When asked when she knew she wanted to become a jewellery designer, Alison Macleod, descendant of Norwegian Viking royalty, with a family tree lined with names such as Olaf the Black, responds: “Since forever.”
Crafts-obsessed and artistic from a young age, the Scottish jewellery designer remembers creating collections from fimo clay beads and boldly venturing door to door selling them to her neighbours at the age of 10, assuring them that investing in her brand was a unique opportunity.
Alison describes her brand ethos at Alison Macleod as fine jewellery that is inspired by antiques, with a contemporary twist. Her designs are modern heirlooms; a passion project that she was born into.
Jewellery designer Alison Macleod
A wild and wonderful childhood
Growing up on the estate of a burnt-down Victorian mansion in the region of Dumfries and Galloway, Alison’s parents built their house from the ground up at the bottom of the garden, where, as a child, she would play for hours on end. She delighted in finding hidden treasures in the rough and overgrown landscape of her childhood home, and building secret dens among the rhododendron bushes that she filled with her findings and creations.
Alison’s artistic tendencies were further piqued by the magnificent flora of the property she grew up on, which included tropical trees that had been imported from around the world. The young explorer was always looking for those “little whispers” of inspiration from the Victorian era that permeated the estate.
From finding intricately crafted gravestones hidden under bushes to excavating shards of beautiful old pottery that once lived in the mansion, she was constantly being inspired. The sheer mystery of discovering these imperfect and aging objects has greatly influenced her brand’s aesthetic and sensibility.
Alison Macleod Fairtrade gold, sapphire, ruby and diamond Catkin Happenstance Plume earrings, £2,950, The Jewellery Cut Shop
Collector of eccentricities
The play dens and treasure troves of her youth have stayed with the artist and can be seen not only in her jewellery, but also in her home. Alison has spent years curating her living space and studio in Thornhill, a village in Dumfriesshire in Scotland, by finding the perfect objects to fill them with in order to create an environment that “ever so slightly jars”.
With decorative bits and bobs placed strategically all over her home and studio, creating an organised mosaic of treasures in every corner, each glance around is a fascinating treat for the eyes. Alison credits her love of knick-knacks to growing up on the Victorian estate – the Victorians being avid collectors of trinkets.
Her most precious items are the loose gemstones she keeps in her late grandfather’s tobacco tins, and his tools, which she displays suspended on her studio walls. A doctor by trade, Alison’s grandfather had an artistic soul that she believes is the source of her own genetic predisposition for creativity.
Places, people and moments are all catalysts in Alison’s desire to design jewellery that will bring a lifetime of joy to her clients. With many of her pieces commissioned for important personal events, she credits fate with her journey to designing fine jewellery.
The “epiphany moment” that led her to create the unique Catkin pattern that can be found texturing much of her gold jewellery happened whilst she was sketching out her own wedding ring. The design was inspired by an antique ring she had seen on a customer’s finger at the Saturday job in a jewellery store she had whilst attending Edinburgh College of Art, where she studied a for a degree in jewellery and silversmithing.
The ring caught her eye and then tucked itself to the back of her mind. When playing with ideas for her own wedding ring, the memory and image presented itself and became her main source of inspiration. The Catkin pattern’s specific style and texture evokes the beauty of the Catkin flower, which grows on the Hazel tree and blooms in the springtime, which is when Alison married her partner Paul.
The Catkin pattern starts as perfect silver spheres, very much resembling those silver sugar pearls we use to decorate iced cookies and cakes. Each perfect little ball is then hand rolled and hammered flat to resemble disks. This labour of love is “a time-consuming process, but quite therapeutic”. When thin enough, the disks are layered and soldered together, creating a mould that is then cast in gold. Much like her sense of home decor and personal style, the Catkin design is a larger image composed of very small but intricate parts, all being uniquely special.
Alison Macleod Fairtrade gold, ruby, tourmaline and diamond Catkin Happenstance necklace, £2,190, The Jewellery Cut Shop
Ethically made (and found) treasures
Working in an ethical and environmentally friendly manner is very much a welcome coincidence that has come from Alison’s uncanny ability to accumulate classical keepsakes. One of the designer’s go-to objects to buy and save whenever she spots them are vintage jewellery boxes. Each Alison Macleod jewel comes packaged in one of these vintage jewellery boxes, giving new life to something forgotten. “They are a great excuse for me to collect but not be a hoarder,” she says.
This idea of coming across things fortuitously is the inspiration behind the Alison Macleod Happenstance collection, which she created from a clutch of loose gemstones she had amassed over the years. Fate, combined with her desire to make the old new again, are the key elements in every piece of Alison Macleod jewellery.
Her “bread and butter” is tweaking or redesigning antique pieces that have immense emotional value to her clients but that do not fit their personal aesthetic. Alison takes these vintage or antique jewels and redesigns them into wearable treasures, ensuring they will live, never be forgotten and will always have a purpose.
Her move to become a more environmentally friendly jeweller, however, goes far beyond this happy coincidence. When Alison’s Birmingham gold supplier moved into dealing in Fairtrade gold, she was right behind them to help fulfil a commitment the designer made to herself a while ago. Her next step: figuring out how to make more ethical choices with gemstones. “The industry is changing, in a really good way,” she says of the growth of ethical jewellery.
An Alison Macleod jewel is so much more than a beautiful ornament. It is an emblem of the bond between past and present, representing the historical importance of where we came from, where we are now and where we are going. The time and attention to detail that Alison gives each and every one of her designs is testament to her craftsmanship, ensuring the creation of a piece that will bring joy for generations.