Meet Stuart McGrath, the multi-talented jewelry designer from Dublin
Stuart McGrath is a very talented jewelry designer who started out as a sculptor. He thought about a career in jewelry as something that he would do much later. He couldn’t know that this career would start much sooner, due to a tragic event. Come and meet this wonderful Irish designer.
Interview with Stuart McGrath from Armoura
Esther: "How would you describe your childhood?’’
Stuart: "I had a great childhood thanks to my parents who gave me a deep interest in heritage, craftsmanship and quality. At a young age they would often bring me around the country to visit stately homes and castles where I was always fascinated by the construction and craftsmanship of the furniture, silverware, architecture and furnishings. Antiques have and always will intrigue me as I can spend hours looking through antiques stores at old pieces with their detail and embellishments. I often enjoy thinking about the stories those older pieces could tell, where they were made, their travels and about their previous owners’’
Esther: "Where did you grow up and who were your mum and dad and siblings.’’
Stuart: "I grew up in the suburbs of Dublin and moved to London after art school where I sculpted stone. My father worked with racehorses as it’s a large and important industry here in Ireland where people all over world send their thoroughbred racehorses to be trained, bred and raced. My mother was a homemaker who enjoyed sketching out jewelry designs and stringing beads as a hobby and also worked to raise money for the Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Crumlin, Dublin. I have one brother and one sister, both older than me".
Esther: "Did your family or your environment influence you to be interested in art?’’
Stuart: "I was fortunate to have a strong mix of family and environmental influences on my career. Both of my grandmothers were keen painters and one would often bring me on her painting trips to sketch and paint plein air. My other grandmother often brought me to her sculpture class which was run by a very talented French sculptor Yann Goulet who was a professor of the Royal Hibernian Academy of Art in Dublin which inspired me from a young age’’.
''In school and with my family I often visited museums and galleries of which we have many of in Ireland. In the National Museum of Ireland we are lucky to have a very large collection precious metal antiquities from religious institutions as well as Celtic and Viking treasure hordes found all over Ireland by farmers and archaeologists. The ornate and beautifully made objects such as broaches (Tara Broach) crosses (Cross of Cong), (Ardagh) chalice, coins, Torc, crosiers (Clonmacnoise Crozier) which are all incredibly well made large pieces of the like we don’t see today. Many were so perfectly preserved in excellent condition in the bogs (wetlands) of Ireland as well as stunning burial tombs such as Newgrange (3000 BC) and Dolmen structures. Many more priceless artifacts were stolen by Viking raiders or melted down over the years by grave robbers and treasure hunters''.
Esther:’’How would you describe yourself as a teenager and what was the path that led you to your passion and studies’’
Stuart: "As a teenager I had been planning to design and make jewelry as a career but after school I got sidetracked into sculpture which I really enjoyed, it taught me a lot about form, texture and design. As a teenager I was always able to and enjoyed sitting down for several hours to sketch. When I was younger I was content making pencil studies of anatomy, botany, equine, architecture and other subjects and have found that these investigations have fed into my later works as having an understanding in these areas of interest gave me a familiarity which could be utilized and adapted to other subjects”
''Later on I was lucky enough to work alongside and learn from many master crafts people in London. You’re correct when you say I have a passion for jewelry, I relish the exploration of ideas and developing concepts by sketching and researching until I feel that I arrive at an elegant true form''.
The accident that changed the path of Stuarts career
Esther: "Can you tell us more about what happened to you that made you change career to jewelry?’’
Stuart: "I spent many years carving stone for restoration of architecture and monuments while also designing bespoke memorials and carving them by hand. One evening while out cycling I had an accident where I suffered a large trauma to my shoulder area which required reconstructive surgery and nearly a year of intensive rehabilitation to regain the use of my arm. This put my career in sharp focus’’.
Esther: "What do you love about jewelry?’’
Stuart: "I love the diverse range of styles that people can explore through such a simple object of a ring, necklace or bracelet to imbue all sorts of subjects that can span across the globe and resonate with so many. The launch of Louis Vuitton and also Boucheron’s recent collections in Paris left me awe struck for their creativity and use of materials. I enjoy the work Van Cleef & Arpels, Chanel, Cartier, and Bulgari for their classic elements and how they all push the forefront of design as well as craftsmanship, constantly re-imagining their designs such as the puppy, lion, panther and snake icons respectfully. Other companies such as de Grisogono, Jewellery Theatre, Temple St. Clair, Bayco, Piaget and Canturi always raise the pulse with their innovative and colourful creations. As you can see I’m an avid follower of many different parts of the industry’’.
Esther: "What did you learn from your experience in fashion?’’
Stuart: "Having worked across different luxury areas such as crystal, jewellery and leather handbags, I have been able to take what I had previously learnt in the highly specialized area of bespoke stonework, client service as well as project management and offer my experience in the jewellery industry. Through working in fashion I’ve learnt a lot about researching a brand’s DNA, trend forecasting as well as systematic focus of product management and development, product launch through to marketing. This broad and varied experience gives me a good overview of how each facet of the business works together and helps me coordinate across many areas, understanding the needs of each and attaining the best possible result for the business and customer’’.
About rolemodels and admiration
Esther: "Who do you admire? Who is like a role model to you?’’
Stuart: "I admire a diverse array of talented designers from around the globe such as the rich sculptural jewelers such Theo Fennell, Elizabeth Gage, Sevan Bıçakçı, Hemmerle, Lorenz Bäumer and Lyda Courteille. I also very much enjoy the elegant, dynamic and organic forms of Graff, Boodles, Asprey, David Morris, Chaumet, Chopard, Wallace Chan, Dickson Yewn and Glen Spiro while I appreciate the simplicity of Rufier, Canturi and Chow Thai Fook for their minimalist lines, although I know the difficulty within designing and making those so called “Simple” looking designs’’.
You might also enjoy: Lydia Courteille and the Queen of Sheba
Esther: “Did you have a mentor?’’
Stuart: "I’ve been lucky in the recent years to have had a few people mentor me in business and I’m always willing to learn more and I still have many years education before me".
"All of the above mentioned fine jewelers don’t know it but I greatly admire their work and read a lot about jewelry in general. The industry in Ireland is small due to the size of the population so I mostly look outward and abroad to keep abreast of what’s happening in the trade. I really enjoy working with other companies advising on design, supply chain and manufacturing as I often learn so much from them also. Someday I would like to work directly in a fine jewelry company in London, New York, Paris or similar".
"The closest person to a mentor that I have is the very talented Sam Lafford, based in central Dublin he is a world class platinum and gold smith who uses regular and also unusual precious gemstones to create impressive designs. He’s been a great tutor to me over the years and I appreciate the time he takes to assist in my understanding of certain complicated techniques. He’s a great designer and produces exquisite pieces of fashion and also bridal jewelry.’’
About today and tomorrow
Esther: "Today, how does a normal day look like?’’
Stuart: "A normal day would be nice, like so many creative and other careers, everything is always changing. An ideal day for me would start with a lemon green tea and checking my emails to touch base with clients, suppliers and catching up with an industry newsletter. I try not to spend too much time online as I find I get the most out of the day by sketching and developing concepts and ideas on paper or sometimes sculpting in wax or clay to fully explore an idea. Often times there are features which can only be developed by the subtle and deft touch of the human hand. I enjoy spending a couple of hours sketching and then it’s a matter of a few emails to source special stones or similar. A couple of times a week I’ll try to get a swim, to the gym or go for a hike in the Dublin Mountains’’.
Esther: "What does jewelry mean to you?’’
Stuart: "My aim when designing a piece is to distill a feeling, it could be a fleeting feat of nature or perhaps an art movement or genre into a solution that is elegant, eye catching and interesting for people to wear to ensure that it’s a conversation starter. I enjoy looking, developing and researching ideas of objects, outdoors or other iconic wonders in life that people will regard in high esteem such as the Deco period or the series of tree rings I created such as the Magnolia tree, Blossom tree and Wisteria tree ring’’
Esther: "Why should a client come to you? Why would they need to choose your jewelry?’’
Stuart: "The jewelry industry has so many exciting designers and companies at present but I consider that the subject matter I choose for my designs is appreciable by everybody and I believe that my ideas, designs and craftsmanship are unique to catch people’s attention take an interest in Armoura’s jewelry’’.
Esther: "What is your dream for the future?’’
Stuart: "At the moment I’m enchanted by south sea pearls, natural as well as fancy colored diamonds for my own designs. I am currently in the early stages of sketching a contemporary bridal jewelry range with elegant and clean lines to create a fresh collection of engagement, eternity and wedding rings, using white, yellow gold and platinum settings to enhance fine quality stones. Pink and yellow diamonds will feature in simple settings. I hope to also continue working with new companies in Ireland, UK, New York and abroad as I feel my global industry knowledge, universal concepts and resolute results are of use to jewelry houses. I still enjoy meeting new people and companies, being part of a team and exchanging fresh ideas on projects which I can help to move forward’’.
“A couple of years ago I was lucky to come across Esther’s blog and I enjoyed the style of writing as well as the level of detail and information. At the time “high jewelry” wasn’t my area but Esther’s newsletter kept me up to date with news of what was happening in this facet of the industry which I had my eye on. Esther’s warm and personal writing flair and first hand industry knowledge makes readers feel like we’re in the room during her interviews and reviews which give a thorough glimpse behind the curtain’’
Esther: "Where can people find your jewelry, is there anything they should know about how to buy from you?’’
Stuart: ’’At present I work on a commission basis with private clients which is great as I always enjoy working closely with the person who’s going to be wearing or gifting it. In the future I’d like to work with retail boutiques to offer Armoura's design to a greater audience. I welcome all inquiries for both private and commercial projects and collaboration’’.