We may not be aficionados in luxury jewellery but when we first saw Hannah Martin's sculptural yet elegant pieces in person a couple of months ago, it was pretty much love at first sight (trust us, that doesn't happen very often). Surpassing trends and the edgy gothic style of so many recent jewellery designers, heavily adopted by high street giants, Hannah Martin London encapsulates an aesthetic they've honed in and mastered since 2006. Masculine, luxurious, sculptural and rock 'n' roll are words we would never expect to see in the same sentence, but for Hannah, though not obvious, it is the backbone to her creations. The fact that we didn't even realise the pieces are unisex until Hannah talked through the brand's conception, surely is testament to the designer's vision; jewellery made for men that their girl friends can steal. Adverse to seasonal collections, gender specific labelling and plated metal (Hannah only uses solid golds/silvers), Hannah Martin London stands out with its wearable 'mini sculptures' not because it's 'of the moment' but because we genuinely each individual piece stands out on his own design merit.
How did you start your jewellery label?
We started around six years ago so in 2006, I graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2005, and I was commissioned a few projects whilst I was at college. Through those projects I won a competition to do a work placement at Cartier in Paris after I graduated, and then worked with them on another project afterwards. But at the same time I'd started my label as soon as I graduated. I love doing commercial projects with bigger brands, working with amazing materials and sort of fell in love with the whole Cartier experience, so I loved the idea of doing a luxury brand. But Cartier just was not my style, when I was in Paris I was leading a double life, going into Cartier where everything's beautiful and elegant and then go to grimy bars listening to rock music in the evenings. So it was a very weird experience for me.
When I was at CSM I wrote my whole thesis about gender and looking at masculinity in jewellery. At the time, nobody was making decent jewellery for men, so I came up with the idea of a luxury jewellery brand, that would be beautiful, made from high end materials, that's also a bit rock n' roll/masculine, made for men that their girlfriends can steal. That androgynous philosophy has continued since the brand started, we don't want to put it in a box and label it 'womens' or 'mens' jewellery. Some pieces are more feminine, other pieces are more masculine, so whoever wants to wear it can wear it the way they want to.
So that's how the label started, when I first started it on my own, I got a studio down the road from here (their current workspace on Back Hill, Farringdon), we got a couple of great orders at the beginning which was a great start. Nathan (Hannah's now business partner of 3 years) and I met whilst I was working with a small PR agency, and he joined that company within 3 months of me starting and managed my account, so that's how our close working relationship began. When he left the company, I realised that I how much I needed him, so came on as my business partner, managing the press, and communications strategy. Since then which was 2009 up until now, I think the brand a grown much more. I was learning everything from scratch, I had no business training and I was learning everything as I went along. It's only in the last three years that we've understood what we have and how to build on it, being more strategic and understanding the industry.
Did you always know you wanted to go into jewellery?
No, I didn't really consider it has a career. I grew up in a town just out of Bristol, went to a rural school, loved art as my dad was a graphic designer and mum's a creative as well. Always wanted to go to art school, CSM specifically. But my school's art lessons weren't very inspiring, we used to paint still lives of glasses on a table, not very creative at all. But I got a place on the Foundation course, where you a try a little bit of everything and I actually thought I wanted to do sculpture, tried a 3 day period in the jewellery department and I absolutely fell in love with it. The thing that struck me with fine art and sculpture is there was no practicality to it and I like jewellery for having a purpose. I mean it has a limited function, it makes you feel pretty and look nice but you can wear it. And I guess my work always has a sculptural element to it because I love 3D objects it's just on a much smaller scale.
So it wasn't a life long ambition since I was a little girl, but I just fell in love as soon as I started working with metal. Then I went onto the do the BA degree at Central Saint Martins.
What was your jewellery taste like growing up and do you think it's influenced the label?
Kind of, I was mainly a bit of a rock chick growing up, with purple hair and tie dye clothes so I've gone through all sorts of terrible styles. I was never one of those teenagers who bought Vogue religiously, it's never really been about the fashion for me. When I came to London that's where I learnt much more about that part of the industry and fell in love with it then. It was always more about the music and fine art for me when I was growing up. I've always collected stuff and made stuff, I think that's a very typical jewellery sensibility, to collect, pick and search for objects at flea markets etc.
Talk us through the collections in your showroom
This is a new part of the collection, our leather line which we launched in February this year at London Fashion Week, I've actually been wanting to do something like this for years, but it's never been quite the right time to do it. The idea is to keep it as a small concise leather accessories, we're not going to jump into bags and shoes, but instead focus on the small leathers and focus on the hardware, a part that I've really worked on. To keep it on brand it's all either hand made here on in Paris, the hardware is handmade in Italy. Obviously the price point is lower than buying a gold ring so it's a great way to add in a different product level. I really enjoyed doing this because it feels like learning a whole new trade, I actually went to the Lineapelle leather fair last month and I was like a kid in the sweet shop, because I suddenly had a new material to work with.
I think it's going to be an interesting development and addition to the brand, we're selling it online on our site with stockists that we picked up in February. Next season we'll be doing new wallet shapes and a few more card holders. It also opens different stockist options for us as well.
Tell me more about the bright coloured pieces which debuted at London Fashion Week
We also did this collection (pulls out bag of bright red, orange and yellow pieces) especially for fashion week, we got such a good response we're going to launch it as a new line called Hannah Martin Show. I picked the five iconic shapes across the last three collections and they're base metal and powder coated. I was trying to find a way to colour metal without having to enamel which is really expensive and I found this warehouse in Hackney that spray paint bike frames so that's how they're made. Obviously like the leather pieces, the price point is much much lower. We'll be designing a collection every season, changing the colours and hopefully working with fashion designers for their catwalk shows. Which would've been a bit tricky which the 'mainline, high-end collections', if designers use them on the catwalk then it immediately dates it to the season which we obviously don't want to do. And it's already been very popular, had a few orders and it going to be stocked in the Paul Smith store and Luisaviaroma in Florence. This was the first experiment to test the market a little bit, and the idea for next season I'll design one or two shapes that will only be available to the Show line, because it's made of brass rather than silver it means we can go bigger on the weight and I could do something a bit different.
What materials do you mainly work with?
Silver and gold usually, the first two years I was only working with gold, keeping it really precious. It's always easier to diffuse a brand and start at the top using the highest quality materials rather than other way round. It means customers will always know us for our high end luxury pieces but knowing theres an option for silver or the pop colour pieces. The one thing we don't do is plate the metals, if it's silver it's solid silver.
Who would you say is your typical customer?
It's so varied because theres the male/female split so I couldn't pin point an age group. For example we had one private client who ordered the black coated ring with rubies, and she must've been in her late 60s early 70s and it was her commitment ring for her 40th Ruby anniversary. Then someone came into order the same ring in rose gold as a her 21st birthday present, so its great that one piece can have such mass appeal. It's difficult because it is so hard to predict but it's also quite nice because people buy it because they love it rather than it being a fashion trend or something that's in for the moment. It seems to cross generations.