JEWELRY DESIGNER TO WATCH: MING LAMPSON, NOTTING HILL TREASURE
London is a city of closed doors – but if you look hard enough you can come across some secret magical places. I stumbled across MING‘s boutique by chance as I was strolling through Notting Hill. I was instantly drawn to it by its mysterious dark shop facade, and by its one-syllable Chinese name, which was also beautifully engraved in stone on the ground. A few months later, I got a rare chance to tap into the world of MING‘ and share with you a rare beind-the-scenes look into her sparkling world.
Ming Lampson has dedicated her life to creating jewellery: she has been making intricate, exotic pieces for over 20 years. As a teenager, Ming was gifted a bag of precious stones, and that’s exactly when she knew she wanted to become a jewellery designer. Following her passion, she even temporarily moved to India to sort gemstones and apprentice with local goldsmiths.
Her eponymous boutique MING on Talbot road in Notting Hill is an exotic treasure trove of dazzling jewels. Her gemstones – emeralds, jade, diamonds and Tahitian pearls – are carefully sourced from all over the world. The dark wood panelled showroom is a seductive canvas perfect for showcasing her elegant creations; as you look around the jewels sparkle alluringly under artificial light.
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Many of the pieces are bespoke and unique, and over the years she has acquired a dedicated clientele. Her office behind is an airy and light filled space. Underneath the showroom, a large workshop is hidden, where with a help of several other jewellery artisans every single piece is lovingly handmade. Ming carefully thinks about every little detail of each jewel – a more complicated piece can take several years of hard work!
How and why did you become a jewellery designer?
When I was 17 I was gifted a bag of precious beads and it ignited a journey to find out what gemstones they were and how I could make them into jewels. This mission took me to India where I sorted gemstones for dealers and apprenticed with local goldsmiths. I then studied jewellery design and craftsmanship at university in London. This was followed by studies of gemmology and becoming a qualified diamond expert. All the way through my studies I made pieces for friends and brought and sold stones learning my trade through trial and error.
What are the distinguishing traits of your jewels?
Every jewel I make I approach as future treasure. The symbolism of the piece is of vital importance, as is the richness of the gemstones and the hand craftsmanship involved in making the design.
What is a typical day in your life?
I drop my eldest daughter at school at 8.30am and then head to my workshop. If I have bespoke meetings booked in then the first thing I will do will be to go over my designs that I have prepared and look once again at the gemstones that I intend to show. It is sometimes at that moment that I get real clarity as to why one particular idea works. I constantly have design ideas going around my head and it is often the time just before I present them that my thoughts will crystalize. I will either spend the rest of the morning working directly on a piece or on a paper model. In the afternoon I visit gem dealers, select and grade stones for a jewel or work with my lapidarists. I will also go through with my team the pieces they are working on. I always try to be home for tea with my kids and to spend time with them before putting them to bed.
After my girls are asleep I will spend a couple of hours drawing and developing ideas. It’s a very precious time for me as it is the moment of my day to create without any interruption when I can get completely lost in the idea I am chasing. I love the quiet and the feeling that the clock isn’t ticking, it’s when I can dream and
Where do you find your inspiration and influences ?
My inspiration if I am working on a piece for my own collection always follows a theme. The current collection is an imaginary walk through an oriental garden. The inspiration comes from what I could encounter, from wisteria and palm trees, to snakes, butterflies and moths. Even the stonework and the water features in this perfect dream garden of mine have been the starting point for some ideas. I don’t want to make each jewel an actual representation but rather capture the spirit and form of what I might see. It has been a great excuse to buy a lot of incredible botanical books and to spend time searching out images of exotic garden creatures.
Where is your atelier and boutique? The boutique is called after you first name Ming, there must be a special story about your first name, could you please share it? How does work take place in your atelier when you design a new piece?
My boutique is in Notting Hill on the corner of Ledbury road and Talbot Road and my atelier is situated underneath the boutique. I love that I can show my clients pieces that are in the process of being created alongside finished creations. When I design a new piece I draw out each view on graph paper as it disciplines me not to rush any elements of the design. Then I will make the piece out of paper or carve it out of wax before starting work in metal. As the majority of the jewels I make are one of a kind a lot of preparation goes into every piece to work out exactly how I am going to make it and the best way to execute the concept. If I create a model out of paper first I can really be sure that the size and the balance of the design is right. I am such a perfectionist that I will remake a piece many times if it isn’t quite as I imagined it. I save a lot of time by creating paper cut outs first.
WHEN I DESIGN A NEW PIECE I DRAW OUT EACH VIEW ON GRAPH PAPER AS IT DISCIPLINES ME NOT TO RUSH ANY ELEMENTS OF THE DESIGN.
Your jewellery pieces always feature beautiful gemstones, which stones do you like to work with? What is “your way” of evaluating stones?
I adore all sapphires for the incredible range of colours that exist and the way they reflect light so beautifully due to their hardness. I also love the way sapphires respond to light, which makes the same stone look very different throughout the day. There is no gemstone I wouldn’t like to work with though as every stone has a shade or hue that is unique. I find that I evaluate stones very much by instinct. Always the colour and the clarity and then the cut, not that the cut isn’t as important, it’s just that I have no hesitation to recut a stone if I love it’s colour and think I can make it look better.
ALWAYS THE COLOUR AND THE CLARITY AND THEN THE CUT, NOT THAT THE CUT ISN’T AS IMPORTANT, IT’S JUST THAT I HAVE NO HESITATION TO RECUT A STONE IF I LOVE IT’S COLOUR AND THINK I CAN MAKE IT LOOK BETTER.
I have completely fallen in love with your sapphire necklace; what inspired this piece? How much time goes by between the inspiration and the finished piece?
There is a lot of wisteria on the buildings in Notting Hill and I walk past some wonderful examples of it on my way to work. I love the way the flowers fall down in such a sculptural way from the twisting sticks. This particular necklace took me about five years to make. I kept drawing the design out and then putting it away because it wasn’t quite right. I adored the form and the colour of the idea but it took a very long time for me to get the size and the shape right.
THIS PARTICULAR NECKLACE TOOK ME ABOUT FIVE YEARS TO MAKE.
At one time I had almost a whole draw of paper cut outs of different sizes and shapes. I then had years of experimentation to get each bud of the flowers to fall with enough movement and to hang in way that was completely loose and drooping but also kept its form. I adore non-heat treated very pale sapphires and when they are diamond cut they can sparkle a huge amount. When I set the very pale sapphires in the natural colour of white gold the grey yellow of the gold makes the sapphires ever so slightly lilac which was the colour I wanted to capture.
What is the story behind your one-off butterfly ring?
A dealer showed me an incredible 18.75ctct tourmaline that had such intense flashes of pink and violet within the red of the stone it instantly brought to mind the colours of a butterfly. I wanted to set such a huge stone in extremely delicate metal to reflect the way that some butterflies are so hug yet amazingly light. I also wanted to capture the stencil pattern that I see on many butterfly wings using pierced metal over the sides of the stone. The five butterflies all around the ring is to illustrate how much they are attracted to the beauty of the stone.
I love how emeralds are set in your signature design ring, what is the secret?
When this emerald ring is worn the impression is that there is just one stone running through rather than five oval stones connected. To set a gemstone as delicate as emerald in a frame with the girdle of each stone touching at the same height, on a curve, is a very great challenge. I feel there is some magic in a design seemingly so simple that is so incredibly difficult to achieve.
The spike diamond earrings are irresistible, how difficult was it to set diamonds on the edges?
The spike diamond earrings have more than 450 diamonds set into each earring. I wanted the earrings to absolutely shine with sparkle so they felt that they were entirely diamond with no metal at all, to be delicate but sharp like rolled leaves on tropical plants. Setting stones on all sides of a point with the least bit of metal visible possible requires a lot of planning as the culets must only just very slightly each other.
What is unique about this diamond bracelet ?
The cuff is inspired by the repeating patterns in Japanese gardens. I didn’t want the mechanic’s of the bracelet to interrupt the purity of the pattern but it was important to me that the cuff sat on the wrist with a curve not completely stiff and dead straight. Underneath each element of the design is a hidden linking system that means that it has movement on the wrist. The movement makes the diamonds sparkle more and the cuff incredibly comfortable to wear. When you hold the cuff out flat one way up it is completely straight and stiff and the other way it twists and flops like a ribbon. This makes the piece sit perfectly on the wearer.
I love the hidden fly engraving on the back of the ring, what is the story behind that?
The ring is a pale star sapphire is exactly the shade the sky can be just before it’s dark on nights when there isn’t a sunset. The star within the stone and the colour made me think about what happens in a garden at the beginning of night and the creatures that awake.
I set the black diamonds that surround the sapphire upside down so they were spikey to represent hidden dangers outside at the drawing in of night. The night moth on the back of the stone shows the animals that you can’t see that are out there.
What is your earliest memory or experience of jewellery?
My Mum wore gold bangles up both arms that she never took off. We always knew where she was because her bangles made such a distinctive sound. The noise of them tinging against each other was very much the soundtrack of my childhood, as my Mum never sat still. I adored them and now wear one of her bangles myself.
What must never be forgotten when designing a jewel?
I think every single jewel is treasure. It is made from earths treasure and it will be treasured. If I design and make with the respect and care that gold and gemstones deserve then the jewellery I make will exist forever and become part of the soul of a family. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to get something perfect as it is treasure.
Thanks for stopping by. What is your favourite piece from MING Jewellery collection? Leave me a message in the comments below!
I am extremely happy to announce that my new jewelry book – GEMOLOGUE: Street Jewellery Styles & Styling Tips – is now on Amazon. I’m so excited. It’s the first book of its kind solely dedicated to jewellery.
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GEMOLOGUE jewelry blog by Liza Urla is a celebration of fine, fashion and vintage jewellery featuring talented jewellery designers, trendy urban street style, exclusive interviews and rare jewellery reviews. This jewellery blog’s goal is to encourage and educate about jewellery online in a fresh and original fashion to inspire women and men across the globe in a fashion and travelling context.
Jewellery blogger, writer Liza Urla, the founder of GEMOLOGUE, is a London-based and NYC-educated gemologist, who has travelled to and lived in many countries. She is now one of the most influential digital jewellery tastemakers. Her jewellery influence has been acknowledged by Financial Times, The New York Times, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.
*Photographed by Julia Flit. Styling and Art Direction by Liza Urla. All photos belong to GEM Kreatives for GEMOLOGUE.
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