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Annoushka Ducas on Her Love for Charms and a New Bespoke Service

Annoushka Ducas on Her Love for Charms and a New Bespoke Service

You can write your own autobiography, but what’s the fun in that when you can create an 18K gold version in the form of jewellery, with Annoushka Ducas and her eponymous brand?

Few jewellers have a more interesting story, but for Annoushka Ducas it all began with fish. The British entrepreneur was living in Hong Kong when her mother called her up one day to ask her opinion on Christmas presents.

“My mother had a fish business and she used to supply all the best restaurants in London,” Ducas says. “She told me, ‘I’ve got 60 chefs, all men. Have you got any ideas for Christmas presents?’”

That tickled her creative bone. Ducas found for her mum a workshop in the Philippines that could make cufflinks in the shape of fish for her favourite clients. She ordered 120 pairs, selling half of them to her mother and taking the other 60 to Harvey Nichols to see if they might want them. The buyers said they needed to see more designs, which Ducas promptly procured: “Pig’s heads, golf balls, all sorts of things,” Ducas recalls. “That was the beginning of Links of London.”

Annoushka Ducas
Annoushka Ducas

During the next few years, Links of London flourished. It wasn’t the easiest of times, as Ducas found herself back in London, running both a new jewellery company and a fish business after her mother’s sudden death.

“I’d get up at 4.30am to buy fish straight from the fishermen and in the afternoon, I’d go home and shower and start to sell cufflinks,” she says. Her husband, John Ayton, whom she met in Hong Kong, joined her soon after and became her business partner. Later, when they sold Links of London in 2006, Ducas continued to design jewellery.

“I was designing for myself mainly because I couldn’t find what I wanted to wear,” she says. “It’s hard to imagine it now, but at the time there were very few options between Links of London and the high jewellers like Cartier and Boucheron. If you wanted something that wasn’t a Love bangle and something more original, you needed a huge bunch of money to commission something. And I realised there was a kind of opportunity.”

Annoushka’s charms and Knuckle chain collection are some of its bestsellers

Ducas had touched on women’s jewellery during her time at Links of London, but when she launched her brand Annoushka in 2009, it was clearly aimed at women. “That was the intention when we started Annoushka,” says Ducas. “It was about women buying for themselves. And as a woman designing jewellery for women, I kind of understand that earrings couldn’t be heavy or there were certain elements about how things should look or how things should move.”

One thing Ducas loved about her own jewellery is the interchangeability – something that’s become a selling point for her creations today. “Our clients like the playful element of it,” she says. “They like the fact that you can wear the pieces lots of different ways. And I don’t design them to be worn a specific way. I just thought I’d kind of design pieces to be worn or interchanged with pieces you already have. All the different collections are designed to work together.”

It was also important to Ducas and Ayton that the jewellery they were creating was of the highest quality, and with proper attention to detail. For example, at Annoushka, the bestselling Knuckle collection is handmade in a workshop in Arezzo, Italy, with whose proprietor Ducas and Ayton are firm friends. “Dino is in his workshop in Arezzo surrounded by 30 mainly family members,” says Ayton affectionately. “This sort of craftsmanship is only available when you’re making in small quantities with a focused customer base. There’s an understanding between craftspeople and the designer that’s built up over the years and how they take a drawing or a model and interpret it the way you imagined it to. That’s something very special and unique to Annoushka.”

Taking that perspective a little further – and, perhaps, also harking back to how Ducas started designing in the first place – Annoushka has launched a new commissionable service called Life in Charms.

The sketching stage of Life in Charms
The sketching stage of Life in Charms

“The idea to do a bespoke collection came during lockdown,” says Ducas. “I was thinking about how to describe someone’s life, you know, when they’re not around any more. There’s this whole thing with jewellery that’s about memory, about legacy, and so I created Life in Charms.”

Life in Charms is bespoke and unique to all clients who visit the London studio to speak to Annoushka’s designers, who help them distil key moments in their life into seven magical and unique charms, that they (and perhaps their children and grandchildren) will treasure for lifetimes
to come.

“When my grandchildren inherit this, well, it’s my 18K gold autobiography,” says Ducas. “The stories here are so important. I’m hoping my grandchildren will be able to understand a bit about me. So when they ask, ‘Why is there a fish?’ someone will say, ‘You know it’s because she used to have a fish business.’ And why is there a submarine? It’s because when she was four she used to dance with her mummy to the Beatles’ ‘Yellow Submarine’. And these four pearls in this pea pod is because she has four children.”

There’s also a charming red cable car to remind Ducas of ski holidays in Gstaad, and
a dog’s paw because she loves the smell of her pet’s feet. There’s a globe with little rubies for Hong Kong and London, and a plane that flies in between. There’s also, oddly, a charm that spells SEX from which a pair of legs dangle. Laughing, Ducas explains: “This is because John said he didn’t want to be represented as a gold rock because I’m always like, ‘He’s my rock.’ So I asked him what he wanted to be instead and he said he just wanted to be sex on legs.” Sitting beside her, Ayton, who presumably hears this story often, lets out a small chuckle.

Annoushka Ducas’ personal Life in Charms design

There’s something so lovely about being able to visualise different moments in your life in beautiful charms – charms that are more than just a two-dimensional illustration of a particular object but are extremely well thought-out and so fun. Ducas opens a book to show us a record of past charms the creative team has designed for clients. She points to a locket shaped like an apple. “This one is for a client who’s now 95,” she says. “And when her husband took her out for their first date to a cinema, he split an apple with his hands and gave her half. For her, that was the moment when she’s like, OK, this
is the man I’m going to marry.”

Pointing to another one, she says, “This is a telephone box and you can see there’s a phone inside which was made because the guy who commissioned it called his wife from a telephone box and asked her to marry him.”

Asked whether clients need to come with a certain degree of creativity, Ducas shakes her head. “Tell me the story and I’ll work it out,” she says. “That’s part of our job to work that out for you. We had a client whose memory was coming home from school and having a lovely time in her aunt’s house. We were like, ‘What was it about your aunt’s house?’ She said she has a bubble bath there, so we made her a bubble-bath charm with diamonds for bubbles. She didn’t know she wanted that, but she loved it.”

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Each Life in Charms creation also comes with a scrapbook that displays the inspirations and stories behind each one. We flick through Ducas’ own Life in Charms scrapbook, which holds beautiful illustrations of fish, a score for “Yellow Submarine”, holiday mementos, and old prints and photos of family and pets.

It seems a tall task to ask someone to summarise their life in just seven key moments, but Ducas says the process is much easier than you might imagine. Seven is a lucky number, and she prefers to make things in odd numbers. “God also made the world in just seven days,” Ayton interrupts, eliciting laughter all around. “I’ll remember that,” says Ducas, smiling.

Ducas has been collecting charms and trinkets for as long as she can remember. As an only child growing up between New York and the UK, she travelled a lot – and later in adulthood she continued to collect. There’s something so endearing and fascinating about miniatures that are more than merely precious objects, but precious in the sense that they evoke emotions and come with narratives that tell a little bit about the person they belong to or have belonged to.

The scrapbook that comes with every bespoke order

Ducas started a podcast called “My Life in Seven Charms”, in which she talks to the women she’s designed for, revealing their charms and discussing their life journeys and all the ups and downs. They’re not just a great source of inspiration for those wanting to create their own Life in Charms collection, they’re also great sources of inspiration for women in general. It’s a quality that Ducas has always possessed, her innate ability to connect with other women, to uplift them and empower them. 

Ayton pipes up, proudly, about Ducas’s philanthropic work. “Long before Life in Seven Charms, in that sense, Annoushka had set up a programme in Addis Ababa to help young women start businesses through micro loans. And with the Prince’s Trust with King Charles, you’re helping him raise money for disadvantaged young women.”

“I feel like I’ve been incredibly lucky through my life,” says Ducas. “My mother wasn’t around as long as I’d have liked, but she was an incredible inspiration to me. And I think so many young women aren’t as lucky to have that. And all it takes is just one sentence, one coffee, a bit of advice. You might say something that could help change something or flick a switch.”

The Princess of Wales is one of Annoushka’s most famous clients – among many others who include Rihanna, Emma Watson, Jennifer Lopez and Kate Hudson. Does she have her Life in Charms? Imagine that, how cool would it be to see Kate Middleton’s royal 18K gold autobiography? “She does not,” says Ducas, smiling. “Even if I get to that I don’t think they’ll be telling you.” 

Source: Prestige Online

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