In a rare opportunity to be near her works, with many brought to Brisbane especially for the show by their owners from around the world, patrons are allowed to walk through an array of McKinney’s renowned designs in the World of Wonder exhibition.

Glittering gems have taken over the museum’s corner of the Brisbane City Hall, giving McKinney the platform to showcase her life’s work as a gemologist and her incredible skill designing using some of the world’s rarest precious stones.

World of Wonder gathers her most spectacular rare jewellery, such as the necklace “Constellation”, which took ten years to complete, as McKinney searched for perfect black opals for her design.

“This is a collection of many of my pieces, many of which have been very kindly loaned by the owners,” she said.

“There are many beautiful pieces in here that are beautiful because of the gemstones. And they really are some of the rarest and finest gemstones in the world.

“Sometimes people say to me, “What makes it a beautiful gemstone?” And although I’m a gemologist and I know, technically, why a gemstone is beautiful, really a beautiful gemstone simply talks to you.

“So I hope that, as you walk around, that that might happen to you.”

McKinney says the Constellation piece is “irreplaceable”.

“It took me almost 10 years to collect the black opal from Lightning Ridge to put into that necklace,” she said.

“And I never start out thinking what I’m going to make. But as I found each of these pieces, it became obvious that I would be able to make this very important collier and matching ring. So it’s really one of the stars in the show.”

Exhibition visitors walk through an ochre tunnel reminiscent of an opal mine, to find her creations revealed in the rock itself. It’s a clever technique, making you feel as if you are going underground to find the next perfect gemstone to inspire McKinney’s creativity.

Opals are a special fascination.

“I’m always absolutely amazed that, for all the world, these opals look like they were plucked from the Great Barrier Reef, but they actually come from one of the driest, most arid environments in the world,” she said.

“They’re hundreds of thousands of years old. And I think that they’re one of the most enigmatic gems in the world. And every one of them is different, just like us.”

The fourth generation jeweller originally from Toowoomba is represented internationally by the renowned Neiman Marcus in Bergdorf Goodman stores in the USA. Regardless of the international accolades she’s gathered, McKinney has kept her base in Brisbane.

Pearls as large as your thumb abound in World of Wonder, with McKinney herself going out to sea once a year on a special pearling trip to hand pick and gather the best selection of pearls she needs.

“Each year, I’m really honoured to be invited to the only independently owned pearl farm in Australia, in East Arnhem Land,” she said.

“I go up each year for the harvest and live on the pearling mothership. It’s a great privilege. And I watch as each of these pearls is harvested. And each of them comes out of the oyster, it’s really an incredible experience.

“And now, in America and in the other markets where I am, I have more pearls to work with than, really, anybody else. So that’s why we’ve been able to put together this incredible show here with some of the finest pearls in the world.”

Her bold designs feature in the collections of discerning buyers worldwide and now Margot has unlocked her archives to reveal the family story behind her brand, and give insight into her creative process.

“You’ll be seeing some of the rarest and finest gems in the world. And I’m very excited to be able to present it to you,” she said.

A photo of former Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop standing next to Barack Obama while wearing a Margot McKinney creation at the start of this exhibition illustrates the select few who usually bear witness to her work.

Other photos on display feature the stars McKinney has designed for on catwalks and red carpets internationally.

Not only is McKinney’s jewellery on show but also courtier dresses that feature Margot’s design work, with hundreds of hand selected jewels hand sewn into the fabric to create the perfect red carpet garment.

Museum of Brisbane Director Renai Grace said this exhibition shows Brisbane people there are world class creators in their midst.

“Brisbane produces world class artists, across genres. And I think with Margot, she has really stepped into that level of being an international artist,” Grace said.

“The other really important part is her family and the way that she creates work. They work with fourth generation suppliers. It is looking at a legacy as well.

“I think the opals that you see here in the exhibition, looking out to Queensland, Lightning Ridge, in our backyard, are the best in the world.

“I’m very proud that we’ve been able to accomplish such an ambitious exhibition.”

Grace said McKinney’s patience and ability to be able to collect and see a gem for what it is, and then curate it into incredible jewels, “is very, very special.”

“I think for the Museum of Brisbane, we are very much about how we tell the stories of our city – about how we celebrate the creative talent that we have here right now in the city,” she said. “And look at their contribution globally.”

Her work will be celebrated in the exhibition until November 6.

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