Sculpture. When you think about it, it’s not so different from creating jewellery.

Which is why it’s not really that surprising that it’s how jeweller Marion Lebouteiller started out.

Her work in a bronze foundry when she first moved to England from France, inspired her current work. In fact she says she still thinks of herself as a sculptor even now. You can see this in the unusual way she uses wax to literally ‘sculpt’ unique rings. 

I just love her unusual, textured work, which is why I asked her to tell her story on The Jewellery Spot.

You can read it here now…

Where are you based?

I’ve been living in Winchester, England for the past nine years. It’s a beautiful city and lovely countryside – the perfect balance!

Where did you study?

I studied Applied Arts for three years when I was still living in Auvergne, France – learning all about object design, graphic design, architecture and fashion design.

I then moved to Paris to study metal work for three years, where I started to learn various skills – such as how to make a brass box with hinges, a lamp or a door knocker etc. 

Finally I specialised in jewellery making at City Lit London for another two years, where I realised how the techniques were very similar to what I had learnt previously, just on a smaller scale!

How come you decided to come to England?

I was really curious about moving to England to learn the language, but also for the cultural experience. I found a job in a bronze foundry in Hampshire where I did all the finishes, welding, chasing and patination on bronze sculptures. It was an incredible experience! 

I never planned to stay in England for so long, but here I am nine years later, and still living here (and loving it!)

How would you describe your jewellery?

Bold and strong, yet elegant and delicate.

What’s the favourite piece in your jewellery collection? 

The Nestled ring – I am not sure why I love it so much – but there’s a sense of comfort and reassurance coming from it. Something nicely snuggled around your finger…

What materials do you use?

I use recycled precious metals such as silver and gold – and ethically sourced gemstones.

Where do you create your jewellery?

I rent a workshop with 20 other artists (painters, sculptors, ceramicists, textile designers…) at the Yard Studios in Winchester.

How important is ethical design to you?

It’s the basis of my business and also my way of life. I strongly believe we should all be aware of the impact of our actions on others and on the planet. 

The jewellery industry has such a negative impact on miners and on the environment, so it’s not an easy task. But I think we can all do our bit and it’s so good to see things changing so fast for the better. There are now more and more solutions to help jewellers setting up an ethical business. 

Ethical choices sometimes come with a price, but I always find my customers are willing to pay a little extra to make sure their gold or gemstones haven’t been mined by children, and rivers haven’t been polluted with tons of cyanide waste from gold extraction.

What’s the piece you’re most proud of creating?

Definitely the Union ring – it’s not a bold ring like some others I’ve made, but simple designs are often the most difficult ones to create. 

I’m always looking for the perfect balance in my designs: not too much, just enough – and I think the Union ring embodies this feeling. It looks fluid, delicate and timeless and that’s exactly what I wanted to capture.

I know it’s a good design when a piece comes back from the casters and I feel deeply moved, and I definitely was!

Your pieces are so sculptural, it’s no surprise you started out as a sculptor!  What made you decide to switch to jewellery design?

I don’t think I’ve completely left my sculptor background and turned entirely to jewellery design. I’m always in between, trying to find the right balance. 

What I love about making sculptures is that you get to work on things that sometimes are bigger than you and there’s a very rewarding feeling doing that, but it can also be a little bit overwhelming and physically exhausting (no wonder why there are mostly men working in bronze foundries!) 

Jewellery making has got this nice balance that works perfectly for me: I can still make sculptures except they’re tiny wearable ones. I think that being able to wear a piece of art you’ve made and make it part of you is a feeling as strong as being able to walk around it.

What’s your proudest moment of being a Jewellery Designer?

It was a very special moment for me when I found out that CRAFTS magazine had selected one of my pieces to be in their Christmas gift Guide, and this was after being in business for only two years.

Do you work directly with customers? Or sell your work to galleries?

I welcome customers into my studio in Winchester (by appointment) to talk about commissions, and to show them my design and making processes.

Sometimes they have already some precious metals that come from preloved jewels they have inherited and it’s always such an honour to reuse their metal to make a new contemporary piece they’ll love! 

I also work with galleries in London (Tomfoolery and Contemporary Applied Arts), in Lille, France (Bettina Flament) and in Paris (Elsa Vanier).

What’s your design process?

I’ve been experimenting with a sculptor’s wax that I heat up then twist and stretch to create beautiful striations. 

The wax cools down so fast that I have no time to think about design so I simply let my hands follow the natural movements of the wax, allowing the material to express itself to its full potential.

I don’t have a design process as such; I rely on the wax to do the design for me, I am just there to give the intention!

It’s a technique I developed on the side while I was still working at the bronze foundry, and it took me years to understand how the wax works and at what temperature I should start stretching it and even now I still struggle! 

It’s a very random process and I love it because it allows me to create pieces that are very organic and don’t look too man-made and controlled.

What do you love about jewellery?

Jewellery helps finding identity and refines the wearer’s personality. It also gives people a voice without having to speak: a great example is when the Queen wore a brooch Obama gave her when she first met Trump!

Where do you feel most inspired?

I don’t think there’s a place in particular where I feel the most inspired; I think inspiration is more like a state of mind. 

You have to open your eyes and switch your brain in a creative way, so wherever you are you can be receptive to anything beautiful around you: a bright orange leaf on the dark tarmac, the way these windows are reflecting the sunlight onto the opposite walls, some crackled paint on an old door, a wisteria plant curling around a steel fence, a few drops of water on your bathroom’s sink. Inspiration is everywhere!

What inspires you?

I have always been fascinated by Japanese designs and Eastern aesthetics in general, they see the ‘void’ where we see the ‘full’, it’s all about the delicate balance of shapes into space.

My other inspiration is the material itself: the wax I’m using. Its fluid properties are an endless inspiration.

Who else inspires you?

I have two favourite artists I’ve been admiring for more than 15 years, and they still inspire me now.

The first one is Pierre Soulages, a fantastic painter and printer whom I can relate to in the way he works. He once said, “It is what I find that tells me what I am looking for”. 

The second one is another French artist, Fabienne Verdier, who spent 10 years learning calligraphy in China. All her work is based on spontaneity and working closely with tools and materials, I strongly encourage you to look them up!

What advice would you give to people looking to buy jewellery from independent makers, but who don’t know where to look or how to go about it?

Instagram is a great platform to get in touch directly with the designers, but there are also quite a few lovely galleries in London that display amazing jewellery. Tomfoolery, Gill Wing Jewellery and Contemporary Applied Arts to name just a few. 

There are also craft and jewellery shows around the country and I will be taking part in Made London Marylebone at the end of October (24 -27), which is probably one of the very best craft shows in London.

I will also be exhibiting at Elements Edinburgh, a prestigious jewellery and silversmithing show, at the beginning of November (8 – 10). 

The other one is Dazzle at Oxo Tower which is a fantastic jewellery exhibition that has been running for more than 30 years! The next one runs from the end of November until the beginning of January.

I just loved hearing about Marion’s life and inspirations – it must be so interesting to have lived in different countries and take inspiration from them all!

You can find out more about Marion’s work here.