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Meet jewellery designer Alex Monroe

15 April 2024

Meet the Locals

How does a down-to-earth nature lover in baggy jeans and patched-up jacket end up making jewellery worn by Hollywood A-listers and the Princess of Wales?

How do you move from a wild bohemian childhood to a network of urban workshops in central London?

Comfort with contrasts has made Alex Monroe one of the UK's most loved jewellers.

Like the time he accidentally got stuck in the glass box atrium at American Vogue.

"The receptionists just watched me," he explains, mimicking a 'trapped' mime artist.

Like thousands of others, the fashion bible had fallen in love with his collections inspired by the British countryside and gardens. In his Snowsfields boutique, bumblebees hang from delicate chains, while silver chard leaves wrap into unique rings.

Alex's story starts a long way from swanky magazines with a (his words) feral childhood spent roaming the Suffolk countryside with his siblings and the children of the South American refugees his parents sporadically homed.

It sounds idyllic, but 1970s rural Britain could be cruel to a creative child sporting a pink mohair jumper and, occasionally, his sister's makeup.

"People just wanted to fight me. I wasn't a tough guy but I was good at making things, so I would make weapons – think Just William rather than anything serious," he says.

Ironically, it took a move to a big city, London, to create jewellery inspired by natural beauty.

After finishing a jewellery-making degree, he peddled his designs to King's Road boutiques. The £60 from his first sale went straight back into the business.

London Fashion Week soon invited him to exhibit, where his quirky British aesthetic caught the eye of Japanese buyers. 

Sales exploded, and today his eponymous brand comprises a team of 50 who operate from four London locations and sell through 200 shops in the UK, including John Lewis and Liberty. Its television and film department has dressed characters from Dot Cotton to Dr Who.

Alex set out to create affordable pieces within the reach of a primary school teacher or receptionist. The brand also creates bespoke designs, including engagement rings.

His team is skilled at gently talking down young men who have "done their research" and want the "best diamond" for their bride-to-be.

"Diamond engagement rings and the pressure to spend a month's salary are the making of a 1940s De Beers campaign," Alex says, "Our job is to unfool them and help them choose a piece that really means something."

"Diamond engagement rings and the pressure to spend a month's salary are the making of a 1940s De Beers campaign, our job is to unfool them and help them choose a piece that really means something."

Married with three daughters, Alex's affinity with women is evident on his podcast, This is a Token, which has featured Olivia Colman and model Erin O'Connor.

Men in suits, less so. At a reunion for his all-boys school, the jeweller was asked what he really did for a living.

An apologetic message arrived the next day: his inquisitor's daughter, a big fan of the brand, had set him straight. Alex Monroe 1, Suffolk bullies 0.

He is happiest when he spots his work in the wild. He describes attending a Grayson Perry private view where he didn't know anyone and spent the evening alone.

"It was so embarrassing. I escaped to the tube, and there was a radiant young woman wearing one of our dragonfly necklaces. She looked like she was going on a date, and I imagined it was the last thing she put on to complete the picture.

"That moment was more important than socialising with the great and good at the V&A.'

Alex’s collaborations often have a charity or environmental element. Recently, he partnered with Shangri-La The Shard, London, on a bee-themed afternoon tea. Alongside the hotel's signature bee pastry using local honey, it is raising funds for Bees for Development.

"We do a lot with The Shard; they're our neighbours," Alex says.

He has made peace with his childhood county and plans to open a farm near the coast. The to-be-named destination will include accommodation, artists' education, and a workshop.

From Suffolk to skyscrapers and back again, his journey is complete.

Explore the neighbourhood – Alex's guide

Bowl of Chalk, London Walking Tours

This area has so much fantastically interesting history. I did a walking tour with Jonnie from Bowl of Chalk. You learn all sorts of things, like the South Bank bollards are uniquely shaped because they used to be repurposed from canons.

Casse Croûte 109, Bermondsey Street, SE1 3XB

A delightful independent French Bistro. Unlike the big chain places, the food's great and has a lot of character. I usually ask them what's good and have that. One of the reasons I chose this area was because I like good food, and you could pick anywhere on Bermondsey Street.

The Old Operating Theatre and Herb Garret, St Thomas' Church, 9a St Thomas Street, SE1 9RY

A perfectly preserved 1822 operating theatre hidden in a church attic. It's metres from The Shard, but no one knows about it. The artefacts in the Herb Garret are a visual feast, and the museum offers excellent evening talks about the history of medicine. We went to one on Halloween, where they re-enacted an operation.

Visit the Alex Monroe store at 37 Snowsfields, London SE1 3SU



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