Melbourne-based fine jeweller and gallery owner Melanie Katsalidis (Pieces of Eight and Edition X) and Melbourne-based fashion label Alpha60 have collaborated on a new range of jewellery, UPALA. From the Sanskrit meaning ‘valuable stone’, UPALA draws inspiration equally from the sparse Australian deserts and the great primary forms of classical geometry.
Melanie was kind enough to take some time to chat with me about her work and the collaboration.
It always fascinates me to note how many contemporary jewellers started off with creative training in another field. You originally studied Art History and Cinema, what pushed you into changing direction and why jewellery?
I always had a love of art and design, but when I finished high school, I embarked on a Bachelor of Arts degree at Melbourne University. I majored in art history and cinema but found that while I enjoyed the intellectual and analytical aspects of the course, I missed making things. I started producing and selling jewellery pieces and being self taught, I explored lots of different techniques. I found that, to my surprise, that I was finding an audience for my work and making good sales! This opened up a whole new path for me and as I contemplated my next move, I decided to pursue jewellery by enrolling in Gold and Silversmithing at RMIT University. I’ve never looked back.
You established two important retail initiatives in Melbourne; Pieces of Eight Gallery and Edition X, both of which support the work of a wide range of emerging and established contemporary jewellery and object artists as well as your own work. What drives you to champion the local industry?
I think I have always been someone who is good at driving projects and also at seeing opportunity- I have a lot to thank my dad for in that area! After RMIT, I enrolled in the NEIS course to develop my business skills. As often occurs in life, a series of decisions and happy accidents lead me to establishing a group studio for myself and 5 other jewellers in North Fitzroy in 2005. As the building had a shop front, I made the decision to also launch a gallery and Pieces of Eight was born. I think my years of retail experience and entrepreneurial nature gave me the confidence to dive in and create a special space to profile my work and the work of my peers. I grew up around galleries and many of my parents friends were in the arts, so to establish a retail/gallery space felt like the best and most exciting way to connect artists with an audience.
Edition X is something I launched a couple of years ago as a compliment to Pieces of Eight. It was a way to create what I call the “affordable-collectable”, that is limited editioned inexpensive works that would be perfect fit for a gap I saw in the market. Pieces of Eight had grown to be more high end, showcasing unique art jewellery and fine precious jewellery, while Edition X was a way to connect with a younger clientele and also create offerings for our clients who were looking for an inexpensive gift. Created as an online store, I also wanted to reach an international market and move beyond bricks and mortar.
When you do get time at the bench, what are your favourite materials to work with and why?
I especially love working with gold – it is a very pure, and beautiful metal to work with. I lament it has become very expensive these last few years, I wish I could just work with it exclusively sometimes as it has less issues than silver. But I do love oxidised (blacken) silver too… I also enjoy working with materials that are in someway linked to conservative or ‘bad’ jewellery and casting them in a new light, like pearls and opals.
Your collaboration with fashion label Alpha60 – UPALA – has just launched in time for the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival. What are your feelings on the relationship with fashion and fine jewellery?
I think there is a long standing historic relationship between fashion and fine jewellery. I think immediately of the fine jewellery created by Coco Chanel through to the incredible avant-garde jewels by fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli from the 1930’s to 50’s. It’s a pleasure to work with Alpha60 on Upala, our aesthetics are so aligned, it was an easy and natural exchange of ideas that lead to the exhibition.
Recommend one book, film and/or album that is inspiring you right now.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading at the moment and can recommend The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli. I also have been listening to a beautiful album, on vinyl, that I received last week by my friend’s band- Magic Mountain Band. They raised the funds to create ‘Wilderman’ on Pozible and their music is so evocative, it’s the perfect music to play while making jewellery and being creative!