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Claire Allain: Featured Jewelspan Jeweler, or as the Kiwis say Jeweller

New Zealand contemporary jewelry artisan with a focus on recycling metals and conflict free diamonds.

 Claire Allain took some time from her busy day to chat with Jewelspan, she is preparing to exhibit at  “Art Expo Nelson”  in New Zealand. 


How did you get your start in jewelry designing, and what have you learned over the course of being a designer?

My love for jewellery started at a very early age,  my Saturday job whilst I was at school was in a small jewellers in Guernsey, the channel Islands, my place of birth. My job was general tea making sweeping the floor and running quick repair jobs across town to a high end jewellers with a manufacturing workshop. The mystery behind a speaker entry system and a huge bolted metal door at the back of the jewellers was pretty exhilarating for a shy sixteen years old. I had to drop off the jobs and wait at the back of the workshop next to the watch repair man. It was whilst I was waiting for a ring to be resized that I saw the "watch man"fiddling with a slimline set of drawers, as he opened the top drawer, it revealed rows and rows of little white boxes with glass lids, inside them glistened and sparkled a million gemstones in all the colors one could imagine. It was at that moment I knew!  I then pursued the normal avenue of study at Grammar school and then onto University to obtain a degree in jewellery and silversmithing.  After University I managed to get a job in a repairs workshop making bangles and chains, but I found it very claustrophobic. So I left the trade and spread my wings and moved to the Southern tip of the United Kingdom, Cornwall. I rented a small shop and proceeded to start my own career in contemporary jewellery. Over the years I have learnt to be patient take my time, and have a go at anything. I have undertaken many orders which have challenged me but have always adopted the attitude that if it all goes wrong, I can always melt down and start again . Nothing is ever wasted in my workshop.


                          Random link bracelets with dotty and stripey detail. 

If you could sum up your look and aesthetic in three words, what would they be and why?

Three words to sum me up, organic, contemporary, prolific, I can't stop creating . I think I am contemporary yet not too "way out" which makes for ranges that sell well,  I do some great pieces for exhibition purposes which are far less commercial and love to have a bit of fun and challenge myself. 


Tell us about and what inspired your "Recycle,  conflict free" initiatives,  also tell us about your recycled packaging.


I have always recycled my metal, it was common practice in the workshop, all metal apart from the dust is melted and then made into ingots which are then rolled out into wire or sheet. I have been using old jewellery and other jewellers off cuts since I started. It seemed a natural step, especially seeing that most of my orders were recycling unwanted wedding rings or inherited jewelry. I always used to joke that I could reinvent jewellery to be dis-engaged items from broken up relationships. The recycled has been a constant, the conflict free diamonds came about in the nineties, when we were made aware as trades people of this, and I switched to a diamond dealer who could certify my diamonds. I also have always used the recycled paper packaging, even though it cuts down my choice drastically over here. I guess it's just a practice I have always believed in, and now it is becoming more important to people, so I can let them know that I have these ethics within my working life. 

                                  Drawings and prototype in brass.


I am afraid that I am a bit selfish, as my life is absorbed in art, luckily my partner works away a lot so he never feels to rejected. I live and breathe design and think about it all the time. Even walking the dog is a thinking exercise in colors and shapes as I look at my surroundings . My brain is now my sketchbook, I always seem to get the next idea just as I am finishing the piece I am working on. I can't stop, I even dream about designs. I love it when I make the next piece in my mind, it always seems to be "better" than my current one, so in fact in never achieve perfection, thus makes me strive to make even more. Maybe one day or night will make the ultimate piece, but I doubt I will ever reach the point where I can say that I have nothing more to learn.

 Collection of necklaces in sterling silver which are little framed flora and fauna images.

What advice do you have for aspiring jewelers?


If I were to give advice to anyone who has an interest in jewellery design, I would most certainly recommend doing some trade work . University is a wonderful place to experiment with way out ideas and be as creative as you can, however to make a living one needs to water down ideas and become commercial also. The tricks you learn in the trade are incredibly useful tools which University doesn't provide. I have also found that especially when you move around and have to reestablish yourself in another country, repair work is an incredibly useful way to earn a bit of extra money. I really strongly believe that honing your individuality is extremely important also, anyone can copy, not everyone can truly design.

  The rings are sterling silver with rough cut Herkimer diamond and apatite (left) and     Mali garnet with two blue sapphires. 

Tell us something we might like to know about living and working in New Zealand?  


Living in New Zealand is a bit of a double edged sword. It is the most beautiful part of the world, rugged, remote, mountainous, truly spectacular and so void of people. I love the freedom here, and I also love the fact that I can mine my own gold, or at least buy it directly from a minor . The down sides are much fewer people to buy your work, and far less suppliers . I miss Hatton garden. ...

I also find that the history of art here is so short that there is a huge void. The traditional Pacific art is wonderful, but there is nothing from 200 years ago, not a trace of pre raphaelite, or arts and crafts, and no Cartier classics down at the antique shops, it's all Pacific art.

                     The hub of all my activity, the work bench. I dream up my
                                            creations at this seat!  

If you were not designing jewelry what do you think you would be doing?

Easy answer, if you had asked me ten years ago I would have said marine biology. But now I would definitely be a gold miner. I would love a big claim on a river and to spend my day dredging and watching gold turn up in the sluice box, the revised nothing like the buttery yellow nuggets that glint in the sun, I think maybe I am a magpie! 

Check out more of Claire's work!


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