At work with Michelle Oh
by Stephanie Hannington-Suen·
We visited Michelle Oh, a creator of timeless jewellery who has long inspired us. Her refined designs transcend modern day fast fashion, embodying personality and meaning. We met her at her welcoming East London showroom and discussed her business, her inspirations and finding balance with home and work life.
Tell us a bit about yourselves, your background and what led you to start your business?
At Michelle Oh jewellery we specialise in creating bespoke engagement and wedding rings. In addition to the usual precious materials (ie. gold, platinum, diamonds) we love using natural gemstones with unusual cuts and colours. My background has always been in jewellery design, I came here to the UK in 2006 to study it and basically never left!
I initially opened a small Etsy shop while I was still in university, so back around 2010. While doing that I noticed that there was a need for customisable bespoke engagement and wedding rings that may not typically fit into the standard offering of what's currently available on the highstreets. I then started focusing my offering to cater to that market and have been fortunate enough to sustain and grow the company to what it is now.
Describe your business in 5 words.
Small, Local, Personal, Meaningful, Considerate.
Do you have any advice for anyone trying to start something of their own?
Do it! But if you do make the jump, know that it is going to be a full time 24/7 commitment and it will be like that for some time before it grows enough to allow you to have help.
Timelessness and refined design are at the forefront of your brand, what is it about it that inspires you?
I’m drawn to both modern and old things and I love trying to create pieces that intersect and can exist in both worlds. What is it about something that makes you feel both nostalgic and also look forward to the future at the same time? For me that is what timelessness is, and I think engagement rings are the perfect vessel for it.
Have you got any exciting plans lined up for Michelle Oh?
We have been slowly but steadily making a growing capsule of gift pieces, such as necklaces, earrings and bracelets, to add to our main offering of engagement and wedding rings. We have also recently tried to be more collaborative with other small businesses and makers. You can now order our iconic ring boxes with custom embroidered linings thanks to Woodbury & Co. The ring dishes we made in collaboration with Hadley Ceramics are the perfect home for all your jewellery, perfect by the bedside or just as beautiful objects themselves.
What has been your proudest moment for your business and the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
There have been many proud moments... Opening our latest showroom-studio in the depths of lockdown was definitely one of them. A fun one that happened more recently was being asked to make a special ring for an amazing actress. It was surreal to think that she would be wearing one of my creations, I had to do my best not to fangirl too hard!
The biggest challenge I had to face so far was losing my father very suddenly in April. It was very unexpected and because of covid I hadn’t been able to travel back home to Indonesia in over 2 years so we also hadn’t seen each other in a long time. This maybe isn’t directly related to the business, but when you’re a small business owner your personal and working life is very much entwined. At first I went right back to work in an effort to keep my routine but I had to eventually force myself to take a few weeks off to process properly, so I’ve recently been working more from home. It has helped a lot though and I’m grateful to be able to do that when I needed to.
What’s your favourite piece from your store?
This is honestly really difficult to answer because I wouldn’t design or make something I didn’t really love so every time we make something new that usually then becomes the latest favourite! Our ready to ship collection are all pieces that I dream up without the restrictions of needing to accommodate client requests, so it’s where I can really let my creativity and imagination fly. I have always been into asymmetry as well as creating my own ‘organic geometry’ aesthetic. The SWIRL, ALVAR, and HYPATIA rings are my current top favourites if I really had to pick.
Talk us through a typical day for you?
I split my time between working from home to work on designs and do remote consultations with clients, and also in the studio a couple days a week when I need to be with my team to oversee production and also meet clients in person. So in a way there isn’t a typical day as I always need to be ready to adapt based on what’s happening in any given week. One thing I’m not though, is a morning person, so our working hours are the same in length as anyone else’s but we just start a little later (11-6pm). I have done some of my best work in the middle of the night, I love the peace and quiet of no distractions knowing everyone else is asleep.
How do you find balance in your daily routine?
It took me a long time but I feel like I finally have work/life balance. In the early years of setting up my business I felt like I was just constantly working but now that I have a team to support me, I can finally enjoy a bit of life again. When I start to feel a burn out coming I step away from work and indulge in gardening. It’s so rewarding seeing growth in something you nurture and care for daily. I am also addicted to spin classes. I have been going once or twice a week for almost a year now and it does wonders for motivation and my mood.
What are your aspirations for the future?
My aspirations for the business are pretty humble, I want to just keep on doing what we’re doing, but to do it better and better. I think when I first started out there were many more ambitious, bigger and more dramatic goals that I would set for myself, but as I've seen more and more of those goals achieved I now want to focus on keeping my business sustainable rather than trying to expand for the sake of scaling up. I want to look at how we can improve and perfect what we already have.
What is your favourite homework scent and why?
Bai San - it reminds me of living in Asia and being with family. My life is firmly here now, with my husband and company, but a part of me will always yearn for pieces of home.
You can shop Michelle’s favourite homework scent here.
Follow Michelle Oh on instagram @michelleohjewellery.
Visit her website at michelle-oh.com.