Zoe makes jewellery. Over lunch we discuss whether it is art or not and decide that it is. Others would argue against. Is every jeweller an artist – no of course they’re not.
She designs and creates bespoke pieces from a bench she rents full time from Workspace Studios in the handsome old earthquake prone Wellington Education Board Building in Abel Smith Street.
I asked one of her clients to describe her work; “fresh, uncluttered, simple lines”. Zoe talks about two Danish jewellers, one who taught her earlier on and another called Bjorg who is more famous. To me Scandinavian design is plain, simple and elegant – which is how I, as a jewellery free-zone, would also describe her work.
It was only five years ago that Zoe started on a social jewellery making course, she had just graduated and moved back to Wellington. At twenty-one she was by far the youngest person on the course and she quickly realised she loved it. Not just for the items produced but more for the process itself.
I follow her around the studio and watch as she assembles some pieces, she’s athletic and yet in the workshop her movements are controlled. She turns the gas on to smelt some silver, the concentration is obvious. Some of the techniques and processes are from the middle-ages. There is an element of alchemy about it. There’s an old wooden draw bench donated by a retired practitioner from Dunedin, it looks like a prototype for old fashioned torture but I’m informed its called “Mr Twisty”. Then there is a good selection of more modern electrical machinery. There are four other jewellers in today. Two full time and two part-timers, one has taken the day off from her IT job at Trade Me.
Zoe studied Psychology at Canterbury University. I question the leap from Psych to what she’s doing now and she explains that she started at University at the age of seventeen, with no real clue of what it was she wanted to do. Fairly advanced statistics made up part of the course and she says these mathematical skills are useful with what she’s doing now, measuring, sizing and costing – the latter very important when you’re dealing with 18 carat gold.
The Christchurch Earthquake happened whilst Zoe was coming down the stairs at the university, she says she thought she might be fainting or having some sort of an episode when she realised those around her were suffering in the same way. She was one of the students who took up the offer of a semester at Adelaide University.
Whilst on her OE Zoe completed an intensive short course at the London Jewellery School and finished that off by working for a while at a casting shop in Hatton Garden, London’s Jewellery Quarter, where she says she learnt even more than on the excellent course.
Zoe describes herself as a problem solver and a project manager. The process or how it is done does seem very collaborative. I ask what it would be if it wasn’t jewellery, her answer surprises me, cabinet making, and possibly constructing her own house. Psychology has clearly gone out of the window.
Sustainability is very important for Zoe, much of her material is recycled, clients will sometimes turn up with old rings or pieces that are past their sell by date that are melted down and reconstructed into something new. If Zoe is purchasing gold she buys it from a Fair Trade supplier in London who sources it from the Sotrami Mine in Peru. The silver she buys is 100% recycled EcoSilver.
The judges of the UK based 2018 JewelFund especially liked Zoes ethical approach to business and awarded her as one of two recipients of this years prize. The cash is welcome but more importantly it comes with a years worth of specific business mentoring.
Zoe is very much a Millennial, 80% of her work is commissioned and much of that business originates from social media, more from Instagram than Facebook. She also has her work at Cranfields and Cre8iveworx in Wellington; Staple and Cloth in Auckland.
Her order book for weddings is stacking up, this work started when a friend trusted Zoe for his own nuptials. Millie, one of Zoe’s two younger sisters has just qualified as a Celebrant and with a father who is a winemaker, it sounds a little like they might have got a package to offer.
Looking forward she intends to grow the business. When this happens parts of the process will be outsourced and she will become more of a project manager, but one that can do each of the required processes along the way. She also wants to educate her clients about the sustainability aspect and the benefits of fair trade supplies. She doesn’t mention names but does suggest that some high street offerings might not be quite as ethical.
This article is one of a new series of profiles of artists and those that are involved in the art world. Sponsored by The Art Library Ltd.
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