Style & Innovation

Shaun Leane: From The Jeweller’s To The Judge’s Bench

From jeweller to judge. Celebrated designer Shaun Leane tells all on BBC Two’s All that Glitters, his thoughts on diamond jewellery and the sex appeal behind his designs.

Shaun Leane Portrait holding hands wearing tie and braces on the shirt
Shaun Leane. Photo by Edwin S Freyer

We’re all just trying to keep up with the House of Shaun Leane. Apart from being a world-renowned jeweller, designing rings for princesses and royals the world over, Shaun is celebrated for his creative designs and aesthetic. The engineer behind the Daphne Guinness diamond glove, the architectural jeweller behind the bronze chef d’oeuvre that currently adorns the Young Street Building facade in Kensington, the innovator honoured in three different departments of the world-renowned Victoria & Albert Museum, can now add another diamond feather to his ever-growing tiara of achievements. Along with celebrated jewellery designer Solange Azagury-Partridges , queen of the Hotlips ring, Shaun Leane has taken on the role of judge and mentor on BBC Two’s, All That Glitters. Set to air mid-April, this competition, hosted by the beautiful and hilarious Katherine Ryan, follows the journey of six up and coming jewellery designers competing to become Britain’s next brilliant jeweller. Is there nothing this man can’t do?! 

All That Glitters is going to be amazing for the industry. It’s exciting because it will put jewellery at the forefront of people’s minds’, Shaun says. ‘Lifting the veil behind the final product, viewers will have the chance for the first time on screen to see the challenges, craftsmanship, skill and emotion that goes into creating fine jewellery’. 

As a revolutionary contemporary jeweller, Shaun was a top candidate when it came to possible judges: ‘They came to me with this idea and approached me to take part in the programme as a judge. It was all about the on-screen chemistry and I was delighted to be paired with Solange as I’ve known her for ages. We have been friends and associates for many years and now we’ve become even more close thanks to the show’. 

Shaun’s thirty six years of experience behind the bench is what makes him the perfect judge for this competition: ‘I know the complexities of the skills and what it takes from a person. I would have a slightly softer level of sympathy because I’ve been there. I’ve had my work smashed in front of me by my masters when I was training… only once though might I add’!

Each episode is broken down into two challenges. Once a week, the contestants have to create a best seller piece as well as a bespoke commission for a private client. ‘Every jewellery designer, house, maker, in the world has got to have a best seller. Fundamentally that’s what keeps your business revenue alive. My best seller is the hook earring, it’s a £200 simple clean line metal earring, but there is a boldness within its simple form. That’s what I was looking for, something powerful that wasn’t embellished with thousands of gemstones’. 

Coming from a traditional background in jewellery design with a prestigious apprenticeship under his belt in the world’s historic jewellery production capital, Hatton Garden, Shaun wasn’t always the “think outside the box” jeweller he is today. ‘I was such a snob! When Lee (the late Alexander McQueen) first came to me with the idea of creating runway jewellery out of brass and feathers, I said no. I was like: I don’t work in brass, I’m a goldsmith’! After further pushing from the fashion revolutionary, Shaun accepted. ‘And that was the moment that took me out of my old school way of thinking. He gave me a platform where I could go to the extreme. I could design, scale, use new materials, explore body sculpting and so many other silhouettes’. 

The bespoke challenge, an entirely different beast, gives contestants the chance to create a more unique design. Each week, audiences will watch them work their way up in skill and material complexity to finally create an elegant engagement ring starring a 1 carat princess cut diamond sourced by the Natural Diamond Council. Known for his artistic use of black and white diamonds to shade and bring depth to pieces, Shaun, a pear shape fanatic, has a unique and fresh perspective when it comes to diamond cuts and their unique attributes. ‘For me, the princess cut brings a whole new layer to the diamond offering. For years we had those classic linear shapes, baguettes, emeralds and squares, which are beautiful and chic, yet not as faceted and brilliant as the rounds we know and love. For a customer or client who likes the elegance of the art deco linear form, the princess cut gives it that missing brilliance’.

Shaun Leane Portrait smiling and sitting with hands on table wearing tie and braces on the shirt.
Shaun Leane. Image by Edwin S. Freyer

Elegance is not the only criteria Shaun is looking for in the contestants’ creations, “sexiness” is a key design element that he keeps an eye out for each week. ‘Man was wearing jewellery a hundred and thirty-five thousand – 135,000 – years ago. Get your head around that! Think of all the animals in the kingdom, the feathers, scales, plumage and displays they do. Even spiders do amazing mating dances to display and attract sexual encounters. Us humans, we use jewellery for that purpose, to attract. A drop earring doesn’t decorate the ear. Let’s face it, the ear is one of the ugliest parts of the body. A drop earring draws the eye to the neck of the wearer, and that is a beautiful part of the body. Jewellery is a body adornment at the end of the day. It should be sexy’! 

Sexy yet meaningful. Throughout the competition the designers strive to find that perfect balance between exploring emotional meaning and solid design aesthetics. ‘everything I design has a point, no pun intended, mentally and physically’. All jewellery should evoke something. 

A final piece of advice from our All That Glitters judge: ‘after the year we’ve all had, it’s important to not get caught up in daily chores, to stop, reflect and celebrate what we are doing and the industry that we are all working in, which is such a wonderful one. I think that All That Glitters will shine a light on this, which is so rewarding. I feel honoured to be a part of it’.

To see more of our exclusive behind the scenes coverage from All That Glitters, visit www.naturaldiamonds.com/AllThatGlitters