In Depth Interview
We chat to ethical jewellery designer, Shakti Ellenwood, on why she became a jeweller, what inspires her, and why she is committed to making Fairtrade jewellery:
What led you on your path to becoming a designer/goldsmith?
During the first half of 1990’s I was living in Asia; and travelling mainly between Japan, Thailand and India. It was during one of my visits to India that I became very sick with a fever. An Israeli man, in my guest house, took me under his wing and nursed me back to health. He was a goldsmith and sat at a tiny bench on the floor; hammering, soldering and sawing. A little voice, inside of me, began to sing as I watched the delicacy and intricacy of the work. When I had recovered, from my fever, and it was time for me to leave, he presented me with a gold and Tibetan turquoise ring, but the greatest gift was that I had found my passion.
What inspires you?
My greatest inspiration has always been the Ancient Egyptians, but I also love the jewellery from the Roman and Greek periods too. The Egyptians wore jewellery, not only for decorative reasons but as amulets for protection. They also wore their jewellery in death for help in the afterlife. I love the use of animals in their work, each one given a specific meaning to help the wearer in life and death.
This leads me to my other great inspiration: The Native American Indians who believe each of us has nine different spirit animals who will act as our guardians throughout our life; each one offering a different wisdom or sacred knowledge. These animals are often depicted in their silversmithing which, like the Ancient Egyptians, is used to adorn and assist in daily life.
I am also greatly inspired by jewellery from the Victoria era. Victorian jewellery is well known for its romanticism and once again I am drawn to the hidden meaning within the jewels. You will often see rose cut diamonds in my work and gems set into star settings which were very popular during this time.
What training did you receive?
After my illness in India, I followed an American boyfriend out to San Francisco and started looking for jewellery making schools. I found the Revere Academy of Jewellery Arts (http://www.revereacademy.com) and took their three-day class: ‘Fabrication 1: Beginning’. As I had used up the last of my money, to take this class but desperately wanted to complete their ‘Graduate Jeweller Program’ (cost in excess of $15,000) I decided to write to Alan Revere, the owner, to see if I could get a job at the school. At the time Alan employed two administrative staff and one of them (who had worked for him for six years) had handed in her notice the day before my C.V arrived on his desk. He employed me as the school Registrar, where I remained for five years, and I received my training for free. During this time I met the wonderfully talented fifth generation Armenian master goldsmith and engraver, Hratch Nargizian, (http://rhytonstudio.com) who had a studio just down the hall from The Revere Academy in the Phelan Building, which was the hub of the jewellery scene in San Francisco at the time; and began an apprenticeship with him in the evenings. He remains one of my best friends and mentors to this day.
What values do you have and why ethical?
I greatly admire Yvon Chouinard, the founder and owner of Patagonia (http://eu.patagonia.com/enGB/home) and have taken on his company mission statement as my own.
Jewellery is a product that is usually associated with love, romance and luxury but there is no romance in exploitation, and the gold mining industry is rife with exploitation from slavery to sex trafficking. For this reason in 2015 I made a commitment to work with 100% Fairtrade gold, CanadaMark diamonds and other gems that were conflict free. Some of the diamonds and smaller gemstones I work with cannot be traced back to the mine from which they came, in the same way the CanadaMark diamonds can but hopefully as our industry becomes more ethical these smaller stones will become traceable too.
All my packaging comes from recycled sources and I also started my Giving Back project in 2015, which this year is donating profits from my company to environmental and animal welfare charities, such as helping to save the Elephants and Orangutans.
How do you see yourself as a brand?
I am an authentic artisanal jewellery brand, creating one of a kind, earthy organic jewels that have been lovingly handcrafted and ethically made.
“It is essential to me that I uphold my promise of ethically and responsibly produced products that have been crafted by hand with love and consciousness”.
What makes your jewellery unique/what sets you apart from other jewelers?
Each and every one of my jewels contains a little piece of my soul. Each morning, before I begin my work I say a prayer and make a blessing for the work I will do that day, whilst burning sage (sage is a herb used by many Native American Indians to cleanse and purify the space). I sing mantras and other songs, as I am working, to infuse love into the very bones of the jewel, giving it a resonance that can be felt in your soul. My jewels have become known as little gold prayers and I hope that all who wear them can feel this.
Ultimately my jewellery weaves a story. It is a story of hope and dignity for the small scale mining communities who dug up the gold and stones from deep within the belly of the earth.
It is a story of our ancestors as we honour those who 4000 years BC created the goldsmithing techniques that I use today and who continue to inspire me with their designs and amulets.
It is a love story between the people giving and receiving these precious gold gifts as they create their own unique memories.
And it is a story of the future, as these heirlooms are cherished by our children and our children’s children…