Margot McKinney (b.????) has often said, “I have never really been one to see the world in black and white.” As Australia’s leading luxury jewelry designer, this statement does not really prepare the uninitiated for the colorful exuberance of Margot’s jewels as well as her ability to create with pearls that offer jewels that are incredibly opulent and very modern.
Based in Brisbane, Australia, Margot McKinney hails from a long family tradition of luxury retail, dating back to 1884. This heritage is evident in the pristine craftsmanship of her one-of-a-kind statement pieces. Margot’s pieces have become a coveted staple in the wardrobes of many public figures, including influential people in the worlds of business and politics along with A-list Hollywood stars. Her jewels have graced red carpets at the Academy Awards as well as Cannes and Monaco where they have been worn by many celebrities.
The McKinney brand originally started in Toowoomba, Queensland. Her great-great grandfather, John McKinney, arrived from Ireland intent on establishing his own business. What originally began as a humble barbershop was expanded by his son to become a small giftware and accessories shop.
By the time Margot was born, it was a regional department store, selling everything from toys, sporting goods, women’s fashions, furniture, and guns. The store also sold fine china, crystal and silverware but it was not until her grandfather, Kenneth McKinney, became involved that the store began selling jewelry.
McKinney is now a fourth-generation jeweler whose creations are inspired by her love of travel and the vivid colors she encounters on her exotic adventures. She often incorporates gems native to Australia, including opals and South Sea pearls, combining them with colored stones to create bold statement pieces, each of which tells a story. She draws real pleasure from seeing women wearing her jewelry, and many of her customers become collectors of these wearable works of art.
In Margot’s world, the soft grey luster of a perfect Tahitian pearl is surrounded by an explosion of jungle green and sea blue sapphires, peridots and diamonds. A meringue-white baroque pearl adds a cool calm to a warm palette of glossy mandarin garnets, raspberry-pink sapphires and cherry-red rubellite.
Creamy South Sea pearl drops are capped with cones dusted in pastel pink and yellow sapphires. Ropes of outsized baroque pearls grow to extreme lengths, skimming the entire body and sitting alongside golden, irregular-shaped beads encrusted with vibrant and bright gemstones. And all that occurs in just one piece, her Tahitian pearl cocktail ring.
In an April 2019 article that appeared in the online site, Paper City, it said, “Famed Australian jewelry designer Margot McKinney is wowing the highly-critical Best Dressed luncheon crowd with her jaw-dropping necklace that has all but the most jaded observers swooning … She has brought a cache of her colorful jewels to Houston’s Post Oak Hotel for the Best Dressed honorees to wear while enjoying their minutes of fame on the catwalk.
“But none can match the extraordinary confection of Australian Lightening Ridge opals and diamonds around her neck. It is McKinney’s latest creation, dubbed the Constellation, in a treasure trove of jewels created largely around Australian South Sea pearls and Australian opals. [She] is in Houston … as the guest of Neiman Marcus, fashion sponsor of the luncheon, and she will be meeting with collectors at the Galleria store...
“My collectors are women who are really confident of their own style. They’re not women who are slaves to a brand. They know who they are,” she said. “They’re really confident in what they like and they are very appreciative and understanding of fine gems and fine craftsmanship.”
It does takes a self-confident woman to wear some of McKinney’s pieces that range from the mighty to the delicate and include rainbows of colored gemstones as well as the subtle hues of South Sea pearls.
“I like to think that when someone is wearing my jewelry and she walks into a room, she feels fabulous. She makes heads turn,” McKinney added.
McKinney admits that she has been infatuated with Australia’s pearl industry for decades since first meeting Aji Ellies, Australia’s only independent pearl farmer. Her first trip from her home in Brisbane to the remote outpost on the northern coast of Australia required two airplane trips, a helicopter ride, and a boat ride to reach the farm. She stayed five days on that visit and has been making returns for the pearl harvest every year since.
“I watch as each pearl comes out of the oyster. I choose every pearl,” she says. “I just can’t help myself. They’re just so beautiful. And I can design whatever my heart desires because I have the most beautiful pearls to work with.”
This intimate link to the very source of her material gives Margot a unique sympathy when designing with pearls. And Margot’s pearls come in all shapes, sizes and colors, from majestic baroques to mirror-smooth South Seas, coppery pinks and iridescent black Tahitians. Beauty is not standard and irregular forms are given their own nicknames. These include “snowmen” – plump, double-orbed white keshi pearls – and “rice crispies”, which are nubby, white and flat.
Among McKinney’s most notable creations are: her Tahitian pearl cocktail ring, accented by a halo of multi-colored sapphires, tsavorites, peridot and diamonds. Her Floral pearl pendant is enhanced with mandarin garnet, multi-colored sapphires and diamonds, with a baroque South Sea pearl drop.
Other outstanding pieces include a natural color pink pearl strand accented with her signature multi-colored gemstone planets and rondelles ($95,000), a magnificent Burmese spinel and diamond pendant suspended from natural color pink pearls with a pink pearl drop ($850,000), the Margot McKinney Kiss earrings with black and white diamonds and detachable Australian South Sea pearl drops ($39,950), and her celebrated Exotic Abundance collection that showcases the unique textures and vibrant colors found in the natural world.
In 2011 Margot received the Prix de Marie Claire as Australia's Best Fine Jeweler, and the Haute Joallerie Award in 2009 at the International Opal Design Awards.
Wearable art is how her avid collectors often describe the dramatic statement pieces even as they mix styles and colors – as in the Toi & Moi-style mismatched earrings – or by layering for a look of abundance.
Each piece honors the natural riches of Australia for which Margot has gone on to become an ambassador for the Australian pearl.
Her flagship store in Brisbane’s The Emporium is a candy store of glittering necklaces, earrings and bracelets. Collectors and others interested in Margot’s creations will also find her jewelry stocked in Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf’s, and in many independent retailers across the USA.