Like many makers, Christchurch craftsman Ben Teeuwen’s journey started with making handcrafted gifts that drew compliments and led to word-of-mouth interest. From that emerged a plan to fashion beautiful jewellery using natural timber and recycled copper. His shop name, Cobredera, comes from the two Spanish words for his favourite materials: cobre (copper) and madera (wood).
What do you make?
I make both copper and wood jewellery, on their own, or both combined where possible. That consists of earrings, pendants and rings. I also use a little bit of brass. All the copper sheet, wire and so on is recycled (rescued from old machinery or bought from a scrap metal merchant).
Most of the wood used has been found on the beach, on the West Coast (red beech, beech), or from trees that I have obtained from family or clients (apple, kowhai, blackboy peach). But my most favourite material I have used so far in my jewellery has been an 80 year old walnut tree I found in a South Canterbury river, part of its trunk and, most importantly for me, its roots. You will see in my jewellery how dark the items are that have come from the roots, almost petrified.
How did you get into your craft?
I had made a few small simple pieces of jewellery, a couple initially for my wonderful mum, and then I gave a couple away. But what really got my creative juices flowing was when I had made some earrings for my physio, as a thank you for the more than 10 years of work she had done on me. They were round walnut root earrings with a copper inlay. It was not so much her response (which was hugely appreciated) but the comments she received from friends and family when she was wearing them. That made me think that what I was making was turning people’s heads.
Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
I do not have any formal training, but I have been very fortunate to have been guided by Tatyanna Meharry at Risingholme, where I was the only male doing jewellery making, in the corner whilst a pottery class was going on! She was very helpful with me getting to grips with the basics of working with copper, and soldering, and other techniques. I would come to class with a partially made item, and with a plan of how I would finish the item, and she would be helpful in leaving it as I had planned or tweaking it to make it something special. But all the shapes and designs are my own.
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
My favourite materials are the more heavily grained timbers, which mostly come in the form of native driftwood found on the beaches on the West Coast. I spend ages combing the piles washed up at a beautiful northern West Coast beach (and swatting the hundreds of sandflies that enjoy me!). The wood has to be left for some time to dry, at least for six months, and even then when it’s cut open it can still be surprisingly wet inside from the journey it has had downriver and in the sea, before being washed up.
My favourite materials are the more heavily grained timbers, which mostly come in the form of native driftwood found on the beaches on the West Coast.
My favourite tools are my bandsaw, which I use to cut open the chunks of driftwood or other timber used and reveal the grains and colour inside.
I use my belt sander (upside down) as my creator of form/shape, because a planned shape or design often does not end up as such and a new form often appears. It is a hungry beast, often ripping my gloves or spitting a piece out that I am working on! But is a huge time saver.
For shaping irregular designs I use a Dremel handpiece with a number of shaping burrs. I must also not forget to mention my wood lathe, which I use to make round earrings, pendants, and necklace parts. Getting the amazing final results in both metal and wood is the boring and repetitive sanding, going through the various grades and finishing with steel wool. There’s a total of seven different lots of sanding per jewellery item! That is why I have started making some more basic jewellery, that still shows off its amazing characteristics, but is somewhat less refined, reflected in the price.
But my most favourite part of the whole process is the application of the natural oil I use, made by the Natural House Co. Suddenly the amazing colours and grains pop out at you, and it leaves a soft satiny finish.
What inspires you?
Basically it’s whatever comes into my head. My job as a landscape gardener leaves plenty of space in the head to allow it to wander off and come up with new ideas. I do actually need to aim my thinking at a problem I am having, or apply the brain to a new set of designs. Then when I stop for a break, I will make a note of a new creation.
My job as a landscape gardener leaves plenty of space in the head to allow it to wander off and come up with new ideas.
Is there a philosophy behind your work?
My main aim is to make jewellery that is different, that is unique, and enhances the actual materials that I use. Just to be able to surprise prospective customers with the type of wood used on an item they may be interested in is a very enjoyable experience. There are not many people making jewellery out of wood the way I do, so I hope to be breaking new ground. With the wood, I aim to show off its natural colours and grains, and the copper or other metals, to show them off in their own best unique lustre where possible.
Describe your workspace:
Workspace for me is in about three places. The photo is a corner of my office I use for finishing items, oiling them, fitting copper wire fittings,etc. The other main area is my garage, where my bandsaw and wood lathe sit, (but it is not tidy enough for a photo!) and then normally an outside seat in my garden where I sit with a board on my lap, wearing overalls and a dust mask, and go through the sanding process. If it’s wet, I sit in my garage.
Five words that describe your mind:
Surprising, creative, from left field, muddled, determined.
Your favourite feedback from a customer: Just that whenever they were wearing the jewellery they had bought from me, without fail they’d been asked at least two or three times where they had bought it and who had made it.
Who is your hero/heroine?
My hero or heroes really are my parents, who made many sacrifices to emigrate to New Zealand from The Netherlands over 40 years ago to create for themselves and me and my brother a new and better life. It is a very short sentence to describe the long and hard working effort put in by them both. Something I will always be thankful for!
What are you reading now?
I just returned a couple of fiction books written by New Zealand authors, but did not keep their names! I tend to try to read Kiwi written books where possible.
A favourite quote:
“Someone who saves something, has something!” A translation of a Dutch saying. This quote applies very much to what I make. My dad has accumulated many things over the years, like the copper sheet and wire that I am now using in my jewellery. And as time goes on, I’m accumulating plenty as well.
If you were a crafty superhero, what would your name and superpower be?
The name COBREDERA would stay the same, but my superpower would be to be someone like a Michael Hill, or a world renowned brand like a Gucci, and have my jewellery sold all over the world, and the riches that come with it! Maybe I dream too much!
What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
Oh boy, that is so hard, as there are as many theories on success and failure as there are sunrises! Give it a go! Experienced people I have talked to in regards how they have found the magic formula for successful sales and thereby successful businesses, say that there is not one! For me it’s early days yet and am reluctant to step out of my safety zone to use social media to promote my product, and I do struggle with the technology, but maybe I need to put my head above the parapet and say “Here I am!”.
But I do know that those that have been successful have worked very hard at it, and have stuck at it, and when they’ve had disappointing days at markets have persevered and also had good days. Give it a go but do not hang everything you have on what you want to do. All you need sometimes is a lucky break, in whichever form that takes. Do not make decisions off the cuff – take the ideas or propositions people make to you home and spend time thinking about them.
I do know that those that have been successful have worked very hard at it … and when they’ve had disappointing days at markets have persevered and also had good days.
What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
I don’t know if a fine bottle of wine from Marlborough whilst on holiday is regarded as handmade, but I think so as the grapes where handpicked and put through various processes by the hands of the winemaker. And because I love a good bottle of wine! (We agree! – Felt team.)
What’s in store for 2016?
A number of things for me. One, I have to spend more time on practising my soldering techniques so that I can make more affordable but still stunning copper wire jewellery. I also need to spend more weekends at markets, as I have on an infrequent basis at the Harbour Bazaar, which is joined onto the Lyttelton Farmers’ Market. I have a number of designs running through my head for new stuff, and also some jewellery that is going to be OUT there! I am a long way yet from being an accomplished or established jewellery maker, but that is the challenge, I have lots to learn and improve on.
Also to go on holiday soon to the West Coast to my special place, and bring back more beautiful driftwood home!