Simple lines, strong form: the contemporary designs of Sylvie Watson Jewellery

Raised in a home full of art supplies, Sylvie Watson is hard wired to create things. The Auckland-based jewellery designer and maker draws on her creative training and the nature of found objects and materials to design contemporary jewellery that combines simple lines, strong form, and organic shapes and textures.

Jewellery designer Sylvie Watson in her studio

What do you make?

Contemporary jewellery and small objects using silver, gold, and other metals, precious and semi-precious stones, wood, and other often found materials. I have a line of designs that I sell on Felt, and I also do commission work and one-off art pieces. 

How did you get into your craft?

I have to make things to be happy, it’s just how I’m hard wired. When I was a small child I would spend most of my days painting or drawing. My grandfather was a commercial artist from the 1930s to 1960s, for Four Square and Farmers. He also owned an art school and supply shop on Hobson Street in Auckland City (where the Sky Tower is now). When he passed away and the shop closed down my mother was left with a lot of art supplies, which she brought home. So I grew up with a garage filled with amazing supplies – oil paints, beautiful water colours, wood cutting tools, and etching boards.

Over time my interests became more diverse: I delved into clothing design, furniture restoration and soft toys, then I was asked to accompany a friend to a jewellery night class, and I was hooked.

In 2008 I attended a night course at Workshop 6 in Kingsland. Workshop 6 is a studio for practicing jewellers and they run night classes for those who want to learn contemporary jewellery, not manufacturing jewellery. It has been operating since 1994 and is an awesome learning environment. 

Sterling silver ring by Sylvie Watson
Sterling Silver Organic Earrings by Sylvie Watson

Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?

After 10-plus years of attending night classes, reading books, and watching YouTube tutorials, I bit the bullet and enrolled in art school in 2019. My time spent under the instruction of some of New Zealand’s best contemporary jewellery and arts educators was amazing and well worth the time and effort. And I came away with a qualification in jewellery design and creativity.  It challenged me to have purpose and to ‘make’ meaningfully. Unfortunately, like so many areas of arts practice in New Zealand, the school I attended closed its doors a few years after I left, but I really value the education I received. 

Your favourite materials, tools, and processes?

I love using found objects in my work and I am an avid beachcomber. So I often end up with stones that I set into rings, pieces of wood, shell, or other found objects. In the past I have made necklaces out of kowhai seeds, a beach-tumbled brick ring, and glass from a broken bus shelter.

What inspires you?

Materials inspire me. I am always collecting possible materials that could be used or replicated.  In saying that I strive to make my work uncomplicated and simple. Simple lines, textures, and designs. I have architects in my family so strong forms are a feature of my work. 

Materials and found objects in the studio of Sylvie Watson
Jewellery designer Sylvie Watson in her studio
Sculpture by Sylvie Watson

What has been a highlight of your maker journey so far?

Probably the exhibitions I have done. Trying to orchestrate an exhibition is an artwork in itself. The gallery feedback and other artist feedback is priceless. 

Describe your creative process:

A juggle! I tend to have several projects on the go at the same time usually in a series of works to explore what looks and feels best from a design perspective. I make a lot of marquettes before I finish a new line of designs, so my space is very full. 

Your favourite feedback from a customer:

There have been loads of lovely feedback comments but the order that really stands out was a commission from two best childhood friends who had been besties since kindergarten. They were the same age and every decade they would buy each other matching or similar presents and gift them to each other. My pounamu rings were the choice for their 60th year of friendship, pretty special! 

Pounamu and sterling silver square ring by Sylvie Watson
Pounamu rings by Sylvie Watson

What are you currently listening to?

As well as making jewellery I also double as a music teacher, so I get to listen to A LOT of music through my students. Lately, the playlist has included Aldous Harding, Childish Gambino, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. 

What’s your favourite childhood book and why?

Mister Dog, a golden book by Margret Wise Brown. It’s the story of a dog called Chrispian Chrispian, a dog who belonged to himself. He meets a little boy who also belongs to himself. I really like the concept of belonging to oneself and being happy with that. 

What are you reading now?

20 Rental Properties in One Year by Graeme Fowler. Interesting but not sure it would work in 2024. 

Tell us about your pets:

Toughy Watson the West Highland Terrier dog and Pipi the cat, plus a variety of outdoor pond goldfish are our much-loved pets. They are best mates and are super cute. 

Pipi the cat in the studio
Five Textured Stacker Rings - 2 Sterling silver, 2 9ct yellow gold, copper  – by Sylvie Watson

What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?

Do it for yourself and use the creative release as a drive but make sure you don’t overload yourself and make sure you are business-minded about your time and energy. 

What does it mean to you when someone buys your creations?

It means the world, to have what I create valued and appreciated, it spurs me on to make more. 

What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?

An awesome sculpture of Great Barrier Island by Daniel Wright who even came down to the Mulberry Grove shop on Great Barrier to package it for me. Thanks, Daniel! 

Pearl and Oxidised Sterling Silver Stud Earrings by Sylvie Watson

What’s your favourite item in your shop right now?

I love my oxidized pearl earrings. The oxidation makes the pearls pop and they are super comfy to wear. 

What’s in store for 2024?

This year I am starting a series of jewellery using stones from around Aotearoa.  Agate, jasper, rhyolite, and serpentine will be polished up at my local Rock Hounds club and turned into bling at my bench. I’ve also started the year by getting back into painting, which has been enjoyable. /listing/448811

Sylvie has offered us a pair of her stunning sterling silver circle studs to give away to one lucky fan this month – just in time for Valentine’s Day! Follow Felt on Instagram and watch out for your chance to win.

Circle studs in sterling silver by Sylvie Watson

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