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Demi-fine jewellery designer Monica Vinader talks travel-inspired trinkets and everyday armour.
Hailing from San Sebastián, jewellery designer Monica Vinader grew up between Madrid and London – though it’s coastal charmer Norfolk that she now calls home (and HQ). A neat 10-minute commute transports her from hall door to office hub – a glittered haven in the middle of the countryside where drafting and designing her customisable, contemporary pieces occurs on the daily.
Considering her creations are designed to be styled, stacked and accrued over time, it is perhaps unsurprising that Vinader is “totally pro souvenirs”. “Whether collecting wooden spoons from Saint-Yves or shells from Brancaster Beach in Norfolk, I often pack a fold-out duffel in my suitcase to carry them back.”
With travel – and therefore souvenir shopping – temporarily out of play, we’ve turned to e-comm to pursue a pirate’s chest worth of coveted gems and chains jangling with jade stones from our would-be travels. A friendship bracelet with the moniker “Fiji” seems a suitably far-flung starting point. *Adds to cart (and wrist).
Well-dressed carpus dealt with, our conversation with Monica steers towards setting up shop in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis, dream escapes and the trip to Patagonia that catalysed the incorporation of Monica Vinader…
Where are you from and how has your background shaped you?
What is your first jewellery-related memory?
My mother’s jewellery; she has a beautiful collection of 30s and 40s pieces, and let me wear them at an early age. I learned about design and function from her; she raved about Italian craftsmanship and the quality of the chunky chain bracelets she wore.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
I think fairly simple, not too fussy, and quite eclectic.
Where is your studio and what does it look like?
My studio is in Norfolk, in a beautiful building inside the park of the Holkham Estate. It’s 10 minutes from where I live, and we are so lucky to have an amazing light-filled space which supports creativity.
Talk us through the inspiration for three of your favourite pieces…
Alta: This is our bespoke chain-link collection. We launched it three years ago and have been adding to it since. It started with my obsession with industrial chunky chain links, like the ones you might see in a harbour. Siren: This collection was inspired by the ease of Mediterranean style, with a nod to treasures from the sea and irregular shapes that feel worn but contemporary. Marie: Our beautiful pendant is inspired by an antique gold talisman my friend Marie gave me when my daughter was born. It has become my lucky and protective charm.
Where does your inspiration come from?
Museums, ancient objects, archaeology, architecture and modern sculpture – these are the things I focus on, from the simplicity of Brâncuși sculptures to a tactile Cretan figurine. Seeing creativity inspires me on my journey.
After university you moved to Patagonia and then Mexico with your husband Nick. That was quite a formative experience in terms of your experimentation with jewellery, correct?
Yes, I left my job with a jewellery brand to go and work in the travel industry for more than 12 years. I continued to work on my jewellery in my spare time, and over the years found endless inspiration, but also built an aesthetic, as well as knowledge and a network of artisans with whom I started cutting my own stones and making collections.
You launched your brand in 2008. How was it, starting out in the middle of the financial crisis?
Tough. We did not find any backers, so we re-mortgaged our family house to secure a small loan from the bank. Nevertheless, we really believed we had a sound plan and a good product, and we worked really hard. There are certainly some parallels between then and the current COVID-19 crisis we are going through.
How do you find working with your sister, and the brand’s co-founder, Gabriela?
It has always been a really good relationship, even closer since we started working together. I trust her implicitly; we are a very strong team. We have a very similar work ethic, speed, pragmatism and aligned values.
How do your designs reflect your worldview?
I think my designs are beautiful and well made, designed for everyday wear, but also to be durable. I believe in investing in what you love and believe in; quality that I can afford is important, but that has meaning, because I know where and how it was made. For me, every day is special, so I don’t like saving things for best. I like to get as many wears as possible of my favourite shirt or my favourite necklace.
Your designs are made in India. Whereabouts and how often do you visit?
Some of them are made in Jaipur, where I have been cutting our stones for more than 12 years. I’ve been lucky to travel there often and got to know the city and the people. India is fascinating and so visually exciting; I go there as often as possible. I’m also involved with a charity that runs schools in the Jaipur slums, so as soon as I can travel, I want to go back to see how they’re doing.
Does travel influence your work? With product names like “Fiji” and “Havana”, we’re willing to bet it does…
Yes, for sure. Our friendship bracelets were all named after travel places. When I was designing Fiji, we wanted to blend in the colour cord look of summer-market finds with an elevated, crafted silver element – so you could bring that summer look back to the office. Everyday casual, but chic.
Tips on storing jewellery when we travel…
Our trinket boxes! They’re the perfect size to carry a week’s worth of jewellery. I layer our pouches with each piece to keep it tidy and I use a different colour trinket box to carry earplugs, adaptors, etc. when I travel too.
The best cities in the world to go jewellery shopping…
Florence’s jewellery shops are fantastic.
If there was one destination you could go back to immediately it would be…
Mexico. I’ve been going there since I was 18. I want to go back to the Mayan ruins of Palenque, back to the archaeological museum in Mexico City and to my favourite resort, Esencia, on the Yucatan Peninsula.
What do you think makes a good hotel?
The people and the service – and good beds!
Your favourite weekend escapes include…
Staying with friends and a long weekend in Marrakech.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve just started The Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal, and my mother-in-law recently gave me The Return by Victoria Hislop – so that’s next on my list.
Podcasts to download now…
How to Fail With Elizabeth Day and The Goop Podcast.
Where’s your next adventure?
The beach in Norfolk, until we can all travel again. I’m still hoping to make it to Greece to the divine Mèlisses Andros.
What’s your take on souvenirs?
I am totally pro souvenirs, but not of the touristy kind. I love shopping when I travel. In museum shops, for books, local crafts… and my house is filled with little trinkets found during my travels. Recycled glasses from Marrakech (and even the odd carpet), wooden spoons from Saint-Yves, books from Paris, shells and pebbles from the beach. I often take a fold-out duffel in my suitcase to carry them back.
One piece of travel advice…
Do some research before the trip, so you make the most of the destination, but leave some things to chance, so you don’t lose the sense of wonder and discovery.
Monica Vinader’s Pocket Guide to Norfolk
EAT: The Gunton Arms. Plus, it has very pretty rooms and a great art collection. DRINK + DANCE: My home. I like a party. SHOP: Gurneys Fish Shop in Burnham Market. It has great homemade fish paté (perfect for picnics) and fresh catch of the day. DO: Go to the beach, there are so many amazing ones: Brancaster, Holkham… and sail from Burnham Overy Staithe to Scolt Head. It will renew you.
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