Fernando Jorge: ‘When Beyoncé bought my earrings, I went from being a designer to a brand’
We’ll send you a myFT Daily Digest email rounding up the latest Jewellery news every morning.
Establishing a successful international jewellery brand from scratch is not the easiest of tasks. But, when Brazilian-born Fernando Jorge set up his company in the UK in 2012, he did not expect his jewellery designs to become celebrity favourites in less than a decade.
His tactile, curvaceous jewels have been worn by Michelle Obama, Beyoncé, Angelina Jolie, Rihanna and Charlize Theron, to name a few. And, in the past 10 years, he has won prestigious awards, including four Design awards from the Couture jewellery show in Las Vegas and a Gem Award for Jewelry Design in 2019 from the Jewelers of America association.
Originally known more for his gold and gemstone jewels, it was Jorge’s Brilliant diamond collection that propelled him forward. “When Beyoncé spontaneously bought the Disco earrings in 2018,” says Jorge, “I felt I was moving from being a designer to becoming a brand.” This kind of high-profile endorsement helped him not only make a name for himself in London but also around the world, with his jewellery stocked by 40 retailers. Jorge opened a new showroom in Mayfair just a few months ago, leaving his former Shoreditch premises behind.
However, design is not all it takes to build a global brand. “Having the right retailers from the start was key in building credibility, as good design is not always enough,” says Jorge.
“Wholesale can be tricky and the demands are brutal but, when I set up my brand, I already had enough experience to know that. for this to work, my jewels had to be very desirable and stand out, yet well thought-out and easy to wear.”
The Mayfair showroom was a response to the demand for higher-priced diamond jewels — as well as clients seeking more valuable and bespoke pieces. Jorge’s website offers around 800 items — 400 designs and their variations — with prices ranging from nearly £750 to more than £50,000, and with private sales of higher value pieces of up to £700,000.
The US is the company’s dominant market, followed by the Middle East then the UK. Jorge reported 70 per cent year-on-year growth in 2021, and expects 40 per cent growth for 2022. His main wholesale and retail partners are luxury department stores Bergdorf Goodman and Harrods, as well as London-based MatchesFashion and Le Bon Marché in Paris.
“The consignment model works well when the fit is right and product sells, as the retailer provides the real estate, experienced sales people and a loyal customer base,” says Meeling Wong, founder of Meeling Wong Associates, a business consultancy for jewellers.
Though only in his early forties, Jorge already has 20 years of jewellery business experience. Thanks to an apprenticeship with a jewellery manufacturer in São Paulo, by the age of 22 Jorge was visiting Baselworld and other jewellery fairs. This was followed by a job at Carla Amorim, the design-led Brazilian jewellery house, as design assistant to Amorim herself. There, he immersed himself not just in developing designs but the world of retail, marketing and branding.
Jorge’s next move was a masters in jewellery design at London’s Central Saint Martins college in 2008. “I wanted to make jewellery that asked to be touched,” he says. “I didn’t realise that I was playing into the stereotype of Brazil by looking at jewellery in such a sensual way. It’s ironic that I had to come to London to get in touch with Brazil, and the MA polished my point of view.”
“What is remarkable about his work is the formal expression of sensuality using the vocabulary of jewellery in a very powerful way,” says Simon Fraser, who is the course director at CSM and taught Jorge. “It is in how he carves stones, the use of articulations and in his recent [high-end line of diamond] Brilliant jewels. They always have a backbone of sensuality, and that makes them wearable.”
The Brilliant range opened the door to a higher realm of jewellery. Though costing some 10 times as much as his usual designs, the first £48,000 Disco diamond earrings sold faster than any of his previous collections on their launch at the Vegas Couture show in 2017.
Fresh out of CSM, Jorge was able to act on opportunities. “I had a huge, unique advantage when I left CSM as I had already worked in the industry. The experience of seeing the commercial success of designs I had done for former employers gave me a blind confidence in my work. So, in my degree show, I decided to put all my money into making my jewels in gold.” The gamble paid off and he sold pieces from his degree show, with his first retailer being luxury shopping site CoutureLab.
Today, Jorge uses a workshop in São Paulo and another in Italy for diamond jewels. The operational side of his business is in the hands of his sisters, Renata and Paula, bringing his total number of staff to 19. While Jorge currently has full control of the company, he plans to formalise the partnership with his sisters by giving them shares.
As for the future, Jorge is working on collaborations with retailers, auction houses and exhibitions that will introduce his jewels to collectors at the top end of the jewellery world — where the boundaries blur between art, jewellery and investment.