeweller stocked at US luxury department store, Neiman Marcus.

Her other accolades include being awarded the Prix De Marie Claire award in 2011 for Australia’s Best Fine Jeweller and the Haute Joallerie Award in 2009 for International Opal Design. What’s more, Margot’s recently cemented her international success when American fashion icon, burlesque star Dita Von Teese (pictured) and American actress, comedian and The New York Times best-selling author Heather McDonald both wore her exquisite jewels at red-carpet events. In addition, English model and actress Elizabeth Hurley was recently pictured wearing her jewellery on the cover of Genlux Magazine.

And while Margot, 55, (pictured) was too busy with US commitments to dress local stars at this year’s Logie Awards, at last year’s ceremony her exquisite pieces adorned the likes of American/Canadian singer Paula Abdul and Aussie celebrities such as actresses Rebecca Gibney, Anna Bamford and Anna McGahan.

Australian jeweller, celebrity style, Australian jewellery design

Of course, you don’t have to be a celebrity to both love and wear Margot’s jewels, she has loyal clients in both Australia and internationally. “American women are marvellously stylish and will coordinate precious jewellery and fine apparel with great aplomb,” Margot says. “They are very loyal to a designer they follow and I have extraordinary clients who wait for my collections each year.

“It is marvelous to have interest in my jewels from well-known personalities although I do value each one of my loyal clients, both here in Australia and internationally.

“I collaborate with many wonderful celebrity stylists, who are able to match my pieces to special red-carpet gowns. I was extremely pleased to jewel Dita Von Teese at a US event recently, as she has great style and is truly a unique fashion icon.”

Australian jeweller, celebrity style, Australian jewellery design

What sets Margot apart as a jeweller – and certainly a reason Neiman Marcus cut its usual six month vetting process for new vendors to 40 minutes for her designs – is the fact that each piece in the Margot McKinney collection is completely unique and some take up to a year to handcraft.

And since her first day with the heritage department store, Margot’s business “has grown hundreds of percent,” the jeweller says. “When I first signed with Neiman Marcus, I planned to make ten of each piece, but that is not me and it’s not the way that I like to work. Even though ten of each piece isn’t mass market, it is too mass market for my liking. My passion is for precious, one-of-a-kind, unique pieces of jewellery.”

Many of McKinney’s pieces contain a touch of home: pearls, opals, sapphires and pink diamonds from Australia. “My collections are inspired by the extraordinary gems I travel the world to source; every gem so special you could never find another the same. So, everything by definition is unique. My clients understand and appreciate this, and that is where I’ve found my niche,” she says.

“The most wonderful thing happens when somebody falls in love with a piece of my jewellery and then they wear and it becomes a family treasure.

“I have worked on pieces where the pearls have been sourced from Western Australia, the gold work might be from Germany and the setting may be done in Italy. So my pieces really are ‘worldly’ in this respect and it is always challenging and rewarding bringing the materials together.”

Australian jeweller, celebrity style, Australian jewellery design

And if you want to get your hands on Margot’s jewels locally, they’re available at her family’s business, McKinney’s Jewellers at Emporium Brisbane, a luxury retail and dining precinct in Fortitude Valley, and by private appointment internationally.

The McKinney’s are very well-known in the jewellery trade, having once owned Hardy Brothers; their first jewellery store in Toowoomba dates back as far back as the 1800s. “My great-grandfather opened the business in the 1884, establishing a barber shop and tobacconist.” she says.

“The business evolved into Toowoomba’s premier department store, stocking everything from sporting goods, toys, guns, boats, furniture, electrical goods, china, crystal, silverware and jewellery and then evolved into to the high-end jeweller it is today.”

And Margot’s father John, 84, still runs the family business, which last year celebrated 130 years of success. “I am most fortunate to be one of the fourth-generation in our 131-year-old family business and I cherish this heritage and look forward to hopefully welcoming a fifth-generation into the McKinney family business,” she says.

“Being fourth-generation in our family business means that I am able to work with gem merchants and craftsmen with whom we have very long-standing relationships. My suppliers and clients are my friends and this makes for such a rewarding life. I wake up every morning eager to meet the challenge of the day and to create something that will bring joy to somebody else’s day!

“I love love, love, love what I do! How lucky am I? I love the travel; I love the wonder of creating rare pieces of jewellery and I particularly love seeing my extraordinary clients all over the world enjoying my creations. I am most fortunate to have always had a very supportive family and a wonderful husband who is so encouraging.”

Australian jeweller, celebrity style, Australian jewellery design

June 1, 2015

Interview With Sally Clarke of Inspired Tribe

Have you ever dreamed of turning your hobby into a life-long career? Sally Clarke created her jewellery label, Inspired Tribe, from an impromptu trip through South Asia where she fell in love with the eclectic gems and accessories before settling into Australia soon after.

Now, more than 10 years on, not only has the first boutique opened up in Wollongong, but Sally has continued to source exquisite jewellery which makes this label truly one of a kind.

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Could you tell us how Inspired Tribe first started?

I started backpacking in the 80’s and fell in love with the amazing handicrafts and jewels I saw along the way. I first took South American things back to the UK when I was still living there and sold it in markets to finance the next trip. Having spent sometime in Australia mid 80’s I decided I wanted to live here permanently and took a side trip, on my way, stopping in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand. I decided to buy some stuff so I could sell at the markets until I got a real job……I did markets for 3 years and then opened the first store in Wollongong in 1995.

What are some of your must-have pieces from the collection?

Inspired Tribe are most renowned for our jewellery and each piece is either hand selected or made to our own designs. I saw a quote recently that said ‘Life is too short to wear boring jewellery’ I think that just about sums up what we believe in.

How do you think your travels have inspired the theme of the jewellery and accessories?

The early travels opened my eyes to a myriad of amazing talent and techniques. I simply fell in love with the aesthetic of all tribal cultures and how they had, for centuries, adorned themselves. I very first noticed how, in the East, jewellery had a much more important role to play than mere decoration. It meant something special to the wearer, signified their position, was security against adversity, protection against the elements and sometimes a way to give comfort to the wearer.

IMG_7607.Traditional miniature painting from Udaiput set into an amulet- Rajistahn JPG

Coming from a very staid and conventional take on decoration, the talents of the different tribes around the world influenced me greatly. Initially, in the market days, I stuck to a ‘hippy’ look but soon realised I could adapt the product to appeal to a much wider market. The beauty of the natural gems I was working with lent themselves to a more refined treatment and so I started designing modern and simpler pieces where the gems were more the focal point. So many people are afraid to mix things up a bit and use strong colours. I think our jewellery and accessories give people the courage to try something new.

Over the years we have noticed so many of our long term customers start out buying our smallest and most discrete pieces and gradually move on to the larger, bold statement pieces. What I try to do with the collection is always keep it vibrant and unique. We all love the idea of possessing a one off piece, it makes it all the more precious. I think that is really important today in this mass production, throw away society we are all surrounded by. Our jewellery will be with you forever.

What are some of the most interesting discoveries you’ve made on your travels to India and throughout the globe?

I’ve been visiting India since 1987 and I can honestly say I learn something new every time. While the landscape and buildings are awe inspiring the real fascination, for me, is in the culture of the people. The Hindu religion is deep and fascinating, it helps to explain so much about their society but also the British influence and working out what the effects are of that. The monumental red-tape that you have to plough through for even the most simple tasks is a left over from the Empire!

More recently my travels to Morocco have brought a deeper understanding of some of the techniques I have been using for years. The connection along the silk route, the trading of crafts and knowledge will keep me going for years! Also working with the Tibetan refugees in Nepal and seeing their crafts kept alive has been a wonderful experience.

Are there any countries you’ll be visiting next (or want to visit?)

2014 saw me go to Burma for the first time on a bit of a reconnaissance trip so I would love to go back and possibly source some rough jade to work with in India (traditionally all gems go to India for cutting) Then we made it to Laos to check out the textiles which were amazing, and I would love to source some pieces to put into accessories. I am looking at possibly trying to get to Central and South America in the future. Back in the early 80’s I brought some beautiful textiles into the UK from there and it would be lovely to bring them to the Australian market.

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Could you share with SHESAID readers any exciting new developments for Inspired Tribe in 2015?

Our pop-up shop in Waterloo will be showcasing some very original pieces of furniture for Jan and Feb. Some great bargains to be had! A new range of giftware and home decor hit the shelves at the end on Jan along with a new range of crystal jewellery. Our tribal jewellery will be big this year, showcasing the amazing talents of the gold and silversmiths we are so very fortunate to work with.

Plus another trip to Morocco is on the cards so watch out for some more of their truly original designs in shop. We will also be making a big effort to enhance our online store. We want to have all our products easily accessible for our customers to browse anytime, anywhere! We also realise many of our followers live in country Australia and we would love to be able to bring all our wonderful products to them.

January 13, 2015