Designer Interviews

Interview: Ellis Mhairi Cameron

Interview: Ellis Mhairi Cameron

ellis mhairi cameron studio

You have been with us since the launch of ætla in November 2020 and it has been wonderful to see your business grow - as well as our collection of beautiful Ellis Mhairi Cameron jewellery in store.

Tell us a little about your background and heritage

I’m originally from the Scottish Highlands, specifically a little village near Oban, called Benderloch. I loved growing up in the Highlands – the area has such a rich history and incredible visual landscape. My grandparents on my fathers’ side can trace our ancestors back to the Highlands for hundreds of years – it’s amazing to learn more about my heritage and it has heavily informed my jewellery.

ellis mhairi cameron - scottish highlands

Please keep us and our customers right, your middle name ‘Mhairi’ is pronounced ‘Vari’, right? 

Yes exactly – Mhairi is Scottish Gaelic for Mary, which was my grandmother’s name.

Why did you decide to study jewellery and subsequently take the leap to start your own brand? 

It’s a bit of a cliché, but ever since I was little,  I always enjoyed ‘making’ – whether it was crafting objects or painting and drawing. 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 specialise in. The course covered so many things -  photography, life drawing, textiles, painting, and of course jewellery. I am so grateful that I had a wonderful tutor called Alison Scott – she directed me towards jewellery. I realised I could still sketch, paint and photograph as research, then carving in wax was like small scale sculpture. 
I then went on to study at The Glasgow School of Art, which was so useful in terms of gaining technical skills and design concepts. We had extremely talented tutors – as well as a very patience technician, Nigel Munro – who let me help with casting, so I could really understand the technique.
I then studied for my MA in jewellery 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 really 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.

What do you look to for inspiration when designing your jewellery?

All my collections are inspired by my Scottish heritage - it’s always been about 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 1500’s and 1600’s. 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. Even last week, a coin from 1797 was found only 25 feet from the croft – so close to the house that it likely belonged to one of my direct ancestors – which is amazing.

ellis mhairi cameron artefacts

ellis mhairi cameron croft 

Your work features a gorgeous selection of primarily earth tone diamonds. Why diamonds and how do you choose the colours you work with? 

The collections are made specifically in gold and diamonds, not only for their beauty, but for their longevity. Diamonds are a hard gemstone, which means they are perfect for daily wear. I live in my jewellery – it comes with me everywhere, and I am not careful with it! So it makes sense that I want to create work which 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 ‘’blue print’’ and because I specialise in commemorative and commitment jewellery, 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 colours. 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.
ellis mhairi cameron diamonds

Can you tell us more about the type of stone setting you use and why?

I like my diamonds to look part of the gold, as though they are ‘buried’ in the metal and are being excavated from it’s 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

There is something unique about the understated nature of your work that our customers (and us!) are drawn to. How do you achieve this consistent ‘effortless luxury’ feel across your collection? 

That’s very kind of you to say! For me, there has always been a focus on creating work which is very sculptural, while still being very wearable and comfortable. I like the balance of order and chaos - an erosive ring aesthetic, but a mirror finish on the inside so a ring feels luxurious. Wearability is very important to me, as well as the visual aesthetic.

We have worked with you on several bespoke and remodelling projects - do you have any favourites and why do they stand out to you?

It’s so hard to choose, as its always an honour to work on a remodel or bespoke piece. If I had to pick, I loved remodelling a tiffany wedding band from a client. We reimagined her very classic white baguette eternity ring into a more modern, sculptural piece. Taking something so traditional and reinventing it really appealed to me, so it was a great redesign project.ellis mhairi cameron - remodelling

What does a typical working day look like for you, and how do you relax or spend your free time?

Every day is a bit different – I might be taking bespoke appointments, designing new ideas, cleaning up orders – there’s so many facets to running your own brand! Diamond sourcing is one of my favourite things to do, alongside modelling out new ideas. 
In terms of time away from the studio, I’m lucky to live in Hackney in London, so there’s a wealth of beautiful restaurants, bars and shops. I love buying local, or from independent designers.
For food, I love El Ganso for Tapas in Broadway Market, or The Smoking Goat for drinks in Shoreditch. For clothing, Ilaria Lepore in Brick Lane or Cawley Studio in Deptford – beautiful fabrics that are made to last.

Which of your brand’s achievements are you most proud of?

I was awarded a bursary to show at NY NOW with Craft Scotland in 2020, and then received the Goldsmiths Fair Bursary later on that year. Then in 2021, I won ‘Young jewellery designer of the year’ at the UK Jewellery awards, just before I turned 30, so those are a few of the awards I’m most proud of.
In general though, I think just seeing my brand grow month by month, gaining new stockists worldwide and creating new collections are all things I’m really proud of – it’s all very exciting and I love seeing my brand develop this way.

Are there any fellow jewellers or creatives that you admire?

I love work that has a strong signature aesthetic – I have pieces from Romilly Saumarez Smith, Joanna Thompson, Castro Smith & Harriet Morris, to name a few! And from Andrew Birks, I have an incredible range of wooden and tagua nut carvings.

What frustrates you as a designer?

Not enough hours in the day for all my ideas!

What’s next for Ellis Mhairi Cameron?

It’s a busy few months ahead! 
I have just come back from America, where I was at trade and trunk shows, so I’ now fulfilling orders from that.
I have Goldsmiths Fair at the end of September in London, then Elements in October in Edinburgh and a show called Trove that I help curate at The Goldsmiths Centre in London in November.
I will then finish off the year at ætla in December for a trunk show! Lots to do and I’m looking forward to it all.

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