Talking with… Melanie Katsalidis of Pieces of Eight

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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!

The collection will range from one-off specialty pieces (with a feature piece valued at $70k), to production pieces (starting at $160), all of which feature opals from Lightning Ridge. The UPALA exhibition is currently being held at Pieces of Eight gallery on Russell Pl, Melbourne, and will run until April 19th, 2014.
Talking with… William Griffiths of Metal Couture

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The son of an artist and an inventor, William Llewellyn Griffiths is a self-taught manipulator of precious metals. He began his career in the jewellery workshops of London’s Hatton Garden over 30 years ago, and his works have since been sold and exhibited throughout Europe, Japan, the United States, Australia and New Zealand. His designs are a potent cocktail of stones, metals and gems hand-worked into intricate pieces that have an allure of danger, romance and unholy reverence. William recently generously took a few minutes away from his workbench to answer some questions for me about his craft.

When did you know you wanted to be a jewellery artist?
I started off in the jewellery trade making very traditional jewellery, then someone commissioned me to make them a skull ring. After I’d made one skull ring, other people wanted one too… That made me realise I could take my jewellery making skills and go off and do my own thing.

Your jewellery is highly conceptual and magnificently sculptural. How long does it take you to design and create a new work?
Sometimes a couple of days, sometimes a couple of months… sometimes the idea sits in my head for years before I do anything!

You use a lot of precious gems and metals in your pieces – what is your favourite material to work with?
I love sourcing unusual cut gemstones and rough diamonds. I like the contrast between oxidised silver and the bright yellow of 18ct gold both in the same piece.

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Where many artists prefer to conceal their creative process, the WLG workshop in Fitzroy is famously open to the public. What lead you to this decision?
My passion is making jewellery, I would go out of my mind if I had to sit in a shop all day being a sales person so putting a bench in the shop gives me the option to make jewellery when there are no customers. I’m not concerned about people seeing my creative process in fact I teach classes on my techniques; and besides I feel it is good in this day and age when so much is imported to see someone making what they sell.

You’ve collaborated with fashion designers such as Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood. What are your feelings on the relationship with fashion and fine jewellery?
I think this is where the difference between jewellery – especially costume jewellery and fine jewellery – really stands out. Costume jewellery or cheaper/mass produced jewellery has a lot more to do with fashion trends. A costume piece can be worn one season and it’s cheap… it’s not made well… you throw it away and get a new style next season. Fine jewellery is more about your personal style, you invest more money and thought into something that you are going to cherish and wear for a long time, maybe even pass on to your children. That also where bespoke jewellery is important, I don’t want to buy something that everyone else has I want to invest in a unique piece that says something about me.

What’s coming for Metal Couture in the next 6 months?
I’ve been so inspired lately not by films or books, just life and wanting to get my ideas out so I can move onto the next idea. I have so many ideas! I’ve got some exciting engagement rings designs, and extravegant cocktails rings.

Recommend one book, film or album that’s inspiring your work right now.
I recently bought Tresors D’argent – a book about the work of a French goldsmith called François-Désiré Froment-Meurice.

You can visit the Metal Couture website to view more of William’s impressive work and find out where to buy his creations.

Copula

This short film from LN-CC follows the intensive processes and skills that go into creating one of the Aztlan bracelets by men’s jewellery label Copula; a 925 sterling silver interpretation of a traditional friendship bracelet.

I just love watching other jewellers work. For those who don’t know what processes go on at the bench behind the scenes, this short film is a wonderful introduction to the kind of work we do.

Baby Teeth

Recently a good friend got in touch with an idea for a commission to preserve a special moment in her sons’ lives; their first lost baby teeth. Once received, the teeth were moulded, cast in sterling silver, and brought back to life in the form of two simple, timeless charm necklaces. They are quite delicate given the tiny size of the teeth; and since they are for boys I decided to give them a rough oxidised finish to make make them less pretty and more gritty.  Thanks to Lorena for the opportunity to create these special keepsakes; and for the permission to post the finished product.

Talking with… Tessa Blazey

Tessa Blazey is a contemporary jewellery designer & maker from Melbourne, Australia. After receiving her first crystal as a gift as a teenager from a visiting friend of the family, she has taken inspiration from natural geometry, crystals and mineral structures and often uses these themes across her body of work. She was kind enough to spare some time to chat with me about her work.

You have an impressive resume of qualifications – as well as your Advanced Diploma in Engineering Technology (Jewellery) you also have Degrees in both Interior Design and Sculpture. Was there a specific moment you realised that you wanted to create jewellery or did the transition from each qualification happen organically?
I was very fond of the intimate and miniature scale of model making when practicing interior design so the transition into jewellery seemed a natural progression. I think the thing that links interior design and jewellery together is that they both frame the body at differing scales.

What is your favourite part of the jewellery creation process?
Finding extraordinary gem or mineral specimens is often a starting point for a piece. The inspiration for the work often stems from the specimen – its form and geometry of which will help me decide how to frame it within the work and the form of the work itself.

What is your favourite material to work with?
I have recently embraced the joys of working with wax – it is such an immediate, pliable and elastic material and very playful to work with. You can then cast your wax model in bronze, silver or gold.

You have collaborated with Australian fashion designer Alexi Freeman several times. What are your feelings on the relationship with fashion and fine jewellery?
I think they are both very complimentary – both jewellery and fashion frame and adorn the body. Its been great working with Alexi as we get to play with blurring the line between fashion and jewellery with each project we do together.

What is coming for Tessa Blazey in the next 6 months?
I am focussing on a new range of precious works at the moment – I recently bought the most beautiful trillion (triangular) cut emeralds and some exquisite black diamond beads so I’m playing around with a new range from each of them. I’m also still working with local rough diamond crystals (from the argyle mine in Australia). I’ve recently joined a lapidary club and am interested in learning the art of facting rough stones – the first of which are some uncut Australian sapphires I have had for a while. Thanks to my ArtStart grant from the Australia Council I was able to purchase a Facetron – stone faceting machine so once I have enough experience I will be able to facet stones in my studio. I am really enjoying teaching a jewellery elective class in the Interior Design department at RMIT currently and my students are doing some fantastic work. Alexi and I are also working on another jewellery/dress together for an upcoming exhibition at Craft Victoria called Signature Style.

Recommend one book, film and/or album that is inspiring you right now.
I recently re read one of my favourite novels The Corrections by Johnathon Franzen. I really enjoyed watching Jiro Dreams of Sushi and I am very much looking forward to seeing Wes Andersons new film Moonrise Kingdom.

 

You can visit Tessa’s website to view more of her impressive work and find out where to buy her creations.