Inner Visions: An Interview with Jewellery Designer Gemma O'Leary

Designer Gemma O’Leary discusses the creative process that drives her acclaimed jewellery label, Inner Island.

Cork native Gemma O’Leary launched the first collection of her jewellery label Inner Island last year, and since then she has gone from strength to strength. Inner Island is notable for its intricate designs and stunning details, only made possible due to O’Leary’s use of traditional silversmithing skills. What also makes her refined, minimalist but deceptively complex designs so unique is O’Leary’s intriguing sources of inspiration, and how she approaches each collection with a beautiful and complete vision.

The last time Hot Press spoke to O’Leary, she was working on her SS 16 collection, inspired by traditional stained glass.

“The window in question is from the 7th century and is made of irregular shapes,” explains O’Leary. “I found the free-form organic nature of the stained glass window very inspirational and the Lacuna collection was the result of that point of reference. Sometimes the design process can be very frustrating with lots of revisions and scrapping of ideas, but this collection came together quite easily.”

As for her latest collection, O’Leary ironically contrasted her minimalist designs with a work ethic that declares: More is more!

“I was working on two collections for A/W with the idea of only releasing one,” says O’Leary. “In the end I couldn’t decide on which one I liked more, so I decided to release both! The Helio collection is inspired by mid-century modern mobiles and their use of space. It has a very light and airy feel with shiny reflective surfaces. It’s quite minimal and contemporary.”

The inspiration behind her other collection, Namara, was the ancient Irish tradition of boat building.

"I loved the curved wood that forms the hull of the currach,” says the designer. “The collection has a more rugged feel so the file marks are left exposed to give a handcrafted quality, much like the ‘knot’ and other imperfections of the wood.”

O’Leary’s love of ancient crafting applies to her own work, which embraces old techniques often abandoned by modern jewellery designers.

“I handcraft everything from my studio on Drury Street in sterling silver,” she says. ”It’s a beautiful material to work with and no large industrial machinery is needed. Really, I use the same tools that have been used for centuries in jewellery making. I then use a very heavy 18 kt gold plate which will shine for many years to come.”

O’Leary is currently busy getting ready for the Christmas shopping season, which will no doubt be a busy one for her, as her jewellery would make the perfect gift for any fan of beautiful design. But, ever the multi-tasker, that’s not all she has going on.

“I’m just finishing some alluring pieces for an exhibition curated by Alison Conneely called ‘The Shuttle Hive’ at the National Museum of Ireland in Collins Barracks. It opens on November 4 and runs until January 1. Also, I’m working on a few beautiful commissions that have to be finished before Christmas.”

To find out more about Gemma O’Leary, Inner Island jewellery and stockists, see


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