Jeweller Annoushka Ducas is no stranger to horsepower. As a girl, she and her Russian mother regularly travelled to some of the wilder parts of the former USSR in search of blue-blooded Quarter Horses to send home to Kent for transformation into top-grade showjumpers. “It didn’t occur to me at the time but, looking back, they were quite adventurous journeys for a single mother to undertake with only a small child as a travelling companion. We used to find ourselves in some very obscure and out-of-the-way places, but things always seemed to work out,” recalls Ducas, whose eponymous Annoushka jewellery brand celebrates its 10th anniversary next year.
Her mother’s adventurous spirit has apparently been passed on, as evinced by the much-loved Aston Martin V8 Vantage Volante that Ducas keeps at her Sussex country home. Here, she can invoke the model’s famous exhaust growl without fear of retribution since her nearest neighbour (who lives about a mile away) is none other than the Duke of Richmond, the celebrated founder of high-octane motoring events such as the Goodwood Festival of Speed and the Revival. “I must admit, I do love the noise and that was one of the things that made me decide to buy it,” she says.
With a Volante (or convertible) version of the new generation Vantage yet to become available, it will be apparent that Ducas’s is an older model. In fact, she has owned the car for 11 years and has no intention of parting with it. “It has become a true friend in the time we’ve been together and although I don’t use it every day, I’ve clocked-up almost 50,000 miles, quite a few of which have been on the type of continental B roads where the car really comes alive,” she says. “We have a ski chalet in St Martin de Belleville and have driven down there several times in the Aston Martin. I’ve also made a few trips to Lake Como, where I’m always surprised by the enthusiasm it generates, considering it’s a British sports car and not an Italian one.”
“In fact,” she adds, “it seems especially British because of its British Racing Green paintwork and chocolate-coloured interior. I think its patriotic appearance is another reason why I’m so fond of it.”
Ducas has a long-standing relationship with the marque. Her jewellery skills were once brought into play when she designed a range of limited-edition cufflinks in the shape of silver miniatures of the twin-lugged spinners used to secure the wheels of classic Aston Martins. Prior to that, Ducas and her husband, lawyer-turned-entrepreneur John Ayton, had established the affordable jewellery brand Links of London that they grew into a multi-national business before selling to the Greek jewellery brand Folli Follie.
“It was because of my mother that we started Links,” recalls Ducas. “After she stopped buying and bringing-on showjumpers, she set up a business supplying fish to some of London’s top restaurants. One year, she asked me to design some fish-shaped cufflinks to give away to clients as Christmas presents — and we just carried on from there.” After parting with the firm in 2006, Ducas initially intended to spend most of her new-found free time raising the couple’s four children, but her creative urges soon took over. “I had continued to design jewellery for myself and I knew I wanted to work again, so I decided to launch the Annoushka brand in 2009,” she says. “It’s very different to what we were doing before — everything is made from 18-carat gold and precious or semi-precious stones, and the pieces are either produced in very small numbers or are one-offs.”
Ducas creates the pieces in collaboration with her long-term design director Elizabeth Olver, a former jewellery design tutor at St Martins and the Royal College of Art, and the author of several highly regarded books on the subject. “One of the things that really appeals to me about the way we work now is that everything is very personal. We control all our distribution and, apart from our own boutique and gallery in Chelsea’s Cadogan Gardens, we only have concessions at Harrods, Liberty and Harvey Nichols in London, as well as one at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Hong Kong, which is where John and I first met. We know many of our clients personally.”
Although a single item of Annoushka jewellery can cost in excess of £20,000, its creator insists that every piece — from the simplest hoop earring to a limited-edition cuff adorned with golden butterflies — is intended to be worn on a daily basis. “It is absolutely not meant to be ‘special occasion’ jewellery,” says Ducas. “I want people to wear it every day with all sorts of outfits in a kind of modern, casual way. All the old rules and conventions about jewellery are absent — recently, for example, we launched the Hoopla collection that includes pieces made from three or four different colours of gold. It’s something that didn’t really happen before.”
Also unconventional is Ducas’s approach to developing and designing new pieces, which, she insists, never happens at her desk. “Travel is a very significant source of inspiration for me, but while an idea might come to me during a trip to some far-off foreign country, I might also have an idea when I’m out and about near home. Recently, for example, I decided I wanted to create a collection called Dreamcatcher, but I couldn’t quite work out how to manifest it — until one day I was driving the Vantage from Sussex to London, a road I have used countless times, and I noticed a beautifully crafted fretwork sign hanging outside a B&B. It proved to be the perfect starting point for the first Dreamcatcher pieces.”
Another collection — One of a Kind — had more exotic beginnings in Ethiopia. Here, she discovered the existence of Ethiopian opals while visiting the country in support of the UK-based charity Give a Future, which raises funds to help women and children in poverty-stricken areas (and, indeed, a percentage of sales from this collection goes to the charity). Her latest collection, however, has its roots in age-old superstition. “I feel the world has become unbelievably public with the arrival of social media and the growing urge to know what everyone is doing at every moment,” Ducas explains “Jewellery, however, is nothing like that. For me, it’s a very personal thing that often has a hidden meaning. So this new collection is called Touchwood, a name that’s intended to reflect the fact that people often feel a need for protection. A typical piece would be a ring that appears to be a relatively conventional gold shank, but contains a small piece of ebony that the wearer will always be in contact with.
I do love the noise and that was one of the things that made be decide to buy it
“I suppose I can thank my mother and my Russian heritage for that idea, too — she had a Van Cleef & Arpels ring that she never, ever took off. But it wasn’t hugely valuable. It was made from wood, just like the very simple wooden churches we used to see on our horse-finding trips.”
Whether taking a trip to far-flung places or simply driving on the local roads in her beloved Volante, it’s clear that travel in its many forms is a constant source of inspiration for Ducas.