The British jeweller Nigel Milne talks to Antonia Pearce about the four ‘C’s and a mutual love of a Roman aesthetic.
Who is the Nigel Milne client?
The very name is oh so English and the variety of pronunciations by foreign nationals is witty in the extreme! Whilst we have a wide international clientele, the typical Nigel Milne customer profile for both men and women is British, aged between 25 and 75, well established, independent with traditional values but with the courage to be adventurous. Once we have made a customer we do our utmost to keep them. I am proud to say that many of our clients, who first came to us for their engagement rings, are successfully recommending us to their children for their engagement rings. So in the space of a generation we have established ourselves as a “family jeweller” in more ways than one.
Do you have a signature style/piece?
We have had several but; arguably, our most successful is “CARNIVAL” from our JIGGY JEWELS collection. I love this one because it reflects my continuing love affair with Edwardian jewellery infused with a shot of contemporary colour and flair.
How do you source and pick out pieces for the vintage collection?
We are offered pieces from private collections and also by international jewellery dealers. However, whereas the temptation of buying a piece for its intrinsic academic attributes and which should really belong in a museum, can be very tempting. We do have to adopt a more commercial practice and remember that the very raison d’etre of a piece of jewellery is that it must be wearable and it is to that tenet that we adhere to most rigorously.
What is the process behind buying a bespoke engagement ring?
The engagement ring is, more than likely, the first really serious piece of jewellery that someone buys and it can be a massively daunting prospect. We are only too aware of how confusing the whole project can be and so it is our way to make the prospective client as comfortable and as much at ease as is possible. To help continue the celebratory process we like to make a fuss with some champagne to help make the choosing process a more relaxed and memorable experience. We then take the clients through the mysteries of “Carat, cut, colour and clarity”, the variations in the appearance of coloured stones and the suitability or not of various design and gemstone combinations and, most importantly, establish what the budget is to be. Once the style has been discussed we then submit a selection of designs for the client’s approval, after which a selection of stones set up on a “wax” layout will be submitted. Once the final decision has been made then the ring is usually completed within two weeks.
What is the most extravagant commission you have ever taken on?
Probably the bracelet which we designed with six panels depicting the client’s house in the South of France, and a little anthropomorphic lizard getting up to seriously non lizardy things like playing tennis, playing bridge, driving a car riding a motor bike and playing golf – all of his wife’s pastimes. These panels were all edged in rubies, pave set with diamonds and linked together with dark green tourmaline claret bottles.
What is the most exquisite piece of jewellery that you have ever seen/had in your collection?
Probably a most superb Edwardian tiara made by CARTIER. This was a “real find” as it was extremely rare, exquisitely made and eye-wateringly beautiful. Needless to say it was not in our possession for very long before being added to the collection of one of England’s most noble families.
Edwardian jewellery has been an inspiration to you in the past. What elements of this era’s jewellery catch your eye?
Prior to about 1880 the only white metal available to jewellers was silver. Now silver is very soft and, even when backed with 18ct gold, had to be used in quite a heavy gauge in order to hold gemstone safely in their settings. Now, at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries jewelers had developed techniques by which platinum could be worked for the purposes of setting stones. Platinum is incredibly hard and consequently very difficult to work with, that is up until this point. Now jewellers, with these new found talents, were able to work the metal to their will and cut it to a very fine gauge and it still remained rock solid. This meant that new designs using delicate tracery and pierced out ribbons could be set with diamonds and remain totally rigid, whereas the same designs made in silver and gold would have bent under the slightest pressure.
What else inspires you both?
Being asked to design a totally original piece of jewellery with no constraints. On a personal level Rome. Whenever I come back from Rome I am always buzzing with ideas. The whole aura of the place fires me up. During one visit our son, Toby, pointed out a really unusual roof line – on our return I based a whole series of necklace designs on it!
I adore Rome! You work with a lot of modern Italian designers also. Tell me about them…
Initially it may seem curious that someone, who prides himself on being the quintessentially British jeweler, should be promoting so many Italian brands. Now this is not as curious as it seems in that, traditionally, there has long been an affinity between British and Italian culture. We are very sympathetic in our tastes and styles. Although the intrinsic reserve of the British woman has traditionally been overshadowed by the Italian, who wears her jewellery con brio, the British have caught up fast. Also, it has to be said that, whether it is architecture, clothes, shoes motor cars or jewellery, the Italian designers take a lot of beating.
MARCO BICEGO – hugely and internationally popular, his range is chic, timeless, and elegant. Bicego uses a range of techniques to achieve delicious textures and gem cuts.
VHERNIER – Unique in style and technique. This jewellery with its simple lines and bold contours exudes elegance and confidence. Vhernier customers are passionate about their jewellery as it epitomizes the very zenith of Italian design.
TAMARA COMOLLI – A very distinctive style in Boho chic. Instantly recognisable and is equally happy being worn for the grand occasion or informally with jeans.
VILLA (Milano) – A delightful fourth generation jeweller owned by the two Villa brothers whose exquisite designs and micro set diamond jewellery is quite breathtaking in its creativity. They have only one shop (in Milan) and we find ourselves in the very honoured position of having been chosen by them to be the sole representative world wide of their wonderful jewellery. Except for their cuff links which we do sell but which are also available elsewhere.
SCHOEFFEL PEARLS – During thirty years of selling pearls I have found Schoeffel to have the finest quality, widest range and the most competitive prices of any importers of pearls that I have come across.
We started Nigel Milne Ltd in 1979 when we opened our first shop on Mount Street. Both Cherry and I had several years experience within the jewellery business but focusing on different aspects. Cherry on more the administrative side and I on the creative, dealing and marketing side. Our initial principle was to sell original pieces from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. However, very shortly having made a name for ourselves as specialists in classic Edwardian jewellery, we were continually being asked if we could make jewellery in the same manner but larger. We then had to decide whether we were antique dealers or jewelers and very quickly chose the latter. So, whilst continuing to indulge my passion for antique and vintage jewellery without making direct copies of original pieces, we had very soon, built up a reputation for creating jewels in the style of the Edwardians and using the same techniques by which to achieve this look.
After two years we re-located to a new shop on the corner of Grafton Street and Albemarle Street. At this point we decided to expand our stock range by including silver objects and jewellery and also our first range of contemporary designs. Seventeen years later we moved to Jermyn Street and eleven years on from that, on the expiry of our lease, we moved to our current residency here at 12 a Piccadilly Arcade.
What is luxury?
To board an aeroplane and turn left, to be served with an eye- poppingly volatile dry martini, then to land in the Maldives to hear the siren sounds of Heidi Klum, Sienna Miller and Diane Kruger whispering in harmony, “ Nigel, is there anything we can do for you ?” as I recline on my chaise longue. – Or is that a description of Heaven?
Join Nigel Milne for an exhibition of Tamara Comolli’s spectacular colourful jewels…
Wednesday 18th – Thursday 19th April 2011 – Piccadilly Arcade
Tamara Comolli’s style can be described as casual, playful and luxurious – qualities which are reflected time and again in her inspirational collection of fine jewels.
Using only the highest quality gemstones and materials she sets exacting standards in the craftsmanship and originality of her designs. Among her signature pieces are superbly cut cabochon gemstone pendants in a spectrum of bright colours set in 18ct gold to be layered together on leather or 18ct gold chains, giving a thoroughly fresh and contemporary look to any outfit and occasion.
The Exhibition will run on Wednesday from 12am and finish at 4.30pm, and on Thursday from 11am – 6.30pm. All the jewellery will be available for purchase.
12a Piccadilly Arcade
London SW1Y 6NH
Tel: 020 7491 9201