Nelson-based jeweller Claire Allain of Lovebird first took an interest in making jewellery at the age of sixteen, as the result of a Saturday job working for a big-brand jeweller. Fifteen years later, as an accomplished silversmith and designer, Claire has created many engagement rings and custom pieces, as well as her own collection in silver and brass, Lovebird.
What do you make?
I am very diverse in style and, having been both to University and worked in the trade making traditional jewellery, I have the advantage of being able to make a variety of goodies. I have two Felt shops: one is Lovebird which focuses on traditional materials such as silver (always recycled) and brass. The other shop is Bella and Max which is items made from a funky process called anodising, which is aluminium basically dyed as you would dye clothing.
How did you get into your craft?
I first became aware of my interest in jewellery at the age of sixteen. My Saturday job was working for a big-brand jeweller who sold mostly cheaply mass-produced gold and silver. It was my role to run across town with any repairs or re-sizing of rings to another much higher-end jeweller.
One day I was taken out through locked doors to the back of the jewellery store to the repairs department. I was told to sit next to an old fella and wait. He was working on stone-setting beautiful rings, and when he leaned over to this old wooden chest and opened one of the slim drawers inside I could see rows of little white boxes with clear lids on them.
In each box, nestled in white cotton, were a million little twinkling gemstones glittering in the light and winking at me in reds, greens and blues… that was the start of it all!
It was at that moment that I decided I was either going to make beautiful things – or marry a diamond dealer!
galleryDo you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
After the realisation of wanting to make gorgeous things, I studied hard and went to University to take a degree in silversmithing and jewellery. My formal qualification is a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in silver-smithing and jewellery. After that I worked for a jeweller’s in the UK doing repairs and manufacturing bangles and link necklaces.
What are your favourite materials?
I have had the pleasure over the last fifteen years to make a multitude of different engagement rings in many styles, so my little paws have touched some beautiful diamonds and gold. I have to say that I am absolutely a diamond and 18carat yellow gold girl, however due to the cost I have to wait until I get special commissions before I can play with them.
What inspires you?
I think my days at University, along with the added advantage of being able to hop down to London on the train and see many exhibitions, have always added to the fire of inspiration for me. I pretty much started with my sketchbooks from Uni fifteen years ago and travelled along a path which is constantly added to visually by my life-travels. I rarely get writers’ block; generally I have already designed the next item in my head before I have finished the first. This means that there is never enough time to make it all – and I really need to win Lotto so I can get a team of people making the designs as I think them up!!
Five words that describe your mind: Jumbled, racing, colourful, dizzy and full!
Is there a philosophy behind your work?
I don’t think I have a philosophy – just a need to make what I see in my head exactly as I see it. (I’m not insane!)
Describe your workspace:
My workspace, as you can see from the photo, is organised chaos. I have a lot of the same tool in different sizes. I love the tools as much as the jewellery. I have a box of silver scrap which I use, I generally buy old silver and recycle it by melting and pouring my own ingots – that way, I cut down my carbon footprint on the planet!
Your favourite response from a customer:
I have had so much positive feedback over the years and maybe only a couple of negatives. It is all helpful, however the best compliment I had recently was when a lady asked if she could buy a ring on layby as she was really not well-off and it was the first thing she had seen that she really, really wanted and would $5 a week be okay… I loved that, it really touched me. She must have really liked my work and it meant so much to me.
What are you reading? I am currently reading a book on gemstone setting.
Do you have any pets?
My pets are a cat called Bella and a dog called Max, hence the name of my other shop on Felt.
What was the last handmade thing you bought?
The last handmade item I bought was from a craft fair in Mapua and it was by a fab artisan in stitching and felt work called ASpank of Zanz.
I love supporting crafts people, as I am one myself, and I really think that if we all went back to buying hand-crafted in our own country/region then we would generate much more interest in the artistic communities – and products would be made from quality materials to last a lifetime of love.
galleryYou can catch Claire at the Nelson Market every Saturday, and also next month at the Mapua Makers Market (9 February) and the Nelson Lakes Festival (17 February). You can also follow Claire on Facebook: just look for Claire Allain Jewellery.
Claire has generously offered this beautiful “Love” pendant from her new Lovebird range as a gift for one of our lucky commenters. Leave us a comment below and you’ll be in with a chance to win it – how’s that for a Valentine’s treat! The draw is open to New Zealand residents only until midnight on Monday 11 February.