Every kid likely collects rocks, and like venerable jewelry designer Pippa Small, these treasures come to represent a time of innocence and childhood freedom.
As Small celebrates 30 years in the jewelry industry and the debut of a new artist platform, the London-based designer says that early mindset of seeing the beauty in the natural world serves her even today as a world traveler, trained anthropologist, and deeply compassionate entrepreneur.
These days, Small is known for her “pebble gems,” as she calls them, stones of a much more precious kind that she sees as full of stories. It may be that in collecting these talismans, Small keeps a bit of that place and the people she meets close to her.
“Rocks are silent, still. They’re created deep within the earth. They’re primal,” Small says. “Those amulets I carried in my pocket … represented memories, happy places, happy moments.”
As a teen, Small started to play around with wearing those rocks as jewelry, using a pendant drill to create her own pieces. By this time, she had started her life as a nomad of sorts, traveling with her siblings and widow mother. These wanderings were influential, Small says, as she wondered about the places she got dragged through in her chaotic yet loving childhood.
Small went on to college and got degrees in anthropology as well as a master’s in medical anthropology. During her master’s, Small says, she started focusing her attention on her thesis, studying issues such as land rights. Her interactions with other cultures gave her the idea that would fuel her future endeavors—how she could take her then largely academic view of other cultures and use a new lens to help others survive and thrive.
So, when she was asked to take the crafts or jewelry of artisans she met in places such as Borneo, Botswana, or South Africa back to London to sell, Small says she realized that finding a way to market these items could lead to jobs for these talented tradespeople.
One could write a book about Small’s career, so to try to summarize it in a few paragraphs is challenging. Small turned her attention to jewelry, working with brands from Tom Ford to Chloe and Dosa. She opened her first branded shop in London’s Notting Hill in 2007. Since then, she has worked with clients from Meghan Markle to philanthropists such as King Charles to help create jobs for craftspeople worldwide.
Fast-forward to 2023, and Small has become known as a jeweler whose ethics and empathy define her work. She may work with royalty, accessorize celebrities, and serve as a celebrated speaker, but at heart Small is still that shy kid in a big family who uses the charms around her—whether they are rocks, gold, or diamonds—to make sense of the world and her place in it.
To celebrate her 30th anniversary, Small released two new jewelry collections. The Theia collection is a 37-piece, limited-edition assortment of old rose-cut diamonds and rainbow moonstones. Garden of Eden is a rerelease of her 1996 best-selling collection of 25 pieces that highlight nature through birds, seeds, pods, flowers, and more.
Also, Small recently debuted a jewelry platform she calls Next Generation to support up-and-coming jewelry designers in Kabul, Afghanistan, through three jewelry drops. The first, which came out Dec. 11, includes 20 artisans who designed three styles each for a 60-piece collection now available on Small’s website. Small has worked in Kabul since 2008, so creating this platform feels like a mission meeting its goal of changing lives.
The artisans that make up the Next Generation are a mix of the women from Small’s Zindagi Now (A New Life Trust) initiative and men’s and women’s businesses supported through Arts Charity Turquoise Mountain. Zindagi Now was founded by Small and her Kabul-based team to support 100 women in jewelry-making, literacy, basic business skills, and English.
“For young women today in Kabul there are many restrictions on their freedoms, so to be able to go to a communal workshop, share a space with other women, exchange experiences, and draw support from each other is invaluable,” Small says. “To have a voice through their designs that will go out into the world and give them visibility in a world that is trying to make them disappear is priceless.”
Top: Pippa Small in November celebrated three decades in the jewelry business as well as the December debut of her Next Generation artist platform (photos courtesy of Pippa Small).