How much are you inspired by your surroundings?

Claire Allain’s time living in New Zealand not only inspired her jewellery style, but her whole belief system around living more sustainably.

Learning about large scale mining and its impact on the world made her determined to be eco-conscious in her work. And the deep meaning and symbolism of jewellery for the Maori cemented her beliefs about the importance of the medium.

Read Claire’s story (and find out how she moved to Scotland to find gold) below…

How would you describe your jewellery?

I would describe my jewellery as an experiment of techniques to explore my love of surface pattern, texture and mark making. Which end up as little pieces of art to wear.

What materials do you use?

I use a mixture of sterling silver, copper with enamel, anodised aluminium and 24ct gold details.

Where do you create your jewellery?

I create it mostly in my head when I’m out and about with the dog, absorbing my surroundings. I like to photograph everything around me, and when I get back to the studio, this all gets translated into metal pieces (in one form or another).

You’ve lived all over the world – how did this come about and how did it inspire your jewellery?

I think living in different cultures and seeing both primitive art and contemporary art has created a wider sense of the idea of the wearable object for me.

My time in New Zealand was an incredible ten years, which was spent actually helping a real life gold dredger, and bushman in the gold seasons (between snowfall and snow melt). 

I also learned a lot about large scale mining and the impact it has on the surroundings in other parts of the world. Hence my awareness for eco metals and methods of extraction that create less impact on our planet. 

A single handed gold dredger doesn’t make a spot of difference to the landscape, hence my love of finding my own gold when I can (that’s why I’ve moved to Scotland). 

As far as the jewellery produced in New Zealand goes, there was quite an interesting contemporary scene, and the Maori jewellery made from paua shell and pounamu was simple and stunning and the art was basic carving, symbolic and meaningful. 

It was clear that jewellery was seen as a connection to the Earth and the Pounamu (New Zealand greenstone or jade) was extremely spiritually connected, the shapes it was carved into were all considered and had meaning. 

I don’t think many New Zealanders wear or buy anything unless it has meaning. You don’t get much mass produced, throw away cheap jewellery there.

What’s the favourite piece in your jewellery collection? 

In my personal collection, I have a favourite ring that I made using my Grandmother’s old gold jewellery. She passed on a few small pieces a long time ago, which I melted down and refashioned into two rings. One for me and one for my sister.

You create both wedding rings and enamelled jewellery – which do you prefer making?

Yes, I make wedding rings using recycled metals, and I love the whole process of this. I fell in love with gold the first time I saw a nugget appear in the sluice box. So making wedding rings feeds my gold addiction. 

The enamel is a bit of an indulgence in some ways, as it’s the creative side of my work. It’s where I can be a bit less restrained in what I’m making and gives me an outlet for my more creative side. 

It’s so good to be able to start something with a vague idea of where its going and then let it evolve into something. The wedding rings are always so directive, you always know what the end product will look like. 

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

I think some of my enamel has been the most fun, and also the most interesting – as I’m always trying to push the medium to the limits. But I think some of the proudest work has been the practice stone mounts and settings I do in my spare time. 

I never show these as they are experiments to see if I can achieve techniques. I was given some exquisite antique drawings from a Parisian jewellers, which some day I’m going to work my way through and make, purely as an exercise to challenge my skills. 

What’s your favourite part of being a Jewellery Designer?

Every day is different. I’m always excited about creating jewellery to order, people can come up with some really amazing ideas, and making these real and then seeing a customer’s face is the best part of being a jeweller.

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

I think my proudest moment, as a student at The Birmingham School of Jewellery,  we were asked to submit designs for The Eurovision song contest which was being held in Birmingham  that year. I came runner up and the trophy was made up and is held in the private collection of the Assay Office.  My other memory that springs to mind, is having my first exhibition ever at The Crafts Council in Islington, after leaving Uni.

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

I do both, I love the contact with my customers. But I’m really happy to be represented by some amazing galleries too, and the list continues to grow by the week.

What’s your design process?

I still use my sketchbooks from university as inspiration, but generally designs flow as I’m making. I always know what I’m making next before I finish the first piece.  

Experimenting is something I do a lot and I spend a lot of time thinking and sketching and figuring out how I’m going to create what’s in my head, and then I will just launch into it.  It either works, or it doesn’t. I’d love a whole year off to just experiment with all the ideas buzzing around my brain. 

How important is jewellery design to you?

Design and function have to go hand in hand, something has to work both visually and in the wearing of the piece.  If things don’t hang correctly or move well, they get put onto the scrap heap. 

What do you love about jewellery?

Everything. 

How did you start creating jewellery?

I did art, textiles and ceramics at school and knew I was going to be creative in some form. And it was definitely timely in a 3D direction. I think my Saturday job at a jewellers pushed me over the edge when I started learning about gems from the repairs bench in the top floor of the building.  

What are your aspirations for your business?

I’d love to be able to make bigger one off pieces, maybe more art style jewellery and exhibit more overseas.  I’d also love to have work in shows in the US, they have an incredible appetite for contemporary jewellery. 

Where do you feel most inspired?

I feel most inspired outdoors in the wilds. Now I’m in Scotland I love to walk in the mountains away from everyone. So I can think without interruption. 

Who else inspires you?

I’m inspired by fellow jewellers, they are always so encouraging at shows when we meet. And I love to see other peoples individuality succeeding.  It inspires me to see this, and know that there’s an appreciation for beautiful and different work.

What inspires you?

Life, my connections, my attachment to nature, reality, my love of materials, experimentation,  sketchbooks.

How do you juggle all the different aspects of the job?

I don’t think I do to be honest. I think you just have to do as much as you can. And it’s important to realise it’s not life or death if something goes wrong. I think there’s a tendency for self employed people to be so critical of themselves and create unrealistic deadlines, that sometimes it’s good to look at the bigger picture and just admit you can’t do everything.

A jeweller has to be very multi-skilled – i.e. web designer, photographer, tea maker etc!  How do you find that?

Very hard going. I love making and in the last twenty years I’ve found I spend so much less time making and more on social media, websites etc. It saddens me how much time I DON’T spend at the bench any more.

Jewellers often have to work quite flexible hours, how does that fit in with the rest of your life?

Its fine, thankfully it’s only me and the dog, so no one depending on me for anything, and I can be as creative as I like with work. I do love my work so it isn’t a chore, however I probably do work a bit too much, and really need to get a better work/life balance. 

Isn’t it amazing how our experiences (especially of other cultures) and change or build in our beliefs? Claire’s experience of living in New Zealand and Scotland have both made an impression on her work. Has anywhere you’ve visited or lived had a big impact on you?

You can find out more about Claire and her work here.