Carousel of Colour: Kiki McDonough's New Collection

Words by
Avril Groom

20th June 2024

Kiki McDonough continues to shape the face of British jewellery with Carousel, her latest vibrant collection.

Presented by Kiki McDonough

As our interview comes to  an end, I congratulate Kiki McDonough, not only on almost 40 years of a business that is still quietly expanding, but also on maintaining her independence and running her brand from one chic but unassuming store and salon in Chelsea.  

“Yes,” she says, looking pensive. “I’ve survived three recessions and a pandemic, and I’m still here.”

McDonough is the spirit of Britain in jeweller form. Dogged, determined to go her own way and proceed at her own pace, she also has British design creativity and flair in spades. Her latest collection, Carousel, is inspired by nostalgic, childhood memories of bright lights, sparkling colours and the dizzying joy of the fairground. Drop hoop earrings and simple pendants are made magical by specially cut, smooth, trapezoid baguettes, set so closely that no metal shows and the gradations of colour — vivid or delicate — provide maximum impact. They vary from tri-colour mixes  of the palest morganites, aquamarines and citrines to bold blends of deepest pink rubellites, green tsavorites and light blue sapphires. Others feature pastels in pink  or blue, sparked with an occasional bright stone. All are suspended from pavé diamond hoops or studs.

Kiki McDonough - Kiki
Jeweller, Kiki McDonaugh, has been at the forefront of the industry since founding her eponymous brand in 1985

Pendants are similarly suspended, as a brilliant, graduated ring from pale citrines to the deepest tangerine garnets, or a mix  of fragile, transparent pastels. Circular drop earrings and pendants feature baguette stones, designed to mimic the beautiful, decorative roofs of the carousel and the instantly recognisable shape of the Ferris wheel. The curves, which are also broken circles, are different — voluptuous, sensuous and organic, with softly geometric gems artistically arranged so that light and scattered diamonds shine between them. The stones are shaded from pale pink to deep magenta or from misty pale green through to deep rosé wine. Simpler alternatives draw the front-to-back shape  as a diamond pavé white-gold curve, with intermittent gemstones in random shapes  in shades of mauve or pink, set so the pair is asymmetric.

McDonough is one of several designers who started out in the early 1980s and moved the British perception of jewellery sharply away from classic rubies, sapphires and emeralds, mounted with diamonds in traditional designs, to a bright new world  of colour, often in daring combinations,  and stones with unfamiliar names.

Kiki McDonough Carousel
Kiki's latest collection, Carousel, includes graduated ring pendants with her signature blend of vibrant colours and precious stones

These were known as “semi-precious” but their huge increase in both popularity and value over the years means they are all now regarded as precious. Some of this growth is due to McDonough. As one of very few women in Britain at the time who not only designed jewellery but also created their own business from it, her target market was the increasing number of young women like herself, making waves in the working world and with the wherewithal and interest to buy their own jewellery, rather than waiting for a man or their family to gift it.

Nowadays that seems completely normal but life was very different when McDonough was growing up in the 1970s as the fifth generation, and only woman, in a jewellery dealing family — her father, an expert in Georgian jewellery and English silver, owned an antique jewellery shop on Bond Street.  It never occurred to her to train in jewellery, but she developed a stylish persona while working in the fashion department of Vogue and, as a well-connected young woman about town with a thriving social life, went on to work for firms such as Party Planners and Eximious personalised gifts. She was contacted by her friend Nigel Milne, a well-known dealer in Edwardian, vintage and bespoke jewellery, who wanted to start selling modern fine jewellery.

“He actually wanted to set up a business and store with me as designer. He said I wasn’t scared of fine jewellery and I knew what people wanted in fashion. I was very surprised but it was an irresistible challenge,” she says. Milne put up some money and McDonough’s father loaned  her the rest while overseeing the paperwork. “I paid him back within a year,” she says proudly.

Kiki McDonough Carousel - Carousel earring designs
The Carousel range includes exquisite earring designs, from organic, voluptuous curves, with soft shades of pastels and diamonds that catch the light, to circles and magical drop hoops

She had very different ideas from her father. “Jewellery shops then had heavy mahogany cabinets, and were run by, and sold mainly to, men,” she says. “I admired the beauty and craft of the jewels my father sold but I wanted more modern colours in adventurous combinations. New stones and colours still come on the market and I tried to find a new one each year. So many have beautiful soft shades that blend together for daily wear, not just special occasions — exactly what modern women want to buy.”

Her stores — she has had three so far,  each more spacious than the last — are equally light, bright and informal, with subtle but effective security. Since 2008  she has been settled in a comfortable, welcoming space just behind Sloane Square, with cushioned chairs, pale cream and gold decor, and discreet areas for private appointments. She has seen many changes in buying habits. “Quite early on I noticed couples coming to shop, rather than just the man, or men shopping for pieces already researched by their partner,” she says. “Then, surprisingly quickly, women buying for themselves became the norm.”

Alongside the new range, she has a large number of collections, some of which are as popular now as they were in her early days. The Kiki Classics range features pieces such as the iconic double oval earrings inspired by the costumes from The Sleeping Beauty ballet. A passionate supporter of the art form, McDonough is a trustee of the New English Ballet Theatre and a patron of Covent Garden. The range also includes simple pieces with oval stones in a rubover setting or the diamond “halo” edging that has become a modern classic, as well as three-stone gypsy and bombé rings, and multi-shaded tennis bracelets, all in optimistic, original colour combinations.

Kiki McDonough Carousel - chelsea store
McDonough's chic, understated store and salon in Chelsea

With a stockist network that ranges from Fortnum & Mason to Harrods and Mappin & Webb in the UK, and top stores in America (her second biggest market), she  is happy with the exclusivity of one store, where her handpicked, 20-strong team operates. Relations with the workshops where her pieces are made, in several countries including the UK, in Birmingham,  Italy and Asia, are equally personal. “I have worked with the same four gem dealers for about 25 years, and craftsmen for almost as long,” she says. “I learned the quality of craftsmanship on the job.”

She maintains client relations “with two or three events a year, usually drinks  in the store; dinners are too pressured as people may wish to consider before  buying. We also do trunk shows at our  best stockists. People expect it today, as they do a strong online presence. The pandemic brought forward the acceptability of online jewellery shopping by five years.” McDonough, who is a business mentor for the The Prince’s Trust, plans to launch a major new collection next year to celebrate 40 years of her brand. “I know how lucky I am,” she says, “to have built this business solely by designing pieces I enjoy wearing.”