Ellis Mhairi Cameron: The Highlands’ Diamond

Ellis Mhairi Cameron pulls from her Scottish heritage to craft unique jewelry that reflects a cultural connection to her Highlands roots. Drawing from the landscape to create unique designs, her pieces pushes boundaries, empowering women to feel confident and inspired. Along with her brand-building journey, Cameron shares her story with Pietra Communications, as well as the people and places that have inspired her along the way.

Your designs are renowned for incorporating your Scottish Highlands roots. Tell us about the importance of your culture to you and how to translate that into precious metal form.

I’m originally from the Scottish Highlands, specifically a little village called Benderloch. I loved growing up there– the area has such a rich history and incredible visual landscape.

All my collections are inspired by my heritage – exploring ‘a sense of place’ and the cultural identity that goes with this. My grandparent’s farmland, now inherited by my father and uncle, dates back to the 1500s and 1600s. Metal detectorists have discovered amazing finds on the farmland –  parts of old swords, knives, rings, apothecary boxes, and vessels. These objects are only a few feet under the ground, but they tell the stories of another time, hundreds of years ago. It’s incredible to have this connection to the landscape, especially because it’s such a personal connection.

How do you handle creative blocks or moments when inspiration is elusive, as an artist?

I think it’s important not to stress too much when the ideas aren’t coming, or when you hit a creative block. Sometimes your brain needs a rest. Equally, inspiration tends to appear when you’re focused on something else! Giving yourself the time to be wrong is important; not every idea will be great, and that’s okay.

For you, what are the key building blocks to developing a successful independent business as a designer?

I think taking the time to find out what you really love, and don’t follow trends. It needs to speak to you, first and foremost. Then research the right market for your jewelry, as every business is different. Exploring who your client is, and where they would find you, is also key.

What are your design principles, and how do they impact your creative process?

For me, it’s a balance of order and chaos – like a highly polished inner ring band, with a very erosive textural outer band. I like to create pieces that look like they have lived a life, full of detail and intricacy and are very human. I think it’s important to stay true to your aesthetics, while also thinking of new ways to explore them, so your work stays fresh.

What inspired you to become a jewelry designer? Can you tell us about your journey and your training? When did you know this was the career path that you wanted to pursue?

It’s a bit of a cliché, but I have always enjoyed ‘making’. My mum has since retired, but growing up she was a primary school teacher, so we always had a big arts and crafts drawer of ‘things to create projects with’ – the classic egg boxes and toilet rolls, plus glitter, paints, crayons, etc – so it was a very creative household to grow up in. From a more technical point of view, my dad is a skilled mechanic, so he would be constantly soldering things together as well as doing general DIY. So having all of this around me let me be very creative from the offset.

When I left school I did a portfolio preparation course at Cardonald College in Glasgow, as I wasn’t really sure yet what field I wanted to specialize in. The course covered so many things –  photography, life drawing, textiles, painting, and of course jewelry. I am so grateful that I had a wonderful tutor called Alison Scott – she directed me towards jewelry. I realized I could still sketch, paint, and photograph as a researcher, then carving in wax was like small-scale sculpture.

I then went on to study at The Glasgow School of Art, which was very useful in terms of gaining technical skills and design concepts. We had extremely talented tutors – as well as a very patient technician, Nigel Munro – who let me help with casting, so I could really understand the technique. I then studied for my MA in jewelry at Central St Martins in London and followed this up with a year-long business-orientated course at The Goldsmiths Centre, as I needed help to understand how to make a successful business from my designs. When I finished my courses in 2018, I felt much more prepared to launch and run my brand.

How do you envision your brand evolving and adapting to changes in the jewelry industry in the coming years?

I think it’s a balance of retaining my aesthetic while pushing design possibilities. I love how we are expanding more and more into America, with all of my stockists, finding and connecting with new customers is always exciting!

Discuss the materials and craftsmanship that go into creating your jewelry pieces. What is your process?

I like my diamonds to look like part of the gold, as though they are ‘buried’ in the metal and are being excavated from its surface. It’s important to me that they look integrated. So I use a setting style that evokes this sense of balance between the stone and the metal. I use wax carving, hand forging, and reticulation – all very intuitive, organic processes.

We noticed you used a lot of champagne diamonds, fancy-colored diamonds (green/yellow), and old-world cuts in your engagement rings. What draws you to these stones and those cuts?

The collections are made specifically in gold and diamonds, not only for their beauty but for their longevity. As diamonds are such hard gemstones, they are perfect for daily wear. I live in my jewelry – it comes with me everywhere, and I am not careful with it! So it makes sense that I want to create work that will stand the test of time, so diamonds and gold are the perfect choices.

With the diamonds I use, they range from slightly alternative to truly one-of-a-kind. I believe each stone has its own ‘’blueprint’’ and because I specialize in commemorative and commitment jewelry, it makes sense to offer clients one-of-a-kind stones. I might choose a diamond as it has an unusual fleck in it, or it is two-tone, there are little speckles, little colors. These inclusions are what make the stone more interesting and more personal to that client. There’s definitely a place for GIA, classic white diamonds, but I prefer earthier, more one-of-a-kind stones. I also love old-cut diamonds, as they have such a sense of history – I’m working on some really exciting old-cut designs at present!

Could you describe the inspiration behind your most successful, or iconic, jewel?

My most recent collection, Legacy, is really important to me. This collection references specific long-forgotten objects, unearthed from my grandparents’ farmland. These discoveries are such an important link to my ancestral heritage; literal connections to my roots. This collection is a departure from the colors and shades normally used within my work. For these pieces, I wanted to explore the feeling of discovery – that moment when digging in the landscape, a glint of something special catches your eye, and a piece of history is excavated from the earth.

What piece of advice would you like to give to aspiring jewelers, at the start of their journey?

I think take your time – you can’t do everything at once. Really think about your work, and where you aspire to be, and put in the work to get there.

Aside from the Highlands, where else have you drawn inspiration for your collections?

I love art – painters like Grace Rose Watts, and artists like Eva Hesse, and Richard Serra. Galleries like Beton Brut in London are very inspirational to me. Then from fashion, Issey Miyake, Comme Des Garcons, and Moncler – distinctive textures, patterns, and people with a specific voice.

Your jewelry has a distinctive style. How would you describe your signature design elements, which set your work apart from others?

I love balancing the ancient with the modern, thinking about my aesthetics, but still with a consideration of the body, so pieces have a nice weight and are comfortable. I like to create work that almost looks ‘pulled from the earth’ excavated, and discovered.

As your legacy in the world of jewelry design continues to grow, what do you hope your work ultimately conveys to future generations of designers?

A difficult question! I hope to show a balance of both my aesthetic and my narrative – for me, it is important to create a beautiful piece of jewelry, but one which also tells my story. I hope to keep pushing my work and developing new collections as I go.

If you could have anyone, past or present, wear one of your pieces, who would it be and why?

Mary Queen of Scots, Joan of Arc, Boudica!  Effectively, powerful woman; I love people who challenge the norm and reject conventions of what they should do.

What is your personal and professional mantra?

I have a few! Turn up on time, communicate, don’t take things personally, and stay true to who you are.

Storytelling is a crucial element of the work of Ellis Mhairi Cameron. Every piece of jewelry is special, with its own tale to tell–meticulously made by hand, beautiful and durable. To continue following the journey of Ellis Mhairi Cameron visit https://www.ellismhairicameron.com/

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