We owe a lot to Alex Orso. Since arriving on the platform a little under two years ago, the British jewellery brand has made everything easier. They arrived as something of a pretender and now they’ve become the gatekeeper; a brand who you can trust to guide you through what often is a turbulent world of men’s rings, necklaces and bracelets.
Within the crowded men’s jewellery arena, every other brand boasts its own variation of ‘handmade’ or ‘hand-finished’ jewellery. But the truth is, if you want something that is more personable like it has really been made for you – and made for you in the way that you can wear it and enjoy it every day – then that is exactly what you get with Alex Orso. A streamlined and simple world where men’s jewellery is as well-crafted as ever before but a lot more accessible and, fundamentally, more enjoyable to wear.
To gain a greater insight into the inner workings of one of our favourite brands, we found a little time to sit down with Alex Orso – founder of the eponymous label – to find out how he’s done it, what he’s learned along the way and, most importantly, what pieces of men’s jewellery are worth exploring this summer. So, keep on scrolling to discover the real story of Alex Orso from the man behind the brand.
What were your earliest creative experiences?
I think I could draw before I could walk. As a kid growing up in Kenya I was obsessed with wildlife and sketching animals and bugs. I remember my mum being particularly unhappy about finding a snake in the fridge that I had hidden in an old piece of Tupperware. There was no formal art training, so it has always been a hobby, but when I lived in Egypt a little bit later, I spent several months doing classes at the Cairo College of Fine Art.
However, I guess unless you’ve made the commitment to make art your career – and a career that you can make a living from – it quickly takes second place to other more pressing priorities. Alex Orso has given me the opportunity to bring a dimly glowing ember back to life. I still lean heavily on structures in nature for the collection – the hexagon for instance is a recurring shape – and is a nod to one of my favourite pastimes, beekeeping.
What led you to jewellery?
The idea of creating a jewellery brand started on a trip to Miami with my Husband, when I was looking for a piece of jewellery for myself. As a teenager I was bangled to the hilt, but my style today is less is definitely more. I couldn’t find anything quietly understated and masculine. I looked at the marketplace, and the main players in it, and felt there was definitely still room for someone to offer a range that was fundamentally simple – beautifully made – and masculine at its core.
What’s your favourite piece of jewellery that you wear?
From the AO collection I wear a 7MM Cuff with rubies every day – it was one of the first prototypes to be made so feels special. I also wear a solid gold wedding ring next to my mother’s engagement ring.
Why do you believe that jewellery is so important?
In the animal kingdom it’s the guys who tend to be the most colourful and flamboyant of the sexes. I think men’s jewellery offers one of the few opportunities to accessorise without overtly having to spread our tail feathers. Jewellery is incredibly giftable allowing it to become meaningful and deeply personal. It can also be worn as a reflection of your personality, because I think it takes a certain confidence for a man to wear jewellery naturally. Ultimately, jewellery becomes a piece of dressing that we can wear to give others a glimpse of who we are. As such it can be quietly empowering.
How do you envision ‘understated masculinity’ – the ethos that underlines all of Alex Orso’s designs?
This was actually quite hard to achieve. The temptation is always to over-design and embellish, and with several products in the collection I thought I had completed the design, and then realised I had to take it back a few steps to simplify it. I firmly believe that detail defines the man, and this is something I try and keep at the forefront of my design process. If you look at the emerald, ruby and the black and brown diamond products, the stones are super discreetly fitted flush into the end of the cuffs. The wearer knows they are there and that’s enough. The stones will occasionally catch the light, but it is all about the subtleness of great detail.
Men’s jewellery has typically been in the shadow of women’s jewellery, is this changing now?
Women’s jewellery will always take centre stage. When it comes to men’s jewellery it depends where you look. In so many cultures around the world men’s jewellery has always, and continues to, have an important place in defining cultural identities, fashion and ceremony. In the West it is definitely having a bit of a renaissance and the breadth of what is on offer has grown significantly. For a long time, it was the big established fashion brands that were creating a jewellery collection as part of their accessories offer. Today there are so many more successful and enterprising stand-alone men’s jewellery companies redefining what is available and acceptable for men to wear. It’s exciting. Change only comes with challenging.
The SkateroomKeith Haring Monsters £715
Paul SmithBlack Zig-Zag Wool / Linen Blend Trousers £205
Sons of LondonBrown Suede The Fourth Son Chelsea Boots £220
Filling PiecesNavy Blue Pyro Tweek Sneakers £0
MaterMatt Lacquered Oak / Ultra Black Shell Lounge Chair £620
Fritz HansenWalnut Grace Leather Swan Chair £6,320
SteameryBlue Pilo Fabric Shaver £40
FLOSBlack IC Ceiling / Wall Light £315
AMIBlack / White Striped Crewneck Sweatshirt £300
NorthernLight Oiled Oak Camp Table £850
About VintageGold / Midnight Blue 1969 Special Edition Watch £222
What advice would you give a man who is thinking about buying his first jewellery?
Pick something you’re not going to be self-conscious wearing.
Alex Orso has grown substantially from its early days. How connected are you to the designs, marketing, and the overall operations of your company? How do you keep a personal touch as the brand continues to grow?
I guess it’s time to confess that I need to feel in control – and I also always feel I need to apologise for it – but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I design the product, oversee the prototypes and manage the production. The creative direction, visual content and marketing processes are undertaken by a small but talented team, but I always like to know what’s going on.
My second confession, I hate surprises, so I much prefer being ahead of any issues. The company has grown significantly over the last couple of years but is still at a stage where our team can sit down together and discuss ideas without having to book a meeting room three weeks in advance. I hope this never changes. Our customer experience is central to the way we operate, and an area of the business that I like to oversee. I still reply personally to the majority of our customer and it is this personal touch that sits at the heart of the business.
Shop and explore all Alex Orso cuffs, rings and necklaces at OPUMO.
Looking for more in the OPUMO Entrepreneurs Series? Then check out our exclusive interview with Pelle Lundquist – co-founder of Swedish essentialists A Day March – who shares his thoughts on style, superstitions and the art of risk-taking.