You Magazine - 21 October 2007

It is hard to say whether Rosa Monckton is more famous for being best friends with the late Princess Diana or for her domination of the jewellery market over the past 20 years, as head of Tiffany & Co and then Asprey. Either way, she's a woman to be taken seriously. Yet, in person, there is very little sense of affected grandeur or privilege (despite being a viscount's daughter and the wife of former newspaper editor Dominic Lawson, himself the son of Nigel and brother of Nigella). Instead, having had a healthy measure of the good and bad life can throw at you, she exudes genuine warmth and enthusiasm.


Rosa has seen it all. From her young, heady days working her way up the sales and marketing ladder in the jewellery trade - living and working around the world - to bringing the Tiffany & Co phenomenon to the UK. From glamourous Greek holidays with Diana to signing up Jade Jagger to inject a bit of hip street cred into the faded old institution that was Asprey. From the joy of her whirlwind marriage to Dominic at 38 and birth of their first daughter Savannah a year later to the desperately sad loss of her second baby, Natalia, born prematurely, and the shock of her third daughter, Domenica, being born with Down's Syndrome when Rosa was 42 (Rosa had declined any of the routine scans that might have detected the condition).


It would be enough to encourage most of us to take early retirement, but not Rosa. After leaving Asprey in 2004 to spend more time with her family, she has been using that time at Cox's Mill - the family home in rural East Sussex - to forge a new, highly personal jewellery and home accessories collection, pretty much from her kitchen table. The idyllic surroundings, with over 50 acres of farm and woodland, a menagerie of animals, wild meadows and a waterfall, not only provide a soothing respite from the whirl of her former city life but also serves as constant inspiration for her new designs.


'It was a slow, organic process rather than a light-bulb moment,' Rosa says of the idea behind launching the Rosa Monckton online collection. 'I had bought some pieces of jewellery while on holiday in Morocco and started to think about adapting them', she explains. As she toyed with the idea, 'I realised I wanted to do something that would keep British craftsmanship alive as well', so she drew on the talents of many of the jewellers and craftsmen she had worked with at Tiffany and Asprey.


Rosa set about creating chunky, dramatic pieces that she herself loves, from knuckle-buster cocktail rings in semi-precious stones - such as garnets and acquamarines - necklaces and bracelets heavy with charms and hearts to lavender bags in Pucci-esque silk prints and luxe possum-fur throws. She particularly loves the moonstone ring design: 'There's an opaque luminosity about moonstones, full of mystique, which I think every woman should have a little of'.


There was also a second, more pressing, impetus behind Rosa's new collection - her daughters, Savannah, now 14, and Domenica, 12 (to whom Diana offered to be godmother: 'She came to the hospital as soon as she heard Domenica had been born and said "I'm taking this one on board, I can help,"' Rosa remembers). Rosa explains that her chief concern is 'not just providing long-term security for Domenica, which is always a consideration when you are an older parent, but also providing freedom for Savannah, so that she doesn't suffer the burden of caring for Domenica when we're gone.'


Every element of the collection has a link to Cox's Mill's surroundings or a connection with friends or family. The swirl of an iron gate inspired the heart-shaped pendants; the furniture polish was created from Rosa's grandmother's lavender oil and beeswax blend (a recipe from her 1911 housewifery notes), and the lavender itself (used in the wax as well as in the pure organic oil that Rosa uses in Domenica's baths) comes from the Provencal home of good friend and sculptor Celia Lindsell.


The freshwater pearls in the range are inspired by the pearls her step-grandmother left her, and there are new bone-china pieces, such as 'vide poche' dishes decorated with motifs of wild flowers that grow in their woods. It's about creating pieces that fit with people's lives - it's nice to have beautiful things to use every day.'


Although Rosa holds no grand ambition of rivalling the big jewellery houses, she would be more than qualified to do so if it took her fancy. The tale of how Rosa brought Tiffany to the UK in the mid-1980s is legendary - having seen a piece in the paper about a buyout of Tiffany in the US, she simply called them to say she wanted to launch the brand in London. And with her own backing, a year later it was the star of Bond Street ('It was an extraordinary lesson in the benefits of being brave,' she says) and she remained at the helm for 14 years. Rosa was poached by Asprey in 2000 and doesn't regret leaving Tiffany. 'Of course it was hard, it was my baby, but my brother said, "You can't stay on one track all your life," which gave me a great kick forward,' she recalls.


This tenacity is also what makes Rosa a tireless campaigner, whether for charities associated with Domenica's disorder or for supporting initiatives such as Diana's Angels, a team of paediatric nurses set up in 1999 by the Diana Memorial Committee to provide homecare for seriously ill youngsters and their families.


A portion of the proceeds from the Rosa Monckton collection will go to four of Rosa's key organisations: Acorns Children's Hospice (for life-limited children and their families), Downside Up (to help improve the quality of care for Russian children with Down's), the Down Syndrome Educational Trust (which promotes the development of children with Down's through training and education) and Kids (an invaluable source of support and advice for Rosa when Domenica was born).


Rosa says Diana's indefatigable spirit inspires her to this day. 'I think about and miss her every day.' As a result, she will always be one of Diana's most outspoken advocates, ensuring that her legacy of kindness and care for people of all ages and races will never be forgotten. The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain is a case in point.


'I didn't want it to be a spectacle. All her life was like that, and the committee originally envisioned this big spouting thing, but again, I felt it was going to be something that people would come and gawp at. Instead, I wanted something understated and elegant, like Diana,' she says fondly.


Although Rosa may now be a million miles away from the days of helicoptering to the Asprey office, arriving on the back of a motorcyle taxi from the airport, her days at Cox's Mill are no less busy, combining the demands of the girls and her collection. Savannah attends a nearby boarding school, coming home at weekends, while Domenica goes to school locally. 'We don't have a nanny to help but instead pay for Domenica's helper at school, so it's always pretty hectic,' Rosa says. 'I'm quickly learning, though, that it's really important when working from home not to pick up the phone when the girls are here. Savannah always tells me off, and knows exactly how to tug at the heartstrings if I get distracted,' Rosa sighs with mock exasperation.


Inside, Cox's Mill is warm and welcoming, filled with family paintings and photographs, such as intimate snapshots of Domenica with Diana and Prince William, the family on holiday, a mischievous-looking illustration of Rosa's grandfather - politician and adviser to Edward VII Walter Monckton - and a mass of glamourous black-and-white pictures taken by Terence Donovan at Tiffany's tenth anniversary party.


Favourite pieces of furniture, some inherited, some brought back from a visit to China, fill each room with cosiness and, here and there, there are the inevitable stacks of boxes, packing tape and paperworking piling high, the legacy of running a business from home.


Yet, as heavenly as Cox's Mill's surroundings are, it's unlikely that Rosa, 53, will be retiring any day soon. 'It has always been important to me to have my own identity. I would have been a tyrannical mother if I had stayed at home, but at least here I can now strike a balance between the two,' she says. And though there were some dark days when starting the range, it was Savannah who said, 'You must do it. It doesn't matter if it doesn't work, you simply must try.'


The strength Rosa draws from her family is palpable. While Savannah is shy and studious, Domenica is a whirlwind of noisy energy, obsessed with Hilary Duff and being a model, like any other teenager. 'The girls are everything to me,' says Rosa. Her next fight for Domenica is for a secondary education which will allow her to reach her potential but not leave her alienated from those around her.


'She's beginning to realise that she is different, and it's important for her to know she is not on her own. I dream of establishing a charity for older Down's sufferers, run by their siblings as trustees,' Rosa muses. Yet, for now, she says 'I want this collection to grow in a way that doesn't take me over. It's important that we are all part of what each piece represents, as everything stems from here - our home, how we live - but I aso want it to go beyond us, to help others around us who are less fortunate.


For more information about the Rosa Monckton collection, tel: 01435 831075 or visit


Jewellery featured: pearl bracelet £110.00 and moonstone ring £865.00.