In London, an Elevated but Edgy Jewelry Style

HMp, the latest line by the designer and goldsmith Hannah Martin, includes a professional piercing service if you want it.

With a mohawk hairstyle as jet black as her uniform of skintight Alexander McQueen and Ann Demeulemeester, Hannah Martin boasts no fewer than 12 piercings in her right ear and one in her left. The designer and goldsmith’s aural real estate includes a 2.5-inch stylized gold safety pin, glossy Tahitian pearls studded with reverse-set cognac diamonds and a thick bolt that appears to plunge straight through the lobe.

That edgy look could be intimidating to some, but to the choreographer and director Wayne McGregor, who met Ms. Martin in 2019, it was captivating. “We bonded immediately, not least because she was wearing her own incredible jewelry and I was awe-struck,” he wrote in an email.

He and his partner, Antoine Vereecken, own several pieces by the jeweler, including a black onyx, emerald and sapphire pendant that Mr. Vereecken gave Mr. McGregor as a 50th birthday gift. “She represents imagination, attitude, vision, power and unconventionality,” Mr. McGregor wrote. “Her jewelry is art — and when you wear her work you feel inspired.”

Ms. Martin’s bold, punk-meets-rock ’n’ roll design aesthetic is one that was visible even when she was studying for her degree in jewelry design at Central Saint Martins, the art and design school in London where she graduated in 2005. “She was always exceptional,” said Sian Evans, a fellow jeweler and Ms. Martin’s tutor in her final year at the school. “She was exploring the idea of seductive, androgynous jewelry from the beginning, and her collection for her third-year-degree show was so ready to go that she still sells it now. Her level of research is such that I don’t think she’ll ever exhaust the subject.”

HMp is a line of piercing jewelry and a piercing service. Piercings, included with the jewelry purchase, are done by an experienced practitioner, Veronica Carol Blades, who is known professionally as Roni.Jane Stockdale for The New York Times

In 2006, Ms. Martin established her namesake brand, which is focused on opulent, sculptural, genderless pieces in gold. Since then, she has weathered the expensive business of operating a fine jewelry business through recessions, lockdowns and other challenges to run a self-funded business with a showroom in a former grain warehouse in the Clerkenwell neighborhood of London.

She is a walking advertisement for her latest venture, HMp (or Hannah Martin Pierced), a line of piercing jewelry and a piercing service. Overall, she hopes it will transform what is often a back-alley tattoo parlor-style experience to one that is elevated through handcrafted gold jewelry and premium customer care.

She started researching the collection during lockdown when she was shopping for an industrial bar, a 1.5-inch piece of metal that pierces the upper cartilage of the ear at two separate points, creating holes that she said could take as long as 12 months to heal. “I couldn’t find one that wasn’t really ugly, so I thought I’d better make one,” Ms. Martin, 43, said during a recent interview at her Brutalist-inspired studio.

“It just made sense to me as everything I try to do in jewelry is about waking up people’s senses and making people feel alive,” she said. “We live in a world that numbs you, whether it be from alcohol or stress or whatever, and piercing is the ultimate sensation.”

Jewelry at Ms. Martin’s studio.Jane Stockdale for The New York Times
Jewelry at Ms. Martin’s studio.Jane Stockdale for The New York Times

The intense, positive emotional experience she intends her jewelry to provide is one that mirrors her own passion for music, particularly live performances, which inspire her creativity. “The pure moments of feeling I get from going to gigs feed my work,” she said.

The feeling, it appears, is mutual. Over the years, Ms. Martin has developed a following in the creative and music industries. Patti Smith and Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode are among the artists who own her work, and members of Def Leppard wore it on their recent tour. And for the 2022 BRIT Awards, Britain’s equivalent of the Grammys, she was asked to design the sculpture sent to all 60 British nominees.

Ms. Martin said she hadn’t foreseen that it would take her three years to navigate Britain’s licensing and hygiene requirements for piercing services, with the pandemic creating even more delay.

As for the jewelry itself, she consulted piercing experts and then developed designs with 18-karat yellow gold posts that are a minimum of five-hundreths of an inch thick, to ensure that a new piercing would heal safely. (Thin posts can tear the flesh and create too small a hole once healed.) And the ends of the post are threaded so that decorative items can be added or moved, allowing a client to change the look of the jewelry without removing the post.

HMp pieces sell for 335 pounds to 3,790 pounds ($420 to $4,770), while Ms. Martin’s main collection sells for £395 to more than £50,000.

Piercings, which are included with the jewelry purchase, are done by an experienced practitioner, Veronica Carol Blades, who is known professionally by the single name Roni. She comes into the showroom for appointments, using its vintage leather and steel barber’s chair for clients.

Ms. Martin’s edgy aesthetic, combined with the idea of a luxury client experience, prompted the concept store Maxfield to host a three-day pop-up combining HMp and Brian Keith Thompson, piercer to the likes of Beyoncé and Adele, in its 1950s Jean Prouvé-designed gallery space in West Hollywood, Calif.

Ms. Martin hopes HMp will transform what is often a back-alley tattoo parlor-style experience to one that is elevated through handcrafted gold jewelry and premium customer care.Jane Stockdale for The New York Times

The gallery walls are glass, so screens were specially created to provide some privacy. “But no one wanted to cover up!” Ms. Martin said with a laugh. “It ended up being like a piece of performance art that drew more people in.”

Ms. Martin has been invited to return in October. “We had a strong reaction to HMp,” Sarah Stewart, the store’s buying director, wrote in an email. “Many of our clients are inspired with Hannah personally and want to mirror her piercings.”

As a child, Ms. Martin had never even considered jewelry as a potential career. She grew up in Bristol, a port city in southwest England, where she fell in love with art during her years at the local public school. Her mother, who was a teacher, and her father, a graphic designer, always encouraged her interest, and she planned to become a sculptor. But during the foundation course at Central Saint Martins, it took only a week in the jewelry workshop for her to be hooked. “It fit my artistic side, but there was also definitely a bit of a right brain side of my head that liked the design challenge,” she said. “And I love bashing metal around.”

Between her second and third years of study, she had an internship at Cartier in Paris, but then turned down a job offer to start her own business. “I thought, ‘I want to be in that world, but I want to make it for rock ‘n’ roll boys’,” she said with a laugh. After graduation, she won a place in a lottery-funded program that provided entrepreneurial training to graduates in the creative industries and, later, a grant of £30,000, enough to make her first two collections.

Over the years, she has been a consultant for a number of global luxury jewelry brands, including Louis Vuitton and Chaumet, an activity that helped her keep the business going when the pandemic coincided with the high costs of producing a new collection and renovating her studio. It also has helped her retain a broad perspective on design. “You’re in an echo chamber when you’re doing your own thing,” she said.

Ms. Martin’s uncompromising attitude to her vision does have its drawbacks. In 2013, she largely withdrew from wholesale because it had become too expensive for her to produce enough pieces in her gold-heavy style for speculative sales. (Although Dover Street Market in London, she said, has been an important supporter since Day 1.)

“It cannot have been easy for her to stick to her guns, financially, as an individual, independent designer-jeweler,” the jewelry historian Vivienne Becker wrote in an email, “but she has grown her business organically, building a devoted core clientele, appealing to media, music and show-business collectors. And it’s all now coming together; she’s gaining much-deserved recognition.”

To Mr. McGregor, Ms. Martin’s radical approach to jewelry design is what sets her apart. “Hannah’s work reimagines and upends the term ‘precious’ — it has an otherworldly beauty.”


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