Based in London motleyThe unique business model is shaking up the industry, with an original demi-fine offering crafted by some of the most talented jewelry designers on the contemporary scene. Co-founder Cecily Motley explains how her company empowers consumers to invest in design.
Cecily Motley stayed up all night, not that I know from the impeccably presented face on my screen. In fact, we both have awake babies who don’t care about Zoom schedules, nor about the start-ups that are currently disrupting the jewelry industry in ways that wouldn’t have been possible a decade ago. . With exclusive collections from Francesca Villa, Christopher Thompson-Royds and Alice Cicolini, Motley makes designer jewelry accessible to a discerning consumer. If a recent string of bestselling collections and rave reviews is anything to go by, these consumers are fully on board.
For this, a business model gives carte blanche to designers to create an exclusive capsule collection for sale on the Motley site, made in silver and vermeil. Motley takes care of the production using a global network of artisans and ensures that the designer’s creative vision is faithfully translated. “Motley is collaborative at its core,” Cecily says, “the designers’ trust allows us to execute to the standards that satisfy them, in an affordable context. It’s not about cheap jewelry, it’s design accessible.”
Fresh from a pop-up in Carnaby, London, Motley has just been launched at historic London department store Fortnum & Mason. Like many digital jewelry brands, it has done well during the pandemic, with the recently expanded Charlotte Garnett anti-anxiety collection seeing particular success.
Garnett, whose tactile shapes are meant to be grounded in times of anxiety, was part of the brand’s young designer program in conjunction with Central Saint Martins. Motley sponsors the BA jewelry show and chooses a designer to come to the platform each year; another alumnus of the program is Zac Sheinman, one of the delightfully puffy hoops that became a Motley bestseller.
It’s a chance for young graduates to take their first steps in selling their work with minimal risk. And it’s this broad vision and focus on freshness, combined with the designers’ sixth sense for the times, that makes Motley special.
What is your first jewelry memory?
I had a very elegant grandmother, who had a lot of costume jewelry. I remember going through her jewelry box when I was about eight years old, taking all her earrings and hanging them in my hair, around my head like a crown.
But it was almost an intellectual journey to jewelry, rather than a love of the object itself. I was the manager of the Louisa Guinness gallery, where they sold jewelry made by artists rather than jewelers. I discovered that a lot of 20th century artists – like Alexander Calder – also made jewelry, and I saw no separation between the two. Objects with a function are traditionally considered a lesser type of art, and this conversation around function, form, and hierarchy was interesting.
What was the impetus to move to a more accessible market?
The jewelry designer is an artist, engineer, sculptor, making art for the body a moving canvas. It’s a deeply fascinating process and that’s what appealed to me, but I wanted to do it at a more inclusive price.
Because of the old-fashioned view of jewelry as stones and metals ready to be melted down in hard times, we know their value. We believe that more people should be able to enjoy the art of jewelry by wearing it on the body. A few collectors may buy Picasso, but the rest of us can go to a gallery and see one; Motley aims to bring this approach to the world of jewelry. It’s quite Bauhaus in its vision.
Who were the first designers you worked with?
We launched five collaborations; Christopher Thompson-Royds, Sian Evans, Hannah Martin, Scott Wilson and Alessandro Petrolati. The list has grown organically to include both designers and manufacturers.
We’re not really about fashion, but the designers we choose always manage to tap into what’s just in the moment almost unconsciously – Alice Cicolini dropped a neon capsule with us just when she was trending , without realising it.
Your slogan “fine jewelry at insider prices” reflects a unique positioning. How to achieve it?
Designers design the jewelry, we then collaborate to bring it to market using a suite of manufacturers for manufacturing. A great example are Zac Sheinman’s Boom hoops, which have been electroformed making them incredibly lightweight. He first designed them in CAD (computer-aided design), which was printed in wax, then dipped in a solution of silver ions that melts the wax from the middle, making shapes possible. very interesting. Our manufacturers play an active role in the design phase, their expertise informs the final product.
It sounds like maintaining a certain level of craftsmanship is really important to you.
Yes it is. Crafting is seen as a hobby, but it takes years of training and expertise to be able to create these pieces. Motley is about moving the medium forward, challenging the difference between perception and reality. We had Christopher Thompson-Royds who is known for his exquisite fit, for example. He said the beauty of Motley is that people get “good” jewelry because of the craftsmanship, and I think that’s really the crux of the matter.
What makes Motley so appealing to designers?
I think it’s that collaborative experience and access to a larger platform. The designers do what they love, while Motley takes care of the rest.
All of the capsules we offer are branded with the creators, but not necessarily the signatures they are known for. They must have a strong visual language that will translate clearly into a different metal, if they are used to working gold for example. We challenge them to work outside of precious materials.
Tell me a bit about the people who produce the Motley collections.
We have manufacturers in Italy, Turkey, Spain, Thailand and India. We match the project with the fabricator depending on the techniques required, so the very detailed finish often goes to our partners in Thailand, we go to Italy for the electroforming and molding, as well as the micro-ceramic veneer that we used for the Lola Fenhirst collection. Some of these are techniques that are not commonly used with silver.
Because we have evergreen parts as well as limited edition parts, makers can support complex parts knowing they will only need to make 150. These are balanced with parts easiest from the basic collection that are not made to order. For gifts, people want the product right away, but for the more expensive limited editions that are often self-purchased, people are happy to wait.
Who is your customer? Is this the kind of person you expected?
She is predominantly female and we had assumed she would be younger, but in reality the average is 25-45, with a focus on 35+. We also have people in their 50s and 60s – our gift cards are a great indicator of why people are buying, we have birthday messages ranging from the 21st to the 50th. Self-purchase is also a big part of the mix, resulting in 30% higher spend.
Consumers are looking for something that looks different. The over 50s are very loyal, but the challenge is to reach them in the first place, we are more likely to be able to reach them through traditional communications than Instagram.
Our target may like the design and have purchased parts before. But a bigger market is someone who bought a statement necklace from a high-street brand in the past year, which has plummeted. This person does not know that they can access this type of good quality design. Then there is a customer who is not driven by fashion, who is looking for longevity and timelessness. It’s intimately linked to luxury, we wanted to show that it can be accessible.
Tell me a bit about the challenges and successes of starting a market-disrupting company like Motley, as two female founders.
I have to say, fundraising for two women for a business perceived as “girly” was tough, no matter how strong your finances or experience, it’s not easy to be taken seriously. Added to this, in jewelry there is already a lot of noise about the channels we use and the market is very fragmented. You need to know the market you are disrupting; it was necessary to raise funds and also to educate people about jewelry, because the perception of the market by investors was different from reality.
How do you see the independent jewelry design market evolving?
We are at an interesting time, the market tends towards authenticity, storytelling and independence. Middle-market jewelry saw a decade of initial mid-end disruptors, which made people feel comfortable buying jewelry themselves.
Remember that women buying for themselves is a recent thing, traditionally it was a gift, tied to an occasion or status, and many smart, independent women still leave it to their husbands. But it’s also about empowerment, women want to invest their own money in a design that reflects their style and personality. Our jewelry is for a discerning shopper, a world of savvy women who are becoming jewelry investors today.