India has a special pull on her. Flora’s ancestors travelled to the country to trade for the East India Company. The exotic and mystical landscapes and the travelogues impelled her to dig into India’s rich history. The mythological stories and references to Hindu goddesses further helped her to create collections that were enshrined in gold and gemstones.
There is a distinct crossover of cultural influences in Flora’s unique compositions that dextrously team technology and traditional techniques to create future heirlooms.
Tell us a little more about yourself and your link to Asia.
My family links to India go back to the 18th century. In the 1770s, four of my ancestors left Ireland to work and trade for the East India Company. Two went to Malaysia and two to India. They eventually established their own trading company with links to India.
As my connection to India is so far back in the roots of my family – this wasn’t something that I grew up consciously aware of. I only came to really understand those links when I went to Central Saint Martins. There we were encouraged to look into our family history and our personal passions. My husband is half Indian, so he was interested to understand the history of migration in both our families.
While I was investigating my family background, I discovered a collection of Mughal coins that was donated to the British Museum by my ancestors. I was invited into the archives to see the coins – and this became the starting point for my first collections. This link carried on through to the present day and my cousins had roles in the foreign office as commissioner of the British Indian Ocean Territory, and at the British Council as director general for South Asia.
You have been influenced by jewellery and its designs since childhood. What role has it played in your life and in shaping your aesthetics?
I think that the influences you experience as a child really form your aesthetic later on. My mother wore Tibetan and Indian jewellery and our house was full of Persian carpets and rich colour – this must have subconsciously influenced me. I was also influenced by the homes of my great-aunt and my grandmother – both of whom had amazing art deco furnishings in their houses.
As a child on a travel tour, you received a carved ancient bird from Taxila. Was it a piece of jewellery?
When I was in India as a child, I visited the archaeological site at Taxila with my parents. While there, one of the excavators gave me a tiny ancient carved carnelian bird from the dig. It must have originally been a pendant or charm. I think it was very unusual to see a small Western child there in the ’70s. I still have that carved bird, and it became the start of my love of jewellery, and particularly my love for carved gemstones.
History and mythology play a major role in inspiring you to connect two cultures. Your comments.
My mother actually taught fashion history at one point – but I originally took a history degree before deciding to study jewellery! I’ve always loved history and the stories and myths within cultures, so this has just naturally fed into my design. My designs celebrate women so I’m naturally drawn towards tales of strong women. I am hugely interested in the way that cultures can overlap and influence each other – just as they have in my experience. My husband’s family were of Hindu origin – so I’ve drawn on Hindu mythology and female goddesses for some of my designs.
One can see the use of carved gemstones in your work. Do you have a specialised lapidary and do you carve your own stones?
When I first began making jewellery, I was lucky to meet Charlotte de Syllas, who is an extremely skilled stone carver and designer with works in the Victoria and Albert Museum. I worked with her, and that consolidated my love of stone. I now use a specialist master lapidary in the UK to cut all of my stones. They cut stones to match the waxes that I produce and each stone is cut specifically for the piece.
Most of your collections are floral, but presented with a unique interpretation. They are more geometric with uniquely cut gemstones. Are flowers your favourite theme?
I do love flowers – I am called Flora after all! I am naturally drawn to flowers in my design – but I don’t like them to be too ‘pretty’. I try to use the underlying geometry within flowers because that prevents them from seeming very ‘natural’ and draws out the pattern. I love the idea of dark, overblown and slightly decadent flowers which have a strength or underlying power.
Which metal do you mostly work with, and any gemstones that you prefer over others?
I mostly work with 18-karat gold. If you are a jewellery maker, it is a lovely metal to work with! I am particularly partial to smoky quartz. It takes me back to my great-aunt’s art deco objects – made of smoky brown glass. One of my favourite designers, Suzanne Belperron, used smoky quartz in the most beautiful way and I’m constantly inspired by her work.
We would like to know your process of creation.
I draw a lot and I make mood boards of ideas. That is how I start to originate a thought. Once I have a possible design, I carve many models in wax in order to test the designs and adjust elements prior to going into metal.
What are your best-selling jewellery pieces?
My best-selling range is the Taxila collection. It has modernity but it is also classic and easy to wear. The Spiked Hoop diamond earrings and the Lakshmi and Yakshini rings are particularly popular.
Tell us about your other hobbies.
I love to swim and – of course – to hang out with my kids! Swimming takes me completely away from design and work – and I often come up with an idea when my mind is completely freed from the studio.