Today marks the beginning of jewellery week and to celebrate, we have met with some inspiring jewellers. Jewellery is a luxury; a treasured item that can be both sentimental and modish. However, there is much more to jewellery than just its charm. Every bit of jewellery has a story to tell, tracing right back to where it came from. Oria Jewellery is an ethical jewellers ensuring every bit of jewellery in their collections is fair, sustainable and as beautiful as they deserve. We met with Tania Kowalski, co-owner and jeweller of Oria to find out more about her passion for working in the ethical jewellery industry.
So how did you get into working with ethical jewellery?
In my early stages of education I did a lot of work with textile design, it wasn’t until I went to university where I did a jewellery degree that I became involved with it. I spent two terms doing placements – one in Poland and one here in the UK where I worked with a lot of ethnic jewellery designs. My interest for ethical jewellery however came from a lot of my own research and discoveries about blood diamonds. I am a very environmentally friendly person as I always use eco-friendly products so what I do works well with my lifestyle.
What is precious about ethical jewellery?
It involves a lot of research and ethical jewellery deserves to be dealt with with care as it is so unique and precious. It needs to be kept traceable so it is not mixed with unethically sourced jewellery.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced working as a jewellery designer and maker?
The sourcing of the materials, definitely. It took us about 5 or 6 years to find a location to source our materials from, however it is much easier to find them now. Owing to the limited amount of materials, you have to tailor your jewellery around what is available.
What/who inspires your work?
My co-partner Synnove does the designs. Many of her designs have a Scandinavian influence as she is originally from Norway. The designs are inspired by nature and we often look for images that inspire us and ensure our own vision of that image is shown in the design. It takes a lot of thought.
What do you love most about jewellery?
Jewellery is precious and is often given from one to another as a gift. Therefore it has much sentimental value. I love how you can pass it down through generations. Its timeless in that way. In my family we have a necklace that has been passed down from my great, great Uncle who worked as a gold panner in California during the gold rush.
Why do you think jewellery is desired by so many?
For many reasons. For its sentimental value, its aesthetic appeal, and because you can express your personality in a portable way. You can express who you are with jewellery without being too obvious and loud.
Do you have a treasured piece of jewellery that you have kept hold of?
I am very fond of the Nina ring which is one of the first pieces of jewellery made at Oria. The design is based on a phoenix, which represents new life and I think I treasure it because this signifies the beginning of Oria jewellery and the raising awareness of ethical jewellery.
What can we look forward to in terms of Oria’s collections?
Our new leather collection. It is made from vegetable tanned leather which is chromium free. This means it is environmentally friendly and is much nicer to the skin. The collection will be a range of cuffs and necklaces based on the retro collection which is inspired by the 60s and 70s. They are going to be a fashion statement. It is to be funkier and cheaper. We have been working on it for over two years to find the perfect cutting to ensure the sides are not burnt when it is cut. We source it locally in Britain and hope that it will be successful and seen in jewellery shops and boutiques.
And lastly, what advice would you give to aspiring jewellery designers?
Do a lot of careful planning. This is essential. And ensure your jewellery is cost-effective and beautiful in a way that they can speak for themselves. Let your personality show through your designs but make sure you are careful not to assume you are your own market. Do some research, get out there, network and talk to people to find a market your jewellery will do best in.
By Marni Banks