There is a very significant dynasty emerging in the jewellery world, and one part of it can be seen on Chalcot Road, in the shop with the discreetly elegant sign for ‘Zoe & Morgan’. Here, Ruth Sibbald runs the UK arm of Zoe &Morgan. She travels to meet with her brother Morgan and sister Zoe in Bali, Thailand, New Zealand, or some other part of the world, recharging the imaginative batteries, designing the next collection, and living the free-spirited family life that is the legacy of their father: Douglas Sibbald, the Silver Fox. “Our father was a gentle soul, a remarkable man. He came from a noble Argentinian family of Scottish heritage. He was interested in people and making beautiful things.
Born in 1929, Douglas left Argentina in his twenties to travel and study
jewellery in Germany. He loved sailing and his idea of a job was one that you could put in a little box and take with you.”It isn’t as simple as that, but Douglas Sibbald took his skills with him, and a jeweller’s toolkit is relatively simple. So wherever he was he could work, making the beautiful things he loved. After many years of travel he came to England and met his wife Anna.
“Our Mum is a very creative person. She follows the Tibetan Buddhist way of life, raised us on a vegetarian organic diet and sent us to a Steiner school in Auckland. She was always making things with us. Both our parents had endless time for us. They loved to teach us about different cultures. They were open to different ways of living. They wanted us to be free spirits, enquiring and thinking creatively. We spent hours in the workshop watching the process of jewellery making from start to finish.”
The journey from Stroud in the Cotswolds to New Zealand was no ordinary one. The family sailed via Panama, Jamaica and Tahiti. Settling in Auckland, Douglas opened his Jewellery workshop, called Moonbird. A few years later they travelled again, to visit England via Japan and India, all the time studying and collecting gems and textiles. This trip was an inspiring one for the children, opening their young eyes and minds to many different cultures and ways of life.
Once the three siblings had grown up, they set off on their own travels, developing their different careers: Morgan worked in the music industry, Ruth went into modelling and Zoe became a milliner. As Ruth describes: “We were never officially trained in jewellery, but we spent hours in our dad’s workshop, watching the process of jewellery being made, and making our own designs. We all initially developed different careers though. Zoe was working for the milliner Rachel Skinner, who had a shop on Princess Road. She was living in a flat on Gloucester Avenue, making jewellery in the evenings. Her work became so popular that it eventually took over from the day job. Morgan was in Bali developing his interest in gems and jewellery. I had just completed a business degree in New Zealand, so ten years ago we decided to combine our skills and I joined Zoe in Primrose Hill.
Morgan is in many ways like our father. He has a very particular eye for detail, and he deals with all the production. He finds the gemstones and makes beautiful designs inspired by them. Morgan is very creative, and there’s a freedom in his creativity that’s unique. Zoe is the spearhead of the brand. She possesses the rare combination of creativity and acute business sense. Living now with her husband and children back in New Zealand, where she has built Zoe and Morgan into one of the country’s most recognised brands, Zoe has refined a balanced lifestyle of work and family. We communicate almost daily by telephone and email, and two or three times a year we meet somewhere in the world for creative design sessions where we work on the next collection.
“We design and produce a new collection twice a year. Sometimes we have too many ideas, but we refine them to a point where the collection feels complete. We will have a theme, usually derived from our travels. For example, one collection was based on
what we saw in Morocco, using tiny details, perhaps a doorway or an archway. We had one collection based on the birds of New Zealand, but we did not intrude on the Maori culture. New Zealanders are incredibly proud of their Maori heritage so we try to be respectful. It is not our culture so we would not intrude, but we are inspired by it.
“The engagement and wedding collection was launched last year and has brought a new side to the business. Working with diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and other precious stones, we love being a part of our couples’ love stories, making such special rings that will always be treasured. I work closely with our UK customers, designing unique pieces, and I really love this aspect of the business.”
So what is the attraction of jewellery? “After ten years we are much sought after. We have an established and growing following in New Zealand. Until recently we used to be at the Paris and London fashion shows, but we think we have outgrown that approach. Now it’s word of mouth, it’s more organic. People will give our pieces as gifts, and the person who receives it often becomes a fan of the brand. We are increasingly doing bespoke work for clients, and these pieces range in price from £1,000 to £25,000. But ordinarily our pricing ranges from £100 to £1,000. Our customers buy jewellery because they love it, and it is something they will keep for life, and perhaps even pass on to their children. There are love stories around jewellery, and not just with engagement rings. Somebody might have an inheritance from their grandmother and use it to buy a piece that will keep her memory alive. For me, what I do is all-consuming; I love jewellery; I love working with stones (sapphires are my favourite). It’s a lifestyle; I love spending time with my family; it is a lovely way to live.”
The Mole on the Hill