What does jewellery mean to you, and how do you decide what stones to wear each day?
Jewellery is of huge importance in my life. Since childhood, I have worn amulets and talismans from my journeys around the world, from people and places I love; I have a few inherited pieces that mean a great deal to me as they hold the essence of the past wearers. I feel that wearing the stones provides a connection to the elemental nature of the earth, and they make me feel braver and protected in some primal way. I change my necklaces to match the seasons. As the sun comes out and the air warms and lightens, I know it is time to change.
What is your favourite piece?
My favourite piece I have been wearing for about 30 years is my Navaratna bracelet. The Navaratna is a concept I find fascinating; it revolves around a very ancient Asian belief that gems and planets are connected, and through the pattern of the stars at your birth, we can enhance the positive and limit the negative influences by the wearing a set of particular gems in a specific order. The sun, represented by a Ruby is seen as the most powerful planet, usually goes in the centre of the configuration, and the other (planets) gems are arranged around it. For the most power, the stones must be set with an open back so that they can touch the skin. The more I study this ancient Vedic tradition, the deeper it penetrates the whole order of the universe.
"Most of all, I love that making jewellery can make a difference to people's lives in areas with very real challenges."
You recently celebrated your 30 years in the industry; what drives you to keep doing this work?
I am simply the luckiest person in the world - I love what I do.
I deeply respect the people I work with, and I am so fortunate to have long working relationships and friendships with artisans from India to Afghanistan, Bolivia, and Myanmar. I get to travel and work in some of the most beautiful and interesting places, get a small insight into the cultures and daily life and see how stones and design are a part of everything.
Most of all, I love that making jewellery can make a difference to people's lives in areas with very real challenges. The security of a job, the creative outlet of making pieces, and the pride it brings are so fulfilling.
How do you start a relationship with an artisan?
I choose a place to work either because I am interested in a particular jewellery tradition like I did with the Kuna and Mapuche Indians of Panama and Chile, or because there are incredible skills and techniques, but political issues create problems in getting things to a market. Or I find a place where the economic situation makes secure jobs very important.
I begin with a great deal of research before I start working in a new area. I look at the jewellery traditions from antiquity to contemporary, the materials used and beliefs around them, and the different craft traditions like textiles and ceramics for a fuller understanding of the cultural tradition and design heritage.
When I meet new artisans, we spend a lot of time talking, getting to know each other, and looking at their work. I'm completely transparent about what I hope to do in our work together. My aim is always to have a long-term sustainable work relationship, grow our collaborations, and ensure enough work to keep as many people employed as possible while also sharing their stories.
"The Colombian gold we use is hand-panned from the rivers of Choco and is completely carbon neutral."
What have been your recent successes in the company's ethical practices?
Our goldsmiths in Jaipur are now using 90% recycled gold, which is very exciting and a recent change we are proud of. We are also embarking on our next Colombian eco gold collection in a few weeks. The Colombian gold we use is hand-panned from the rivers of Choco and is completely carbon neutral, and traditional Afro-Colombian artisans create our pieces in Tumaco on the Pacific coast.
We are also very proud of our Next Generation platform on our website where we sell beautiful jewellery designed by the women and men in Kabul. This work is a lifeline for them.
Who is someone who recently inspired you?
I visited the workshop in Kabul in November last year. The men and women we work with have experienced many changes and challenges over the last decades, including endless cycles of war and violence. Their bravery and grace inspire me.
"It is vital to keep looking for ways to improve the industry"
What is one aspect of your brand that will never waiver, and what are you excited to achieve this year?
Something that will never change is our collaborations with artisans around the world in areas that are made vulnerable through conflict, poverty, or exclusion. We will always celebrate their skills and traditions and ensure a safe, sustainable, and creative livelihood. We will also continue to try to find ways to use cleaner practices for the extraction of materials we use.
This February, I am delighted to return to Colombia to work with the lady gold panners of Choco and the traditional Afro-Colombian goldsmiths in Narinio. This will be our second clean eco-gold collection. Small-scale mining without the use of mercury is an increasingly important area to highlight.
This year, I am excited to continue a new relationship with artisans in the West Bank in Bethlehem. We started exploring the region two years ago and began our first collaborative collection last spring. We worked in an Ottoman-period workshop in the heart of the old part of the city with the Kattan family and Nadira Alaraj. Our first collection, launching this year, is made in 18kt gold and is themed around the olive plant. An ancient symbol of wisdom and peace, it seems a fitting starting point.
Finally, I am also very much looking forward to starting a new project this spring in Romania with Romani gypsy artisans, exploring an ancient metal work tradition expressed in contemporary design.