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How Monarc became one of the most sought-after jewellery brands

An international modelling career first sparked London-based Kiwi Ella Drake’s interest in jewellery, with her ethical, sustainable and timeless-yet-contemporary brand Monarc now one of the most sought-after in the business.

“Diamonds are a girl’s best friend,” sang Marilyn Monroe in the 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes . Nearly 70 years later, those iconic lyrics still ring true – and in fact the sparkling precious stones have been worn as jewellery for almost 1000 years – but what has changed is the kind of diamonds that girls these days want to wear.

And that’s in no small part thanks to New Zealander Ella Drake, whose jewellery brand Monarc was among the first in the world to utilise and celebrate ‘aboveground’ diamonds – stones that are identical to earth-mined diamonds in every way (including their uniqueness) but are created in a laboratory. This incredibly innovative process not only removes any ethical concerns, but also addresses issues of sustainability.

“While mined diamonds generally pass through several owners with an origin impossible to trace, aboveground diamonds have transparent provenance,” explains Drake from her home studio and workroom in London. “The diamonds Monarc uses are 100 percent traceable, created with 100 percent renewable/green energy (carbon neutral or carbon negative even) and are guaranteed to be cartel-free.

“And by choosing one carat of sustainably produced, aboveground diamond, rather than earth-mined, you’ll currently save 545 litres of water, 250 tonnes of earth and 64kg of carbon dioxide – this was a key fact that confirmed Monarc would never use earth-mined diamonds,” she adds.

Bay of Plenty-born Drake launched Monarc in 2017, having taken a glamorous-sounding yet circuitous path to begin her career in jewellery. After a childhood spent in Mount Maunganui and being ‘discovered’ as teenager at a shopping mall by a model scout, Drake was determinedly studying graphic design at Auckland University of Technology – but the world of international modelling was calling. “I was really focused on my studies and I hadn’t planned to model, but modelling continued to present opportunities. Upon entering my third year at university, I decided to run with it [the modelling opportunities] and I suppose that decision carried me through the next six years of my life,” she says. “I began modelling in Sydney, followed by Tokyo and then on to Europe. My stay in Milan was meant to be a four-to-six week trip, but a month into my stay, I was put on contract with Gucci.”

Catching the eye of then-creative director Frida Giannini, Drake became an in-house favourite, working almost exclusively for the brand for four years. She says her favourite part about working for Gucci was “getting to know the entire team, who came to feel like family, and observing from the inside the creative discipline and magic that is spun to actualise each collection. Gucci’s designers would explore and sit with various creative directions for months, which then would be taken through to be developed and refined. The designer in me really cherished being part of this creative process.”

And it was on breaks between shooting, hanging out with the likes of “Ale” [Alessandro Michele, Gucci’s creative director since 2015], that Drake realised that while their clothing went alongside each new trend and season, often their jewellery didn’t. “I love that [jewellery can be] something timeless, which is why I wanted to pursue jewellery more than I ever did fashion. I like the sentimental nature that jewellery captures and holds … it can become a multi-generational teller of stories.”

Finding herself with time to spare between modelling gigs, Drake studied at the Gemological Institute of America in Florence, and in 2012 moved to Sydney to work for an international jewellery production company. A year later, the opportunity to manage its portfolio of European accounts came up, and Drake jumped at the chance. “Having been based in Europe for a number of years in my recent past, I felt comfortable and excited to get back to London.”

While there, Drake “began to question whether there was a better, gentler way to do things”, and in 2017, after gaining the confidence to try it out, “took a leap of faith” and started Monarc. “My driving aim was to present intelligent design and premium materials, with a focus on bespoke service. Sustainability and ethical practice have been the guiding principles of Monarc’s operations and brand decisions since day one,” she says. “I believe every decision I make for Monarc should be rooted in good intention, from the design to choosing carefully procured and considered materials, right along the whole production process.”

As well as aboveground diamonds, Monarc uses only recycled precious metals. Plesur is the brand’s first collection incorporating upcycled coloured gemstones. “Plesur is one that I feel super-passionate about!” says Drake. “I have held Monarc back from using coloured gemstones in collections to date because I haven’t been happy with current and commercial methods to obtain gemstones.

“Mining is really detrimental to the environment (no matter which way it’s spun), so I’ve worked for more than two years to collect heirloom stones and alluvial gemstones. I have absolutely loved the experience of hunting down heirloom and estate jewellery, and meeting with the people who have held their jewellery for the years prior to Monarc purchasing it for upcycling. I feel the history held by each upcycled gemstone imbues the new collection with so much more life. Due to the nature of using heirloom stones, many pieces will be limited runs and one-offs.”

A second new release sees Monarc creating a considered edit of hair accessories – barrettes and pins in silver and gold vermeil. “I’ve been working with the experts at London’s Glasshouse Salon, owned by fellow Kiwi Olivia Crighton, to create functional hair pieces that can be worn as part of an everyday look or as an elegant hair element that can be used for a special occasion,” she says.

Drake has an even newer arrival, with the birth of her daughter Ulli in early June, and is looking forward to a long-awaited trip back to New Zealand. “I plan to return home to [Mount Maunganui] for a several-month stint in 2022,” she says. “Despite living overseas for the best part of 14 years, I still call Mount Maunganui home and it’s where my family live. It’s an anchoring place and one to which I always return. My love for the beach lifestyle inspires me the most; a slower, more peaceful, coastal existence. I’m incredibly excited and feel privileged to introduce my baby to the New Zealand lifestyle.”

How to cover up your regrowth at home

If you’re still at home waiting out lockdown restrictions, your hair is probably the least of your worries.

And yet, judging by the chat online, plenty of us with previously coloured hair are watching our locks grow out and becoming all too familiar with our natural regrowth shade. 

Equally vocal are our beloved hair stylists, gently reminding us of the work (and time and money) it takes to correct an at-home dye job that ends up less appealing than expected. And that’s only when you can get back to the salon. 

So what to do about the regrowth – if anything? Until we can be back in the talented hands of hair professionals, there are Zoom meetings to be had.

Unlike being able to do much about our haircuts (having a go at trimming with kitchen scissors is not exactly advisable!) minimising greys or dull and dry roots are on our minds. 

There are some options to make the look less obvious.

  1. Switch up your part. Trying a different parting can be a quick and easy solution, especially if your stylist previously placed highlights around your usual parting. Avoiding a straight parting and trying a zig zag one can also make it less obvious.
  2. Use dry shampoo. For lighter hair colours trying to minimise dark roots, a touch of baby powder or dry shampoo can help lighten them a touch. Some brands like Batiste and Moroccanoil also make tinted dry shampoo for brunettes that can also give a subtle boost.
  3. Try a headband. Hair accessories in general are trending, and using a wide band to push back hair is a great way to cover up that hairline. 
  4. Slick back your style. Scrape hair straight back with the help of gel and a fine tooth comb or try finishing in a low and chic ballerina bun.
  5. Wash and blow dry your hair. The greasier and dirtier your hair is, the more obvious regrowth can be. Keep your hair freshly styled and try and braid or up-do if your hair is long enough.
  6. Improvise with makeup. Haven’t got access to cover-up products? At a pinch for a short lived cover up, try applying a similarly toned eyeshadow in a flat mate shade (no shimmer) or a brow powder. Brush on gel brow tints can also help blend greys. It doesn’t work particularly well for blondes though!

If these aren’t cutting the mustard, below are some of the best temporary hair colour products that quickly cover your roots.

L-R L’Oreal Paris Magic Retouch Temporary Root Concealer Spray1000 Hour Hair Colour Mascara; R+Co Bright Shadows Root Touch-up SprayJoico Tint Shot Root Concealer

Apply product to clean, dry and styled hair. For a more natural look, use a paper towel to mask your scalp to protect it from colour while you spray one side of your part and then switch.

When using sprays make sure to wrap a towel around your shoulder to avoid colouring your clothes. Spray in short bursts with the nozzle facing from your roots towards your ends. Any spray that goes past the area you need to cover will just help blend the spray into the rest of your hair.

And if none of these are options for you? There’s always just embracing it. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Hailey Bieber and Dua Lipa were responsible for making bold roots a thing pre-pandemic and there’s no dearth of fellow stars currently rocking a two-tone look.