12 August 2019

The Jeweller's Hand

Birmingham-based Mikaela Lyons has created a brand that's built on intricate craftsmanship and sustainable methods to make pieces that last a lifetime and beyond. All of her pieces are crafted by hand using traditional jewellery making methods and are individually hallmarked with a unique maker’s stamp at Birmingham's Assay Office. Mikaela's designs are vintage-inspired treasures that have varied from her classic Lioness motif and star pendants, to shell detailing and engraved hearts. Mikaela talked to me about how she started her brand, her production process, going against seasonal trends and how to keep luxury sustainable.

talk me through how you started your brand…
I studied jewellery and silversmithing for my degree and masters before working as a jewellery and watch designer for 13 years. I had my son Malachy in 2016 and everything changed. I wanted to work for myself so I could spend time with him in his preschool years. I had been a designer for other brands for so many years and I really missed the creative freedom and direct contact with materials and tools, something I had loved while studying. My first collection based on a Lioness came very easily as it was based on my family name ‘Lyons’ a name that I kept when I married and felt that it could be a talisman for others to represent strength and identity. I have always been ridiculously sentimental about jewellery, I knew I wanted to create something that meant a lot to me and hopefully transpired to others. And of course I had to represent the females so the ‘Lioness’ with her floral mane was born! If it wasn’t for having my son I don’t think I would have had the guts to quit my job and follow my own path. It has been a lot of hard work and late nights and its still very much early days but it’s a labour of love.

how do you find running a business from Birmingham?
I'm based quite close to Birmingham’s historic jewellery quarter which is also where I studied and where my material suppliers and engravers are based - so it’s actually very handy to be based in Birmingham. The fact that I sell predominantly online means that it doesn’t really matter where I’m based and London is only an hour and a half train ride away for the occasions that I need to be there for work. Dreams of living a more rural life will hopefully one day become a reality, so I feel very lucky to be able to work from anywhere as long as I have my tools and a space to work.

you design, make and finish every piece by hand, how long does this process usually take?
It is so hard to say, when I first started, each piece was pretty much made to order so making one offs takes a long time. Now I make in small batches so although it still takes a lot of time, it’s a more efficient way of working. There are so many processes that go into making one piece; from the initial casting being made from my moulds (in a casting house in the jewellery quarter), to de-spruing, polishing, cutting and soldering the chains, engraving, hallmarking and plating. Every pieces is handled probably a hundred times before it is finished. I have got to a point recently where I have had to take on extra help with the making side of things, my business has grown and I can’t manage it all alone. But I will always uphold my ethos and it will always be hand made in Birmingham using traditional jewellery making methods.

which people, places or things are your biggest inspirations?
I would say I’m pretty into old things, vintage, second hand, slightly shabby. I think this has been a pretty big influence on my work. One of my most frequented places are charity shops and luckily my little boy loves them too. I enjoy taking classic or historic jewellery symbols like the horseshoe for instance and then using it within my pieces, my Lioness medallions have horseshoe loops to attach them to the chain. I like the idea of creating pieces that are timeless and wont get discarded with seasonal trends so I always look to the old and interpret it into something new. I am also pretty into macabre, dark and general witchy-ness but I am not sure if that has translated into my work?

how did the collaboration with Alice Catherine come about?
She was the first blogger to wear and write about my work. We share a general love vintage and are very much on the same wave length when it comes to work ethics. I made a couple of pieces for her friends and family and we just kept in touch and it happened organically from there. We both seemed to favour making something more for the love of it than for making money or something commercial so it has always been a very easy partnership. I primarily work alone so to be able to work creatively with someone else was an absolute joy.

unlike clothing which unfortunately is still seen by so many as a disposable thing, jewellery has such a permanence with pieces often being passed down in families and being hugely sentimental. how important is it for you to create pieces that stand the test of time?
I think I touched on this before. I am so so sentimental about jewellery, and I can only hope that my work stands the test of time and that people are wearing my work for years to come. Throw away trends and consumerism has a huge impact on the environment and I am conscious that I am creating a luxury item, and by that I mean something that we don’t need. So I make sure that I am doing everything in the most sustainable and ethical way as possible and creating something of quality that will last.

which sustainable brands do you love at the moment?
I have just bought my third piece from Stalf. A womenswear brand based in Lincoln who hand-make every item from organic cotton or linen. Its very casual and good quality and great for chasing my toddler. One of my favourite online vintage shops is Retold Vintage, it's curated so beautifully, their pieces never last long once they go online. I also buy loads from eBay or vintage shops such as Cow in Birmingham and as most people who follow my stories on Instagram will know, I have a beady eye for the most stunning vintage bags from charity shops.

what should we expect next from Mikaela Lyons?
I have just finished a new three-piece collection which is different to anything I've done before. It's called ‘Good Fortune’ and as usual, is inspired by classic jewellery symbols but with a twist. We did a shoot at my house for this so the atmosphere and feel of the range is very personal. I have also commissioned an illustrator to create artwork for a special card to be sent with every piece, that I hope people will keep and put on their walls or like me, prop up on any spare surface or shelf going. It'll be launching in September.

All uncredited images courtesy of Mikaela Lyons