Meet the Scottish jewellery designers (part 2)

In the second instalment of our series, five more leading Scottish jewellers tell Olivia Simpson about the inspiration behind their work and their love for designing wedding rings and jewellery

Katie Lees, Katie Lees Jewellery

Katie Lees
Katie Lees (Photo:

What attracted you to making jewellery? Making things and problem-solving have always been soothing to me, and I’ve always been creative, thanks to being raised in an artistic household. I thought I’d go into fine art, but a keen-eyed lecturer at a portfolio course was the first to suggest that jewellery and silversmithing might be the medium best suited to my need to make in 3D. I owe my career to her.

Katie Lees
Bespoke ring featuring Fairmined 14ct yellow gold, ethical oval sapphire and white diamond, £POA, Katie Lees Jewellery

What are your favourite pieces to make? It’s hard to beat pieces that truly reflect the personality of the wearer, and those that are fun, different and use really amazing gems. Pieces set with multiple gems are great to get stuck into. It’s total escapism: you can get immersed in the craft with a good podcast. I get a real buzz having everything prepared and ready to go, and strategically working through a complex design.

Which materials do you most enjoy working with? It’s always 18ct yellow gold for me, although 14ct yellow is beautiful too. The buttery colour of 18ct is mesmerising, and it’s easy to work with, which is a bonus for the fingers! Diamonds in every hue are great too, especially salt-and-pepper and antique varieties.

Katie Lees
Bespoke Art Deco engagement ring featuring 18ct yellow gold, white diamonds and ethically sourced baguette sapphire, £POA, Katie Lees Jewellery

What’s really fashionable just now? I tend not to follow trends, as I prefer to design timeless pieces that are a complete reflection of the client, so if anything, the trend is to design alternative, non-traditional pieces: things that you like, rather than what you think you should have.

We like to dispense with old-fashioned traditions and make new jewellery which will suit the wearer’s lifestyle and start its own chapter with the wearer.

Claire Donald, Number Five Goldsmiths

Number Five Goldsmiths
Left: Wave ring in 18ct gold featuring a bright oval sapphire and brilliant-cut diamonds, from £4,200, Number Five Goldsmiths; Right: Claire Donald at her work bench

Tell us a bit about your background in jewellery I was interested in jewellery from a young age, and began stringing beads while still at school. I then did an apprenticeship with a renowned jeweller, and went on to do a qualification in London. All in all, I have been making jewellery for around 35 years.

What makes your designs different from those of other jewellers? It’s hard to say, but I always aim to produce simple designs that will stand the test of time and not go out of fashion. I believe elegance and wearability should always be to the forefront.

What is your favourite kind of piece to make? I enjoy making things that have aesthetic appeal, and pieces that are special commissions for people – there is always a nice story behind them.

Number Five Goldsmiths
Cushion-cut amethyst set in 18ct gold ring with a polished finish on the setting and a satin finish on the shank, £POA, Number Five Goldsmiths

What are your favourite materials to work with? I’m very fond of working with 18ct yellow gold, and I love precious stones for their natural beauty.

What do you think makes a classic piece that’ll never go out of style? Any design that prioritises high-quality craftsmanship, elegance and simplicity of design will look great well into the future.

Jacqui & Duncan Grant, Lava Jewellery Design

Jacqui & Duncan Grant

How long have you been designing and making jewellery? We have been making jewellery since leaving art school 28 years ago (I went Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen, then moved on to the University of Central England). I am in business with my husband Duncan, who is a brilliant jeweller.

He focuses on making the pieces, while I take the lead on customer design. I do the occasional project, but I’m no longer on the bench regularly making things like he is.

What has been the highlight of your career so far? That would have to be when we made a Christmas gift for a woman who’d lost her husband in an accident. He had always promised her an eternity ring, so we made one out of his wedding band and new diamonds. When she collected it, it was all wrapped up and she only saw it for the first time on Christmas morning. She sent us such a lovely message afterwards – we were all choked up.

Lava Jewellery Design
Left: 18ct yellow gold ring with diamond and ruby, £2,950, Lava Jewellery Design; Right: Duncan hard at work at the Lava Jewellery Design bench

Why should someone buy from Lava Jewellery Design? Come to us because I am honest with your design process and transparent with the budget you need, and the finished piece will be made to the very highest standard by Duncan.

What are the big jewellery trends at the moment? Yellow gold is coming back into fashion, as are signet rings. Luckily, yellow gold is such a classic metal that you can be sure that anything made from it will look good in the future too.

Sandy Menzies, Sandy Menzies Jewellery Design

Sandy Menzies
Top: Bespoke diamond wedding and engagement ring set, £POA; Bottom: Bespoke fleur-de-lys wedding rings, £POA, Sandy Menzies Jewellery Design; Right: Sandy Menzies himself

How did you get into jewellery design? I spent four years at Gray’s School of Art, followed by a post-grad specialising in jewellery. I then spent three years working for independent jeweller J.R. Drever in Edinburgh, which was an unofficial apprenticeship. I’ve been making jewellery since 1986, and have never worked at any other job.

How has the business changed over the years? Although I have spent nearly 40 years making jewellery by hand, in recent years I have learned computer-aided design, which allows me to build very accurate models on screen, render them photo-realistically and also create short personalised video animations to allow the viewer to ‘fly around’ their future ring, leaving them in no doubt about what the finished piece will look like.

Once a design has been agreed, it is cast in whichever precious metal is required. I will then polish it and set its stones and it is then hallmarked in Edinburgh.

What are your favourite pieces to design? I like diamond and wedding ring sets that fit together. When it comes to metals, I really enjoy working in platinum.

Why should someone come to you for bespoke pieces? The client’s input is essential – listening to what they want is very important to the process.

Gareth Mundie, Ian Mundie & Son

Gareth Mundie
Gareth Mundie creating a design on CAD software

What got you into jewellery design? I was brought up in the jewellery trade and I can’t actually remember ever not being interested in it. In fact, I think jewellery must be in my DNA as our family business was formed the year I was born.

Do you have formal training? I am a certified diamond grader, which means I can assess the 4Cs of diamond quality grading and help customers make the right choice for them. Being a diamond grader also allows me to help customers use inherited diamonds to their best advantage.

And I am trained to use two different CAD programs that help me to design a piece of jewellery from scratch using newly sourced gems or gems from inherited and sentimental jewellery.

If someone comes to you and is unsure of what they want, how would you help them find the design that’s right for them? In my experience, even customers who say they’re unsure of what they want actually have a very good idea of what they like or don’t like when it comes to fashion or how they decorate their homes. We’d have quite a detailed chat about this while looking at some of our ready-made jewellery and loose gemstones.

It usually doesn’t take long for the customer to say “I love that” or “I don’t like that”, which gives me a good starting point for their design.

What would you say are the classic pieces that never lose their appeal? If a bespoke design has the input of the customer, that design will never go out of style for them as it has a piece of them in it. The jewellery becomes part of their story.

Ian Mundie & Son
Top: Bespoke ring in 18ct rose gold set with brilliant-cut diamonds and customer’s inherited 1.34ct diamond, from £1,995 for diamond-set mount (excluding inherited diamond); Left: Bespoke 18ct green gold and blue-green tourmaline ring, £5,995; Right: Bespoke 18ct yellow gold, Tsavorite and diamond triple ring stack, from £4,995, Ian Mundie & Son