Mary MacGill's Jewelry Is Inspired by the Colors of the Sea
Using only hand tools and a keen eye for color, this designer brings out the luminous beauty of each semiprecious stone she fashions into jewelry. Here's how she learned her craft, and turned it into her own kind of (beach) cottage industry.
Ethereal, organic, and one of a kind, Mary MacGill's pieces are like the striking beach pebbles you keep and display forever. And that's exactly what inspires them. "I'm drawn to the ocean," says the Katonah, New York, native, who spent childhood summers on Block Island, Rhode Island. "Seeing light through stone gives me a sense of calm, like watching the sun reflect on water." To translate that feeling into jewelry, MacGill works with baroque pearls—the irregular, asymmetrical kind—and rounded cuts of semitransparent stones like quartz, moonstone, and amber. She wraps or threads them with gossamer gold wire (finessed with small pliers and hammers) to create drop earrings, delicate cuffs, and more.
MacGill has two gorgeous collections: a classic one that uses gold-filled wire and a solid 14-karat one. Both are shown above.
MacGill learned the way of the wire from a master: the late Kazuko Oshima, a family friend known for binding oversize stone heart pendants in the material (she sold her work at Barneys New York). "She took me to tea at age 13, and said, 'Jewelers never tell their sources, but I'm going to let you in,'" says MacGill of her early mentor. Fast-forward to summer 2012. With two years designing at David Yurman and a stint in Living's own crafts department under her belt, MacGill heeded the urge to "just do this jewelry thing." She sold pieces at Block Island farmers' markets and the store where she'd worked summers as a teen, and mere months later realized her passion could be a career: "It seemed like everyone in town was asking me to make their Christmas gifts!"
Today, MacGill has studios in Germantown, New York, and on Block Island, and a staff of six. "It was a longtime dream of mine to have a store-slash-studio," MacGill says of the bright space in Germantown, New York, that she opened in 2017. Her seasonal Block Island outpost is a fraction of the size. "When I'm there, I use my original workshop: my parents' converted garage," she says with a laugh.
Her work is stocked in boutiques like Clic in New York City and Erica Tanov in Berkeley, California, as well as shops in France and Japan. "We're a family," she says of her tight crew. "In the summer, between shifts, we take a walk on the beach or a dip in the ocean."
MacGill, who has a degree in painting, has always loved experimenting with color. To make her larger pieces, she'll place stones like green tourmaline and sky-blue aquamarine side by side, and see how they complement each other: "Pairing and grouping them is like creating a mini composition."
Martha Stewart Living, April 2020