TANIA

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What’s your background and what inspired you to become a jewellery designer?

I never intentionally set out to become a jewellery designer…like a lot of things I do, it wasn’t really planned. It’s only in hindsight that I now recognise that so much of what I’m doing today makes sense when I look back at my childhood and how I was brought up. I was born in Italy and then we moved back to Australia when I was two. We went back and forth between Italy and Australia growing up and both of my parents are very creative and entrepreneurial – both run their own businesses. My parents have always encouraged me to do something that I enjoy and I never felt pressured to go down any specific path. When I finished school I took a year off and traveled around Europe. Towards the end of my time away, I realised that the whole time I had been traveling I had been making things…I have always had a real desire to create things, and so, I decided to study design. I studied graphics, ceramics and spatial design. I loved making things with my hands and therefore adored ceramics. I actually randomly fell into jewellery through that pathway… my jewellery journey started when I began creating ceramic jewellery and then I progressed to exploring metal work from there.

We had a family friend that was a jeweler and I used to go and watch him make pieces in his studio - ask a thousand questions and learn from him as much as I could. I would spend all afternoon at his studio. I just kept on making things and it eventually got to the point where I was selling my pieces in stores but to this day I don’t even really know how that happened… the whole process was just so organic, fuelled by passion and a desire to keep on learning.

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Why is it important to you to design pieces for life?

Looking back on my home environment growing up, I can now see how this has really impacted the way I think about possessions. My mum is South American and my dad is Italian and we traveled a lot growing up. Our house was a collection of items that all meant something, collected during our travels and all with stories to go with them. It was a super eclectic house, full of statues, paintings, books, artifacts and all sorts of wonderful things. There was nothing that hadn’t been considered or that was bought simply to fill a space. It was all meaningful. When it comes to jewellery specifically, I’m fascinated by the notion that it is one of the few objects that we choose to own that can outlive us for such a long time…being passed down through generations. I also love creating pieces that become a part of your every day. A mantra of mine is to create pieces that you can ‘live’ in. I don’t want to simply create things that are beautiful but also pieces that my clients feel a personal connection to.... Special pieces that become part of their story. I think it’s important to own things that bring you joy, not just in regards to jewellery but with everything we purchase, even down to where you buy your fruit and veggies from…to me there is joy found in the process of buying my fruit and veggies from the local market, where I value the process. It is bigger than just the object. Anything that we put meaning and mindfulness behind automatically becomes more valuable to us.

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Let’s talk about the process behind your designs…

Before I started RUUSK I took a year to work on and really refine the process of what I do. This all began after I lived in the Netherlands for a year and decided to travel to Italy to literally knock on doors to find traditional jewellery artisans to work with. It was amazing to meet so many incredible artisan families and to see how their jewellery practices were passed down through generations. I designed and had a collection made in Italy which was a wonderful experience, however, after a few months I felt like I needed more from the creative process. I really missed the tactile sense of making the pieces by hand myself and the freedom that comes from connecting yourself to the actual making process. I also didn’t really resonate with the idea of making pieces to then focus my energy on selling them, this seemed counter-intuitive to me. I came to the realisation that I wanted people to want the pieces before they were made. I wanted to journey with people to make pieces that meant something to them and that they would wear for life. To create with purpose and intention. I set about to encourage this way of making and my businesses started from there.

Everything that I make is made to order, I have a collection of basic shapes that you can choose to customise or we can create a bespoke piece which is designed specifically for you from scratch.

What are the strongest influences on your designs? What sets your designs apart?

Coming back to that idea of ‘jewellery for life’ or jewellery that you can ‘live in’, it is really important to me that the pieces I create are durable and have wear-ability. I rarely make anything that is really high set or that will get caught on things because I want them to be functional. Everything that I do is hand carved from wax and this process tends to lend itself towards more organic shapes and softer curves. A lot of the time I just carve and things happen quite intuitively. To be honest the designs that I often love the most are the ones that I don’t over-think when carving them.

With all my pieces, even with something as simple as a plain band, it’s never entirely perfect, it’s those imperfections which make the piece. I love that handmade feel – it’s not something that has been mass produced or made by machines. My dad used to design jewellery when he was quite young and one of the things I remember him telling me was that one of the easiest ways to tell if a stone was a fake is if it was too perfect! I think we are all imperfect, which could be why a lot of people are attracted to the more authentic handmade/organic feel of products… those imperfections reflect a bit of us.

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Who did you end up learning from to make jewellery?

I’m mostly self-taught. I was really interested in making things so I just kept on learning! I’ll forever be learning.

I hand carve all the pieces myself but I’m starting to grow a small team of other artisans who specialise in certain areas. For example I have a master hand engraver or a master setter. It such an honour to be able to work with people who are experts in their specific fields.

When someone comes to you to make a bespoke piece, how do you transfer their character and story into a piece of jewellery personalised to them?

The process can be quite a long one when it comes to designing and creating bespoke pieces. With engagement rings for example, often I may be talking to the partner of whoever the ring is for, so you find yourself going into detective mode, trying to gauge an essence of who this person is. I will also ask if there is a particular meaningful story they want to bring into the design as as element or concept we could explore. For example, at the moment I am making a custom pendant for a client that will feature stones that represent the meaning of her children’s names. Instead of using their birthstones, I suggested we could use stones that represent their character.

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What does it mean to ‘put yourself’ into your work?

I believe that if objects can hold meaning, they can also hold a bit of your spirit and soul. When you are making things by hand there is such an intention that goes into that piece right from the beginning. When I sit in my studio and bring pieces to life by slowly and mindfully carving, the process becomes really special. The time that it takes to make a piece [up to 6 months sometimes] means I am really invested in these objects. I feel like a little bit of me continues off into the world after it’s made which is really incredible. A new journey begins with the wearer but an element of it’s creation will always be deeply embedded in the piece.

Sustainability…what does that mean for your industry?

When I think about sustainability in what I do, I think it is deeply ingrained in mindful creation. A lot of jewellery nowadays is unfortunately made from base metals that are plated, the plating will eventually fade and may even leave a green mark on your skin. These pieces are designed for fast purchasing, fast consumption and, before long, the materials fail and they end up in landfill.

Creating with purpose/meaning, using authentic materials and developing a durable process is paramount to what I do.

All of the gold that I use is Australian gold – I work with one of the largest recyclers of precious metals in Australasia, so a lot of the gold I use is also recycled. Not only is it important to me to use long lasting materials, but in choosing to only make items to order I ensure that never have a surplus amount of stock sitting around waiting to be sold. That way I know that I’m bringing something into creation that is wanted and that will be respected and treasured. It’s all about mindfulness - If you are mindful, then you are going to be more sustainable in the way that you use materials. It’s about being aware and always trying to do things better than you have before.

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Your product is very visual and therefore lends itself to marketability on social media. How are you mindful about using social media in your everyday?

Social media is a great way of sharing what you are doing with other people, especially when you are involved in creative work – people can get a real sense of the soul and vibe of your business through visual social platforms. I tend to be pretty organised with Instagram to limit wasting time. I schedule posts in advance and try to avoid mindless scrolling. Even though Instagram can be a great social tool, the real magic happens when I connect with clients in person, over email or on the phone. It’s important to remember that Instagram is a valuable platform, but it’s definitely not the most important part of my business. I often see people getting disheartened and a bit lost when they start to believe that the response to their posts equals the value of what they do and this is simply not true. I use it as a tool to share my work and to hopefully connect with people that really resonate with what I do. If you are true to yourself and believe in the work that you do, stay consistent and honest and the right people will find you.

What does the word artisan mean to you?

Artisan refers to someone who is making with their hands, usually using traditional methods of making… for me it’s a special word…I suppose I consider myself an artisan in training - I always have more to learn! A lot of jewellery these days is designed and created digitally, using 3D modelling and printing, which isn’t a process that resonates with me. Going back to slower, more traditional ways of making with my hands is something I dedicate myself to. You can still look to old traditions and make something new - perhaps that’s what it means to be a modern artisan.

Purpose…what does that mean for you?

I ask myself this question a lot. I am a big believer in personal growth and trying to be a better version of myself. For some reason the words that come to mind when I think of my purpose is “sharing light”. I don’t really even know what that means, and I’m still trying to figure that out. Perhaps that’s where creativity comes in for me… it’s a way of creating and sharing something that is authentic and meaningful. Being able to interact with others and serve them is really inspiring for me. What I do comes down to the people I am creating for and I am so humbled every time someone trusts me to create something so meaningful for them – it’s a really beautiful exchange. I also often ask myself how I can appreciate the day more, how I can bring more goodness into the world… Maybe that’s a shared purpose that we have together, to all find different ways of doing this every day.

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PHOTOGRAPHY: Hannah Darkins (The Unfold).

Hannah DarkinsComment