Inspirational Woman: Annoushka Ducas MBE | British jewellery designer and founder of Links of London & Annoushka

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Annoushka Ducas is a British jewellery-designer, creative director & entrepreneur.

Over the last thirty years she has launched two incredibly successful jewellery brands: Links of London & Annoushka.

The founder and creative director of her eponymous jewellery brand, Annoushka grew up in London, later studying French language and civilization at the Sorbonne.

From Paris, she moved to Hong Kong in the late Eighties and began to work with local artisans, designing jewellery for herself and her friends and family.

Over the last thirty years she has launched two incredibly successful jewellery brands: Links of London & Annoushka.

Annoushka launched Links of London together with her husband John Ayton in 1990. She sold the business in 2006 and launched her eponymous luxury jewellery brand Annoushka in 2009. The brand now boasts two flagship stores in London – in Chelsea and South Molton Street – as well as concessions in Harrods, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols & Liberty.

Internationally, Annoushka has a concession in Saks Fifth Avenue and in March 2017 she launched her first stand-alone boutique in Hong Kong’s Mandarin Oriental.

In 2012, Annoushka was awarded Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) by Queen Elizabeth II for her services to British jewellery industry, which spans three decades and began with Links Of London.

She has been named Jewellery Designer of the Year, Gift Designer of the Year, Brand of the Year (twice), and she was short-listed for the Veuve Cliquot Businesswoman of the Year. Her jewellery has been worn by Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge to Rihanna and Gwyneth Paltrow.

She has also taken an active role in nurturing creative talent, initiating a very successful annual jewellery design project with students at Central St. Martin’s College of Art and Design and working alongside a small number of handpicked guest designers, mentoring them and exhibiting their collections at selected Annoushka stores.

She and John live in Chichester, Sussex and in London, with their four children, Marina, Oliver, Chloe and Oscar.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I have been designing jewellery for twenty five years and founded my eponymous jewellery brand, Annoushka, in 2009. Two years previously my husband and I had sold jewellery retailer Links of London and I was driving my family mad redesigning my garden over and over again. They all said get back to work and get a job!. Annoushka now has two flagship stores in London – in Chelsea and South Molton Street as well as a number of Annoushka concessions in UK department stores including Harrods, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and  Liberty, and internationally in SAKS Fifth Avenue and Hong Kong.

My mission is to design the most beautiful precious jewellery which is colourful, fun and treasured: most of all I want to empower women and give them confidence through the jewellery they wear.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I have a more intuitive approach to jewellery design with no formal training but by now a lot of experience. I fell into the jewellery world completely by accident when I was in my early twenties. I was working in Hong Kong at the time and my mother, who had a fish supply business, asked me to come up with an idea for a Christmas present for the chefs she worked with. I designed some fish cufflinks – half of which we gave to the chefs and the other half of which I took to Harvey Nichols on my lunch break. They agreed to stock them as long as I designed a full collection and that’s how my career was launched! I sold Links in 2007 because I wanted to spend more time with my children but I soon realised that I couldn’t give up jewellery design and eighteen months later I was back to designing jewellery under my own name. Designing jewellery feels so natural to me and I really couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

After creating the incredibly successful Links of London with your husband, what inspired you to ‘start it all again’ with your Annoushka brand?

I had always designed jewellery for myself after selling Links and after about a year I went back to work in a much simpler way, essentially designing jewellery for myself and my friends. I wanted to create jewellery that my friends and I actually wanted to wear and I felt like there was (and still is) a real gap in the market for beautiful, design-led jewellery which tells a story.

Have you faced any challenges along the way? How did you deal with them?

When I started Annoushka in 2009 I had determined that I would only sell direct to my clients through my own shops, concessions or online but not through wholesale. The biggest challenge for me was to design an entire jewellery collection to fill an Annoushka store or concession. It took my team and I over a year to do this: I had to persuade the department stores to open Annoushka concessions when I didn’t have anything to show them at that point!

It’s always challenging juggling a family with running your own business but I have been incredibly lucky to have had the support from my husband and business partner John from the start – we are able to share work and life between us.

Do you have a typical workday? How does you start your day and how does it end?

I am an early riser and passionate about flowers – so many of my mornings start at the Covent Garden Flower Market: I love the vibrant colours and heady scent of the flowers, not to mention the banter between the flower sellers. From here I’ll head straight to my studio, which is based in my Cadogan Gardens in Chelsea.

I have an awesome team, some of whom I have worked with for many years and all of whom are extraordinarily talented, creative people. No day is ever the same at Annoushka: I might be hosting one of my Inspirational Women’s Lunches, meeting with my design team to discuss an upcoming collection or discussing the launch of a new boutique with the marketing team.

Being a British owned company, how do you think your business will navigate Brexit?

My client base is international and they are used to navigating currency issues. We deliver duty paid to the US and we will do the same within Europe (if it comes to this) so that our customers don’t see any difference in the level of service they receive from us.

I am however most worried about the wonderful staff that we employ from continental Europe. I think Brexit sends a terrible message to these hardworking and loyal Europeans who have chosen to make their home here.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you ever had a mentor or do you mentor anyone?

 Few women today have a strong female role model or mentor who can guide them in the early days. I was lucky to have my mother to inspire me as well as my husband who has remained by business partner to this day. I have always loved mentoring designers at Central Saint Martins School of Design, helping them bridge the gulf between creativity and commercial success. I set up my Inspirational Women’s programme in 2012 to acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of women in business, as well as providing a forum for women to network and impart their own pearls of wisdom.

We support a wonderful microfinance programme run by Give a Future for women in Addis Ababa which has made loans to over one thousand microbusinesses in the last three years.It offers very poor women advice and mentoring and helps them support their families.I am very proud of this and will again be visiting the project later this month with my family. I feel  very strongly about the importance of supporting women in the workplace and this charity is very close to my heart.

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?

I would make it much easier for women to re-enter the workplace after they take career breaks for children – offering employers incentives to take on these women. It is such a wasted resource.

Do you have any tips or advice for any budding female entrepreneurs?

Women should be careful not to dismiss their talents or passions as simply that – whilst holding onto jobs that do not leave them fulfilled – and be more prepared to act on instinct. One of the most important lessons I have learnt from my years in business is that nothing is possible without hard work. Women today are often juggling family, children and work and this is one of the challenges we face daily. However, as a mother of four children, I know the importance of having a support system, but also being able to be self-reliant.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I get huge pleasure from the achievements of my four children who are aged from 16 to 23. My eldest Marina has recently set up with a friend an accessories business London Velvet – a chip off the old block!

What are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I am looking forward to seeing my children grow up and achieve as much satisfaction in their work and home lives as I have been lucky enough to have.

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