Jewelry maker Cece Fein Hughes says she grew up in an unconventional way. “My family is very creative, but I was actually the first person among them to go to university – and there are 30 of them,” she tells me via Zoom. “A mixture of musicians, artists and designers. My grandmother used to dress up the windows of Liberty [department store in London] In the 1960s. She was a white witch and lived in the middle of the moor. But I rejected their unconventional ways when I was young. I remember telling my mother that I never wanted to do my own taxes. Ironically, I definitely do now.”
Cece’s mom was “the coolest thing – she was always drawing and making things,” said the Devon native, who now runs her eponymous business, Cece jewelry, from her studio in London. Her father is a retired deep-sea diver specializing in mechanical engineering whose very first expedition took place in the middle of the night in the Persian Gulf. “No light, no help. They told him to dive and go as deep as he could,” said Hughes, who clearly had the best bedtime stories growing up. “But my father was never scared. He’s the strongest guy. He’s tattooed all over and at 54 he’s still riding.”
It is important to understand their family background. The designer’s handcrafted 18-karat rings and pendants draw from her colorful past, and in particular vintage tattoos, from traditional nautical designs – anchors, arrow-pierced hearts, swords and skulls – to more talismanic symbols like snakes, spiders and swans. These insignia are painstakingly hand rendered in enamel by a master enameller at Hatton Garden, working directly from the watercolors created by Hughes. “They are miniature versions of my artwork and I never cease to be amazed by the incredible and flawless detail captured in such a tiny space,” she said.
A quick scroll through their brand official Instagram page reveals a love for British folklore stories. “I think the natural landscape of Devon and my father’s career at sea inspired my fascination with mythical creatures and the mysteries of the deep,” explains the 27-year-old goldsmith, who studied art history at the University of Exeter. Her first step into the creative industry was as an intern in the antiques departments of Christie’s and Sotheby’s. “Unfortunately, it was all office work,” she said. “I wanted to be downstairs with all the artifacts. I found it frustrating.”
At the time, Hughes was suffering from what she describes as an “ingrained fear” unhelped by the pressures that come with finding a suitable career path. On a whim, she enrolled in a five-day jewelery making course at Hatton Garden. It turned out to be a life changing experience.
“Once you enter the world of jewelry at Hatton Garden, you embark on a journey of discovery,” she said. “You can learn from the best stone setters, the best engravers. It’s tiny and everyone knows everyone.” Hughes then studied jewelery design at the British Academy of Jewelery in Holborn for a year, although this was more theoretical than practical. She left with pain to start her own line of fine gold pieces. “What I’m doing now is actually really dreamy,” she said. “I spend a lot of time painting watercolors. Then I make the rings myself from my workbench. It’s very repetitive but at the same time so satisfying, especially when I have, say, ten signet rings to complete. Every process has to be perfect and precise. At the end you collect the gold dust. That in itself is amazing because it is a craft that has endured for centuries.”
So what fairytale ending does Hughes envision as she continues to build magical narratives through her collections? There’s a delightful horoscope collection, as well as many more bespoke commissions to keep them occupied, she said. But if big wishes are allowed, there would be more space: “My dream is a workshop with an angled appointment. I would have a beautiful velvet sofa for clients to sit on while we discuss their designs.”
Unlike unicorns or even enchanted lobsters and snakes, which are made impossibly small by the magic of enamelling, a studio with a sink sofa seems entirely achievable. Take a look at this section and hope for a cheerful selection of mermaid embroidered cushions.
https://www.theweek.co.uk/arts-life/fashion-jewellery/956256/cece-jewellery-interview-cece-fein-hughes Cece Jewellery: Interview with designer Cece Fein Hughes