Starting a jewellery business is one of those attractive daydreams you fall into when you need to distance yourself from the daily drudge. However, for some people dreams aren’t nearly enough. In 2005, sisters Emma Canning and Dervla Cogan decided to follow their passion for feel-good gems and set up Brilliant Inc., a company which uses ethically produces diamond simulants to bring beautiful, accessible fine jewellery to the discerning masses.
Six years ago Emma and Dervla opened the first Brilliant Inc. boutique just off the King’s Road in London’s prestigious Chelsea neighbourhood. Brilliant Inc. is now a byword for show stopping statement pieces and elegant everyday jewellery, without the extra cost and worry of insurance. Mixing up classic designs while embracing contemporary trends like the unstoppable and always complimentary rose-gold. The in real life and online store is heaven for glamourous magpies.
We caught up with Dervla and Emma to talk about their inspiring careers, and their favourite pieces from this year’s Brilliant Inc. collection.
Explain to us the concept of ‘simulated’ diamonds – how did you first find out about them?
Emma: I really loved fine jewellery and was fascinated when I began researching the concept of simulated diamonds. Brilliant simulated diamonds are lab created rather than mined and have a zirconia mineral base. We select only the highest quality gems for our fine jewellery designs, which are handset in precious metals. The finished pieces will work perfectly with your existing jewellery collection and this has always been key for our customers.
Dervla: I think Emma sums it up well, it’s such a great concept and there’s such a wonderful freedom to it.
Do you think people are starting to think about the ethics of jewellery?
Emma: Absolutely, when buying a luxury design you want to ensure the purchase is a positive one on all levels. Beauty, craftsmanship and sustainability are key qualities for all luxury purchases and both designers and customers alike are considering all aspects very seriously.
Dervla: I think most people pride themselves on being ethically conscious about what they buy nowadays. Our jewellery definitely has the feel good factor!
What kind of celebrity clients have you had?
Emma: We’re lucky to be in the heart of Chelsea and have a very loyal following with both our local and international customers. We’ve built a little gem, and have a large number of celebrity and Royal clients but discretion is key so no names, sorry! We’re still thrilled to hear, “Those in the know head to Chelsea to the Brilliant Irish sisters…”
Dervla: We’re really lucky to have a great loyal following across the celebrity and fashion world. It’s really good fun.
You set up the business as jewellery lovers – in the past few years, how has your relationship with what you wear changed?
Emma: For the most part I’ve changed from wearing black to navy and wearing heels to flats by day. This probably sums it up! I love the clean designs of both Celine and Cos, often choosing a block of colour. This simple style highlights delicate fine jewellery beautifully.
Dervla: I have an everyday suite of jewellery that I wear and refresh every few months. I love wearing little drop earrings by day and adding a bit more glitz with chandelier earrings or a cuff if I’m out at night. I tend to look at my jewellery style a lot more now before what clothes I’m going to wear for the day. I’m obsessed with Club Monaco and a fan of J.Crew.
How do you keep your relationship with each other ‘normal’ when you work together?
Emma: What’s normal?! We have a lot of fun working together and read the signals when some space is needed.
Dervla: I think we’ve learned in more recent years to switch work off and have fun in our downtime as sisters. It’s so important.
When it comes to making a moodboard, where do you derive inspiration for your collections?
Emma: We both travel fairly extensively and I’m usually inspired by small details and interesting colour combinations. We also have an amazing inspiration tool called “The Brilliant Wish List” It started years ago when we began asking our customers to write a description of what they’d love. We gather all the wishes and see what we can work into our latest collections. It really is exciting to call one of our lovely customers and tell them how they inspired a new design. “The Brilliant Wish List” is still an amazing and integral part of our design process every season.
Dervla: Our customers and friends are fantastically inspiring along with art and fashion exhibitions that I manage to get to. There’s always so much inspiration around!
What’s your most popular item?
Emma: Everything in our Chelsea Rose collection! Rose gold is so strong again this season and is very kind to winter skin tones. Personally I love the relaxed luxe of our Brilliant Disc friendship bracelet.
Dervla: At the moment our Sabrina ring. I love it! Ella drop earrings are going down a storm as well.
You both started out in childcare – how do the two industries differ?
Emma: Both are magical in their own way, although the world of fine jewellery is comparably a very luxurious journey! Creativity can take so many forms and children teach us the joy of expressing yourself with confidence. Ultimately both industries depend on hard work, creativity and a genuine love for what you do every day.
Dervla: They differ greatly as you can imagine. Our childcare business it’s hugely rewarding to see how happy the children are who we help look after and educate. The jewellery is something that seems to evolve and grown through my love of design. Both take great amounts of nurturing in order to shine.
Where do you want the business to go in the future?
Emma: We’re really happy with how it is growing. Our website and store keep us very busy and Brown Thomas has been fabulous. The US has always been calling so we might see something Brilliant in LA before long. We’re growing so much through the platforms that we have already so we’ll probably look at a few UK department stores and develop our digital side more for our international customers.
Who in the fashion and accessories industry do you admire?
Emma: Gosh, how long a list can we have?! There’s no doubting Karl is King. Fendi is amazing at the moment and we absolutely loved the recent Chanel exhibition, Mademoiselle Privé, held in The Saatchi Gallery just a couple of steps from our store. Coco Chanel was such a ground breaking designer. Did you know she refused to use natural diamonds in all but one jewellery collection? Extraordinary. I wonder would Coco approve Brilliant Inc? Just imagine! In homage, our Christmas windows are covered in shooting stars this year.
Dervla: Too many!
Who has given you the most support as you established the business?
Emma: My husband Michael has been a rock of support. We met at university and he’s been cheering me on ever since.
Dervla: Our brilliant team who work with us every day and have helped build the business, they’re so passionate about the jewellery. I have an amazing group of friends and family that have been fantastically encouraging and loyal always.
If you could give another woman with a business idea three pieces of advice, what would they be?
Emma: Start, keep going and laugh every day!
Dervla: Work with people you genuinely like and respect it leads to better ideas and more fun in my experience. Be generous with everything from time, support and rewards with your team and others. Take an accounting course if you haven’t already!