"Neither of us have a jewellery background. I suppose we’re both interested in ways to describe the world, and we’re trying to do that with jewellery.” This is Anna Jewsbury. She’s the co-founder, with brother Mark, of Completedworks, the London-based fine jewellery brand.
The pair’s aim, she says, wasn’t even to work with jewellery – but to create a brand that emulated an artistic movement – like the Symbolists. Jewsbury studied maths and philosophy at Oxford, while brother Mark was a news journalist before joining his younger sister.
“I started things off, and he knew I’d need some help! I started this as soon as I finished university. I was extremely fortunate, because I was able to live at home for three years. And if I’d thought too much about it, I might not have done it. But at that age, you have nothing to lose.”
The pair bootstrapped their first company, a business-to-business jewellery firm which exclusively sold private label pieces. “Neither of us had MBAs and starting out with the B2B side meant we learnt business lessons as we went along. But while it was niche, and gave us a safety net, it also wasn’t as creative as we wanted to be.”
In 2013, the Jewsburys launched Completedworks. Their first collection, Pillar, grew out of the euro crisis. Inspired by ruins, thick marble and jadeite columns rise out of precious metal. An Incomplete Column Ring will set you back £325. Now, they have four collections, and customers like Alexa Chung and Naomie Harris.
Often, customers will bring Completedworks stones, which the company will then build the piece around it. And Fluid, whose soft pieces of jewellery seem to glide off the body. “That collection actually started life as mini sculptures made of clay. We were rolling them and working with the idea of changing form.” Offering a bespoke service, Jewsbury has been commissioned by Christie’s, and there’s also a Completedworks wedding collection.
In fact, Jewsbury made her own engagement ring. When her husband proposed, he handed her a voucher. “The stone is always going to be the same, but the trouble with making your own ring is that you can keep changing it.”
Completedworks does a lot of sampling in house, but actually creating a piece of jewellery requires working with different workshops for each bit. “So we use a diamond setter, casters to do the metal – every aspect has to be done by a specialist, and people who have years and years of experience. Because we’re high end, people expect extremely high quality.”
The long-term ambition – “we think of the company in 25-year periods” – has always been to build four or five smaller companies that, together, are greater than the sum of the parts. “It’s an almost Japanese mentality of never assuming that the retail market is going to stay the same. We’re deliberately growing slowly, and we think about each but we’re very ambitious.”
It took a “very long time”, for example, to choose wholesalers to work with. When you’re a small company, going down the wholesale route and working with established retailers which already have their own customer base, and are brands that complements what you’re doing, it’s an amazing tool. But you don’t want to go with any old retailer.”
You can find Completedworks at the concept stores Dover St Market and Alex Eagle, and clients are always welcome in the Marylebone showroom. Next month, the siblings are launching Annotated, a completely new, more accessible brand. “We wanted to create a product line that found a balance between using artisanal methods and using really high-quality materials and a pricepoint that meant more people felt they could wear the pieces everyday.”
Jewsbury’s day-to-day is “crazy. It’s great fun, though, and what I love so much is doing so many different things – to me, that’s a very special thing about running your own small business. You do the marketing, the sales, the designing, the producing, the bookkeeping and accounts.” Having studied one of the tougher degrees at Oxford, I ask her what she’d be doing it she wasn’t in jewellery. “I just can’t imagine, actually. I’m interested in so many things, and the entrepreneurial aspect of my life just makes me feel incredibly fortunate. When I meet people, I can’t help but tell them that they should start a company.”
When it comes to reaching customers, Completedworks uses Instagram a lot to talk to customers. “Digital acquisition is vital for us, and Instagram has been an amazing way for us to showcase products and talk to customers.” Although the Jewsburys work with retail partners, 60-70 per cent of their clients come direct.
“People will email us from all over the world, and we’ll send them photos, as much information as possible. But I still find it incredible that you’re receiving money from Australia, Japan, America and people haven’t actually seen the item.” Jewsbury says the key to selling abroad is to have a good returns policy. “We hardly have any returns, but it helps put people’s minds at rest.”
I ask how easy it is working with your brother. “We don’t actually have very distinct roles. I’m more outward-facing, he’s more behind the scenes. But he’s very much an ideas person, too – we both come up with inspiration.” While the siblings rarely bicker, Jewsbury says she found it difficult to work with other companies.
“I went into business thinking that you cannot talk to peers. But we joined Rock Vault, a British Fashion Council initiative to support jewellers based in London, and I’ve learnt so much through sharing ideas with other brands. It’s a very saturated market and there’s a lot of competition, but that just means we have to keep our portfolio distinct and relevant to customers.”