How the Jewelry Industry is being disrupted by a female-founded Motley

The unique business model of London-based Motley is shaking up the industry. It features a unique demi-fine offering that was designed by some the most skilled jewelry designers in the world. Cecily Motley, co-founder of Motley, explains how her company empowers consumers to invest design.

Cecily Motley is up all night. I wouldn’t know because of the flawlessly presented face on my screen. Both of us have. These young, awake babies don’t care much about Zoom schedules or the future of the jewelry industry. Motley offers designer jewelry at an affordable price. These consumers are proving to be very enthusiastic after a string of successful collections and rave reviews.

This business model allows designers to create a unique capsule collection that will be sold on the Motley website. It is available in silver or vermeil. Motley handles production by bringing in a global network of craftpeople and ensuring that the designer’s creative visions are accurately translated. Cecily says that Motley is collaborative in its heart. “Designer trust allows us to deliver to the standard they are satisfied with, in an affordable context.” It’s not all about affordable jewelry. Accessible design is what it is.”

Motley, fresh from a pop up in Carnaby (London), Motley just launched at Fortnum & Mason, a historic London department store. It did well in the pandemic like many digital-first jewelry companies, with the recent addition of the Charlotte Garnett anti-anxiety line seeing particular success.

Garnett’s tactile forms were created to help with anxiety and are part of the brand’s young designers program. Motley sponsors the BA Jewelry Show and selects a designer each year to be featured on the platform. Zac Sheinman is another alumni of the program, who created the Motley’s beloved hoop earrings.

Young graduates can take their first steps in selling their work without any risk. Motley is unique because of its broad vision, focus on freshness and sixth sense for the zeitgeist.

What’s your first piece of jewelry memory?

My grandmother was very sophisticated and had lots of costume jewelry. When I was eight years old, I vividly remember looking through her jewelry box and taking out all of her earrings. I then pinned them to my hair and wore them as a crown.

It’s been almost an intellectual path to jewelry rather than a love for the object. The Louisa Guinness Gallery was my gallery. We would sell jewelry made by artists, not jewelers. Alexander Calder, one of the 20th century’s most prominent artists, made jewelry. I was surprised to find that there was no distinction between them. It is traditional to view objects with a function as inferior art. This conversation about form, hierarchy, and function was fascinating.

What was it that prompted the move to a more accessible market for ?

A jewelry designer is an engineer, artist, and sculptor. It’s an incredibly fascinating process, and that is what attracted me to it. However, I wanted to make it more affordable.

We know the value of jewelry. It is no longer viewed as a collection of stones or metals that can be melted in difficult times. We believe that more people should have the opportunity to wear jewelry art on their bodies. While Picasso is available for purchase by a few collectors, the majority of us have the option to see it in a gallery. Motley seeks to bring that same approach to the jewelry industry. It’s quite Bauhaus in its vision.

With whom were you the first designer that you worked?

Five collaborations were launched: Christopher Thompson–Royds Sian Evans, Hannah Martin Martin, Scott Wilson, and Alessandro Petrolati. This list has grown organically to include both makers and designers.

Although fashion is not our main focus, the designers we choose are able to tap into the current trend almost subconsciously. Alice Cicolini shared a neon capsule with us when it was hot, even though she didn’t realize.

Your tagline “fine jewellery at insider rates” reflects your unique positioning. How can you do this?

We collaborate with the designers to design the jewelry and then call on a variety of manufacturers for manufacturing. The Boom hoop earrings by Zac Sheinman, which were electroformed and are incredibly light, are a good example. They were first designed in CAD (computer-aided designing), and printed in wax. The wax was then melted in a silver ion solution, which creates very unique forms. The final product is shaped by the expertise of our manufacturers, who are an integral part of the design process.

This sounds like you think that maintaining a certain level craftsmanship is important.

Yes. Although craft is often viewed as hobbyism it requires years of training and experience to make these pieces. Motley’s mission is to push the medium forward and challenge the perception of reality. Christopher Thompson-Royds, who is well-known for his exceptional cutting skills, has been with us. He said that Motley’s beauty is the fact that people can get a piece of jewelry that is “properly made” by skilled craftsmen, which I believe to be the core of it all.

What is it that makes Motley so appealing to designers?

It’s the collaborative experience and access that I believe makes it so special. Motley does the rest, and designers can do what they love.

We carry all the capsules with the designer’s signature, but not necessarily their signatures. If they have experience working with gold, they must have strong visual language. We challenge them not to use precious metals.

Tell us a bit about the people behind Motley collections

There are also makers in India, Turkey, Spain and Thailand. We match the project with the manufacturer according to the techniques required. For example, very detailed finishing goes to our Thai partners. In Italy, electroforming and casting are done by us. These are not common techniques for silver.

We have both limited-edition and evergreen pieces so makers can make complex pieces while knowing that they will only need 150. These pieces are balanced by the core collection, which includes simpler pieces that aren’t made to order. People want to gift the product immediately, but the limited editions, which are more costly, are better for them to wait.

Who are you customers? Are they the kind of person you expected them to be?

We assumed that she would be mainly female. However, the average is between 25 and 45, with a particular focus on those aged 35 and above. There are also people in their sixties and seventies. Our gift cards are a great indicator that people are buying. We have birthday messages for everyone from the twenty-first to the fiftieth. The 30% higher spend on self-purchase makes it a significant part of our mix.

Consumers want something different. Over-50s are loyal but it’s difficult to access them. We’re more likely than Instagram to be able reach them through traditional communications.

The target market might be someone who loves design and has already purchased pieces. A larger market might be someone who bought a statement necklace at a high-street store in the past year and it fell apart. This person may not know that they can find this type of design at a good price. Another customer isn’t fashion-driven but is more interested in durability and timelessness. This is directly linked to luxury and we wanted to prove that it can be affordable.

Please tell me about the difficulties and successes in starting a disruptive business like Motley.

It was difficult for two women to raise funds to support a business that was perceived as ‘girly’. There is a lot of noise in the jewelry market and there is a lot to choose from. It is important to understand the market you are disrupting. We had to raise money and educate people about jewelry because investors had a different perception of the market.

How do YOU see the market for jewelry design by independent designers evolving?

The market is moving towards authenticity, storytelling, and independence at an exciting moment. The initial demi-fine disruptors in the middle-market have been around for a decade, which has helped people feel more comfortable buying jewelry.

It’s not unusual for women to buy gifts for themselves. Traditionally, it was a gift that was tied to status or occasion. Many smart and independent women leave this to their husbands. It’s about empowerment. Women want to be able to choose the design that best suits their taste and preferences. We offer jewelry for the discerning buyer and a world of educated women who want to invest in jewelry.

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