Jewellery designers Michelle Oh and Rachel Boston have an enviable dynamic. The two started sharing studio spaces, in Hatton Garden and then in Hackney, shortly after they completed the BA in Jewellery Design at Central Saint Martins in 2011. They have now graduated to a brand new endeavour – their very own shop, Oh | Boston.
The aptly named boutique just off Brick Lane is a manifestation of how the two designers work in a balanced, supportive and energised fashion. “Even though our jewellery is so different, we have very similar taste in everything else. We really appreciate each other’s jewellery aesthetic but design totally differently. We worked well together in the workshops and we could stand being together for 24 hours a day,” Rachel jokes. “We also knew that aesthetically we had a really similar vision of what we wanted.”
This is the first time the designers have collaborated in such a way but it seems to make perfect sense. Throughout our time together, the two lovingly pass the torch back and forth and pick up just where the other has left off, creating a continuous flow of ideas and thoughts.
“We’re so different, but in a way, we complete each other,” Michelle says.
“Oh, Michelle! You’re so romantic!”
“It’s true. Rachel’s more technical, she’s quite a perfectionist. I’m more interested in seeing how things develop. I’m the more spontaneous one, but it’s great to have Rachel be like ‘No, no, no, you should think about this!’ I don’t think we would have gotten here, if that hadn’t been obvious from the start. In a lot of ways, we help each other because of that.”
“Our designs are still very different. Michelle’s are very handmade and organic and then mine are geometric and more precise…what I find interesting is that we use similar materials but the result is so different.”
The output of their new collaboration is harmonious and their support for one another is more than obvious. “Having someone else’s ideas who you appreciate and trust and respect – having that dialogue has been super helpful,” Rachel admits.
When Oh | Boston was conceived, she and Michelle wanted it to be a space to showcase not only their own work, but the work of fellow designers and makers. Michelle explains, “quite a lot of the brands that we have here are people who we know personally.”
“I think the shop is like an escape from our own holes,” she jokes.
Rachel adds, “It’s nice to talk about other people’s jewellery. We’ve spent five years talking about our own brands and explaining our own things, so it’s nice to be passionate about someone else’s work. And we can wear other people’s work now. If someone asks you if what you’re wearing is yours and you say, ‘Oh, no,’ it always requires an explanation, but now it’s like, ‘Oh, yes and we stock it at Oh | Boston!’
But their support for their fellow craftspeople goes beyond the buck. “I think we’ve kind of gone mad with the ceramics” Michelle admits. “When we were looking, we just didn’t think that everyone we spoke to would say yes to being a part of our shop. When everybody came back to us and said yes, we said, ‘OK, we’ll have you all!’ Because how can you choose? … These are the kinds of makers that we love. You can tell they just make things because they love them.”
For these designers, it’s all about pace and sentiment, not trends. Rachel explains,“I like that everything here is thoughtful and beautiful. You wouldn’t throw that mug away because it’s out of style.”
Michelle adds, “it’s not seasonal as well. Things here are made to last.”
“For ages, we were toying with this slogan, ‘Choose well, buy less’, because we’d rather people make a considered purchase here, which is maybe a little bit more expensive than going to Ikea, but this is something that is going to last you longer,” says Rachel.
Everything in the shop has been considered, from the marble-laden display cases, to the calming, soft pink tone of the walls to the flowers and plants that decorate the shelves and that goes perfectly with their new brand’s ethos. The work in Oh | Boston speaks for itself and the environment objectively showcases all of the designs.
Michelle thinks “a big struggle for most makers that we’ve talked to is getting your work out there and seen by more people than just the small circle of your friends and colleagues. That’s why we were surprised, but pleasantly surprised that a lot of people said yes to stocking with us. I think it’s because its a nice location, it’s a nice shop, if it’s going to mean that more people, even just passing by will see their work, then that already connects them to more people than just having their own website or something. It’s important to just get the stuff out there and have people interact with it.”
For shoppers, buying jewellery online can be just as challenging, as selling it can be for makers. But Michelle, who has been selling mostly online for the past five years sheds some light on what to look for.
“Just make sure you see the photos properly and check if there’s any information about scale. When it’s on the hand or on the body, you should notice the size in relation to where it is. Stud earrings are normally very small in person. If you’re just looking at the product photo, sometimes people might feel a bit let down when they get the actual product and it’s really small.”
A must, she says, is to have your ring sized measured in person before making a purchase online. “Unless you know your ring size or have been told it before, it’s kind of hit and miss if you use those online ring size guides. I always say, don’t measure your finger with paper or string or anything like that because the result you get is the wrong size and if you’re getting something made to order, then it’s important to get the right size. Nowadays people are quite savvy about shopping online, but don’t be afraid to ask the retailer if you have questions.”
Rachel adds, importantly, “And always pay attention to what the jeweller recommends for aftercare.” She says, “people don’t think that you have to take care of jewellery, and then as the jeweller you’ll suddenly get an email like, ‘why is this tarnishing?’ And it will be because they’ve kept it in their bathroom, and it’s oxidised and it’s losing its plating, or they wear it in the shower and wear it to sleep. You have to take care of jewellery just like anything else.”
And the same goes for choosing your jewellery. “if you’re buying jewellery,” Michelle says, “especially engagement and wedding rings, don’t just buy something because it looks pretty. You need to think about the practicalities of that particular ring. This is something that you’ll be wearing every day so you need to be honest about the kind of person you are. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t ever want to take your ring off, but you go mountain climbing and are very active, then a delicate ring with a really thin band or something that sticks out is not going to be the best option, even if that might seem appealing to you. That’s why our bespoke service is really good. When we sit down with someone, we figure out not only aesthetically what would be best for them but would fit into their lifestyle.”
Choosing your jewellery should also just be natural. “I think its just a natural pull,” Rachel explains. “Just choose what you connect with and don’t be too focused on trends.”
“Exactly. I think that’s the thing. No more trends.” Michelle laughs. “But its also just a very instinctive reaction. You know whether you like something or not, but then usually it comes from a sentimental place.
And when times get tough for the designers, “I had a mantra and I had it in the old studio on a poster,” Michelle says. “It was an Anthony Burrill poster that said ‘Work hard and be nice to people’. We deal with everything ourselves, from the initial enquiry, all the follow-ups, all the making and sending. And not everything goes smoothly. Sometimes, things can go wrong and you have to deal with not-so-happy people … but I think it’s true that happy customers breed more happy customers, so if there is an unhappy customer, it’s in my interest to make sure that we work it out. I also believe that even if something goes wrong, it matters how you deal with the situation more so than what’s already happened. So that’s how I keep going.”
Rachel adds, “There’s this quote I’ve always liked by Maya Angelou which is, ‘Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.’ We graduated and then started our own brands straight away. Yes, I interned during school and had other jobs, but immediately going into starting your own business and learning everything as you go along, and make mistakes along the way, you just do the best you can and keep improving, keep evolving and hopefully you’ll end up somewhere better than you thought you’d end up.”
And that’s exactly where they are today. Oh | Boston is open Thursday – Sunday and private appointments are available Monday-Wednesday.