Nicola Price of Orchid Blue NZ leads a busy life. A health care assistant in a rest home dementia unit by night, by day she creates intricate, innovative jewellery by upcycling and recycling tiny everyday treasures: vintage silverwares and Aotearoa’s beautiful old coins.
What do you make?
I mainly craft jewellery and occasionally quirky ornaments out of vintage items. I have a huge passion for upcycling and recycling. The hot favorite at the moment are vintage coins. The detail on a lot of coins is just so intricate and beautiful. When I do craft with sterling silver, I use vintage silver cutlery that I have been able to find. The cutlery can be used as it is, to make simple earrings, rings, and bracelets from the handles, or it can be melted down and that silver can then be made into sheet, wire, or cast into whatever I want.
How did you get into your craft?
Years ago I saw photos of spoon jewellery online and just had to give it a go. That led to seeing pierce work online, where vintage cutlery had beautiful designs cut from the spoon bowls, so of course I had to give that a go too. Several hours of YouTube videos, loads of broken blades, frustration, and an accidental purchase of what I thought were the wrong size blades, lead to the “I’ve finally cracked it!” moment. And from then I’ve been hooked, pierce work is my main love now. Once I got out of the “only precious metals are valuable” mindset any medium was fair game and I was off running.
Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
I have no formal training. When I want to try something new I’ll look for something similar, then work out how it was made, or how it was put together. Then it’s to the work bench to adapt it to my needs, and just give it a go. When I first wanted to know how to make a hinge for my lockets, I looked up a tutorial on YouTube. From there it’s like anything else: practice, practice, practice. I love watching videos of others making a piece from scratch to finish, this has played a large part in refining my skills.
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
My favourite tool has to be my rolling mill, it has so many uses. I’m able to melt down scrap silver then make my own wire and sheet with the mill. It can be used to add texture to many other metals too. Favourite metal is vintage sterling silver. Like most of the materials I use, I don’t want to buy new, so I hunt down vintage cutlery. Most of my silver components have been crafted from vintage silver that I have melted down and reformed into whatever I need. There are still some components that I have to buy new, but very little. Anyone who works with silver will know the glee of putting a torch to it and watching it melt.
Tell us about some of the techniques involved in producing one of your pieces
As any jeweller will tell you, the process is never quick.
For my Huia Shadow Locket, I choose coins with the sharpest details. I use a jewellery saw with the finest blade to carefully cut around the Huia and the inside edge of the coin to frame it. Once the middle pieces are soldered together a hole can be cut out, then smoothed and polished. I’ll solder on the last coin which is the back of the locket to middle pieces. The hinges are sterling tube which is cut to the required size and soldered to the inside edge of the lid, and two more are soldered to the body of the locket. Sterling tube is also used for the closure, a piece is soldered to the bottom outside edge of the lid, and a little ball of silver is soldered to the body of the locket in the front.
When this all is done, sterling wire is threaded through the tube, wrapped around the silver ball, then back to the tube on the other side. The wire is then cut and soldered together. Once a bail has been added everything is polished: firstly by hand and then in the tumbler. The final step is lining up the body and lid of the locket, threading a piece of wire through the hinge tubes, then very gently tapping the ends of the wire to flare them, this secures the hinge. The ends are given a quick buff to smooth rough edges. And finally it’s finished!
What inspires you?
Everything around us everyday. Vintage items and jewellery, I love looking at the older and some of the more simple techniques used, they can be the answer to a tricky part of a piece I am crafting. Finding a beautiful intricate design on a coin sparks the imagination. I like to follow non-traditional jewellers online, at times when I doubt the choice of metal or medium, these amazing creators remind me that anything is possible. It’s not always the type of metal used that gives a piece value, it’s the crafter’s imagination and skill.
Is there a philosophy behind your work?
To upcycle and recycle as much as possible. Make use of unused or unwanted items and give them a new life. So many old items are hidden away, given away, or thrown away. I like to take these items and turn them into wearable art. Nana’s old teaspoons, serving trays, china etc can be turned into wearable keepsakes. Upcycling follows through to my boxes as well. Rather than buy boxes, I craft mine from other boxes that would usually be thrown away. Cracker, cereal, tea boxes etc are all used, I use my box templates to cut, then wrap in brown paper and add a little paint technique to prettify them. Family, friends and workmates keep me supplied with boxes they would usually throw away. The focus is not to be on profit, but rather just the simple joy and pleasure of creating. For my work to bring a smile to others.
What has been a highlight of your maker journey so far?
Last year I made a hand-sawn pair of earrings with the Mangōpare design from a vintage serving tray. Some of the ladies I ride motorcycles with said that I should make a pair for our then prime minister. I was really nervous about it but decided what the heck. The earrings were delivered to her by one of the girls, and later that night Jacinda Ardern was wearing them on the TV. Just the biggest wow moment ever!
Describe your creative process
For me it seems the best ideas come when I am in the middle of doing anything, not when I am thinking about creating something new. But while I’m at work, driving, watching TV with my mum, when I’m crafting another piece, and – probably the most annoying to those around me – is in the middle of a conversation. I’ll suddenly burst out with “Oh this would look good if I did this.” Then basically I’m itching to get started. Creating is a wonderful way of losing time, I find it very peaceful and calming, the perfect way to wind-down after a hard week at work.
Describe your workspace
I live in a small studio, so my workspace is also small. I’m fortunate to have large windows and french doors, so there is a lot of natural light which is a huge bonus. My workbench is actually an old portable filleting table with an old door on top, virtually everything I use is sitting on the bench. At times my poor bench looks like a bomb has hit it, but I know where everything is. The chest of drawers next to my bench was also a freebie, so the top holds more materials that I work with, and the draws hold my clothes. Everything in my small space has to have a double use.
Five words that describe your mind
Busy, messy, fanciful, impatient, imaginative.
Your favourite feedback from a customer
“Bought these beautiful earrings as a Mother’s Day gift to match her threepence ring. The craftsmanship on them is exceptional. My Mum absolutely loves her earrings! Nikki individually wrapped them in a beautifully hand decorated box, which was a lovely touch.”
What are you currently listening to?
No music, I love music but tend to move with a song and that’s not helpful when doing delicate pierce-work. So I mostly have crime mini series on in the background, it’s like listening to a book and really just background noise.
A favourite quote
“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” – Thomas Edison.
What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
Create what you like, what you love, what gets your imagination going, what excites you. Don’t follow the crowd or latest trends. You need to do what you love, otherwise it will become a chore. Being creative should bring you joy, start small, take time to grow your skills and find your style.
Why do you think it’s important to buy handmade and/or locally made goods?
Handmade goods aren’t just an “Oh that’s pretty”, they are interesting and, a lot of the time, different. This is what I see when I buy handmade, and I feel buyers feel the same about my creations. I think it’s always great to support handmade crafters, you are showing them your appreciation for their creativity, imagination and skill they have gained over time, and appreciation for the crafters’ art.
What does it mean to you when someone buys your creations?
Everything! I still get excited with each and every sale. I love creating, taking something old and giving it a totally new life. When a piece grabs someone enough that they purchase it, it’s just wicked!
What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
Kawakawa & Mango Body Butter from Still Milly. I wanted something different for mum’s birthday, and she loves natural products. Can’t rave about it enough, it smells so good you almost want to lick it to see how it tastes. It really is wicked butter, my hands get a hard time with creating, and with being an HCA I constantly use hand sanitizer. This butter goes on smoothly, soaks in quickly and leaves my hands so soft. Teina is just so lovely.
What’s your favourite item in your shop right now?
Any of my Coin Lockets. Every time I finish one it just makes me smile, honestly I can’t stop looking at them.
What’s in store for 2024?
More new and wonderful creations with coins. Breaking into my lovely stash of vintage sterling silver to use in pierce work and casting. Keep refining my skills, this is a constant thing. Incorporate more Māori designs and pounamu in my pieces, with my Māori heritage this is close to my heart, and now that my skill level is higher, I feel I will be able to do justice to the pieces I want to create.
And this November, some of my creations are in Adrienne Spratt’s Waiorua Gallery on Kapiti Island. Adrienne’s Gallery is part of the Arts Trail this year which is on the first two weekends of November. Visit KapitiCoastArtTrail.co.nz