I’m pretty sure the first thing most people do when they meet Annoushka Ducas is check out her jewellery. This is, after all, the woman who founded Links of London in 1990 after designing a pair of silver cufflinks for her mother to give as a Christmas present, and grew the business into a global empire with nearly 50 shops before selling it 17 years later for a reportedly cool £50 million to jewellery manufacturer Folli Follie. These days, she’s better known as the name behind Annoushka, the far more intimate jewellery label she launched four years ago, which counts the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Hudson as fans.
‘What do you think of these?’ she asks, leaning forward across the kitchen table when we meet at her southwest London Georgian home, tucking her blonde hair behind her ears to show off a pair of beautiful cross-shaped diamond earrings. Like the other pieces she’s sporting today — two gold chain necklaces, one with a tiny delicate cross, the other with a smooth, eye-catching, gold pomegranate pendant, and a stack of gold bracelets — the earrings come, of course, from her own design studio. ‘They were meant to be part of a different pair of earrings but I thought they looked too heraldic. I’ve got old and new samples on and I do a lot of that, a lot of asking people what they think as I’m wearing them.’
Jewellery aside, my eyes are drawn to the art that’s dotted about the place: a still-life painting of lemons by Jo Barrett hangs in the kitchen; there are pieces by Colin Self and Antony Gormley; a paper-cut by Oi Nuen Sprunt and, taking pride of place in the bedroom, a pop art-inspired collage on canvas by her 18-year-old son Olly, the second of her four children. ‘Both John, my husband, and I are passionate about art. My grandfather was Russian so we had a lot of Russian art and furniture, and my great-uncle was the icons specialist for Christie’s. I guess I’ve been surrounded by art all my life,’ she explains.
So ‘Tools’, the latest in an occasional series of artist collaborations under the umbrella of Art At Annoushka, makes perfect sense. She has paired up with the designer, curator and art consultant Nathalie Hambro, who ‘is fascinated by metal’, on a steel-based exhibition at her Chelsea boutique. There will be Hambro’s photographs of tools (such as screws, bolts and taps) on the wall, sculpture in the window, and a limited edition, oxidised silver, chain-mail-style bracelet designed specially. Art projects like this were always part of Ducas’s plan. ‘When I designed the shop with Tino Zervudachi, my oldest friend and an interior designer, who also designed this house, I always knew that I wanted to exhibit other interesting things. I wanted it to be a gallery round the outside with jewellery in the middle,’ she recalls.
The first artistic hook-up was with Zervudachi’s sister, Manuela, also a childhood friend and a Paris-based sculptor who creates large bronze structures. For that exhibition, as well as sculpture, there was a jewellery collection that interpreted Zervudachi’s organic shapes (such as the pomegranate) in 18-carat gold and diamonds. ‘The way you make jewellery and the way you make sculpture is exactly the same so it was very relevant,’ says Ducas, who has also previously worked with multimedia artist Rosie Emerson and ceramicist Bouke de Vries.
Even though it was a professional one-off, de Vries’s influence lives on in the china installation that lines one wall in Ducas’ kitchen. ‘I had lots of New Hall china left to me by my great-aunt and it was in my cellar for years. When I saw Bouke’s collection of Dutch Delft porcelain arranged around the fireplace in his house I decided to put my china on display,’ she says of the now modern-looking cups and saucers which are perched atop individual glass shelves.
This meeting of old and new is obvious, both in her jewellery and in her homes (the main family home is in Sussex, where furniture that has been passed down from her grandparents sits alongside Turkish carpets bought back from her travels). ‘I think my home is eclectic and my jewellery design is too,’ she says. ‘I want to be comfortable at home and I won’t design jewellery that isn’t comfortable or tactile either. That’s where they connect. I’m quite casual and I think my jewellery reflects that: it’s about how you dress up your jeans, not your ball gown.’
Her take on jewellery has always been popular, dating back to the super-successful ‘Sweetie’ and ‘Friendship’ bracelets she designed at Links of London (when I ask what she thinks of the brand now, she says, rather diplomatically, that ‘they still seem to be selling a lot of those bracelets, I’m not really sure it’s changed that much’). She sold up because it all got too big and corporate and although it was ‘a bit like losing a fifth child’ at the beginning, she’s obviously very happy now. ‘I absolutely love what I do. I see the business as growing, but not as global. I’m introducing new pieces all the time and I like knowing what we sold yesterday and who to.’ Right now, Ducas is exactly where she wants to be.
‘Tools’ runs from 3 June–15 July at 41 Cadogan Gardens, London SW3 2TB; annoushka-jewellery.com