Jewelry by Alex Monroe – Handmade in the UK

 

 

His name stands for his jewelry. Jewelry that is distributed globally by hundreds of large retailers and little shops, that regularly adorns the covers of “Harper’s Bazaar” and “Vogue,” and that counts the likes of Sienna Miller, Emma Watson or Carey Mulligan among its devoted fans. All the same – or maybe that’s why – personal information about Alex Monroe is hard to come by, despite nearly twenty million hits on Google.

His career is impressive, to say the least: for almost 25 years, Alex Monroe has worked as a jewelry designer. He started with nothing, yet today his creations are sold all over the world and never miss a major fashion show. And business is even better now that his jewelry is available online. One of the signature elements of Monroe’s jewelry is that every piece is handmade in the United Kingdom. “At first I did it all by myself. Now I just don’t have the time to do all the manufacturing, but I did use to quite enjoy that,” Alex recalls and pats his unloved moustache that – he’s quick to explain – he is only sprouting for “Movember” to raise awareness and funds for prostate cancer. “Today I only make the original pieces,” he continues. Understandably, as next to production, matters such as sales and the international distribution have to be dealt with as well. He could most likely find an easier way, but Monroe has his principles.

If a piece breaks or needs to be altered, the customer can bring it back and we'll fix it. We know how to do it – after all we made it in the first place.

“Obviously I could manufacture in China, it’s cheaper and really good quality. And if you sell it, you can earn good money,” he says. “But, what you can’t do is change things once the order is out.” Which is why he prefers to produce everything within a stone’s throw of his business address. His offices, not far from London Bridge, include a production site and there is another workshop in Kensington, where approximately 10 employees ply their fine handicraft. “In addition, handmade in the UK has a special ring to it,” Monroe points out. “And a further advantage is that clients – including the occasional panic-stricken husband who shows up on our doorstep a day before his wedding anniversary – can come directly to the workshop and we cater to their wishes right there and then.

Alex Monroe’s collections are famous for being inspired by nature. Possibly a bee that buzzes by him at his cottage in the country or a beautiful feather found lying on the ground. Even his young daughter’s bicycle has served as a model for a new design. “There is no place abroad that especially inspires me for my work,” Alex reveals. “It would never occur to me to make, say, an Egyptian collection and travel to Cairo for ideas. What I make is essentially very British: it’s inspired by our nature and countryside, by the plants and flowers that grow here.” Despite all the playfulness and love for detail that his jewelry reveals, Alex’s business strategy is consummately systematic. His collections evolve according to concise analyses of previous developments that leave no room for fantasies and daydreams. “I look at my existing collections and think about what can be improved and try to make that happen,” he says. When asked if he has role models, he says he doesn’t really look up to anyone in the trade. “I respect everyone who tries to earn a living in this business, but few of the big names are really inspirational.” Rather than looking to a famous name for creative ideas, he would probably find visiting a degree show at an art college more inspiring. “Yet, quite often, when someone comes out with a brand, things get watered down a bit. But that’s probably just the way it is,” he muses. “I find it very hard to say who I really look up to. I’m kind of stuck in my own little world, doing my own little thing.”

I think you have a certain personality from the beginning, determining whether you choose to throw yourself into something or sit around and watch television all day.

There were no role models in Alex’s early career, either. Nor can he define the exact moment when he realized that jewelry making was what he wanted to do to earn his livelihood. “I wasn’t at school very much, and I didn’t do a lot with my parents or grand- parents. I just used to do things on my own. Of course, I have my brother and we both work hard to get somewhere,” he tells us. “Maybe it’s the lack of people that actually influenced me to do things my way. At some point you realize you have a choice to either do something with your life, or just sit back.” He takes a swallow of coffee and looks out the window before continuing, “Some people are quite happy doing nothing.” And he affectionately talks about his father, who, with a bottle of beer in reaching distance and a book to read, saw no reason to get out of his arm- chair anymore. “I think you have a certain personality from the beginning, determining whether you choose to throw yourself into something or sit around and watch television all day.” And that there’s neither a right nor a wrong is a given for Alex: “In the end, everybody should just do as they like.” Equally pragmatic, he goes on to describe his success: “If you have to work from an early age, as I did, you automatically develop ambition.” As a student he was happy to go with the flow, life just happened. “If you were a bit rubbish at everything, you were no good at sports, you ended up in the art room. Certainly it was like that at my school.” When he was finished he wanted to “do something with fashion,” but wasn’t accepted to any programs and instead ended up working in a badly paid job and living in the country.

“That was not at all what I wanted – I hated it,” he recalls, making a face. And so he went to London and started making jewelry. “I’d always been good with my hands and was interested in fashion, so this seemed quite an obvious move,” he grins. “It wasn’t a well-thought-out route. But I like it now.” This is one of the reasons there are no plans for Alex Monroe, either man or brand, to change from the course they are on. Ideally, everything should stay as it is now because, as Monroe puts it, his work is not a vehicle to achieve a better life; this is his life. “If I wanted to do something else, I would just do something else. But this, here and now, is what I want to do: be a jewelry designer. In fact, I think it’s more of a challenge to continue to do something well over a lifetime than to do something well for a short time and then expand to make more money.” Speaks, smiles and gives his moustache another pat.

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