I love how jewellery is an expression of personality and style. I also love how pieces can hold a deep meaning to the wearer, evoke certain feelings or memories, or tell a story. This is what engagement rings and wedding bands should do, especially as they are often our most worn and precious accessories. And that’s why I’m so glad that contemporary jewellers like e.g.etal exist. They understand and appreciate how personal jewellery is, and also celebrate it for the art that it is. Today we chat to Emma Goodsir of e.g.etal about the importance of handmade, independent jewellery and how she, and the other designers e.g.etal represents, craft unique and meaningful pieces for their clientele.
How long has e.g.etal been in existence?
We have just celebrated our 20th birthday! We opened in a tiny retail space just before Christmas in 1998, selling the work of 14 jewellery designers, most of them friends made while studying Gold and Silversmithing at RMIT. Many of those early artists are still represented at the gallery. Since then, we’ve moved to a larger gallery in Flinders Lane, launched to a worldwide market online, and now represent over 70 designers.
What was the inspiration behind e.g.etal?
Originally the reason behind e.g.etal was to create a space where people could connect with Australia’s leading and emerging jewellery designers in an accessible new context. At the time there was a growing movement towards independent design. People were seeking handmade pieces to express their individuality, and wanted to know more about the maker. My background was in marketing, and I knew the time was right to create a gallery that offered people an alternative to mainstream jewellery. As an artist I also saw the need for an outlet that was committed to selling work respectfully and with integrity.
Where is your retail space located?
You can find e.g.etal downstairs at 167 Finders Lane, Melbourne – right next to Hosier Lane’s iconic street art. Like many of Melbourne’s creative businesses, we are tucked away in a laneway. Many people are blown away when they first descend the stairs into our gallery space. We’re often referred to as Melbourne’s ‘hidden gem’.
Emma Goodsir ‘Other Lives’ and ‘Poets’ rings.
You’re not a traditional jewellery shop – but are more like a gallery featuring work from many different artists. How many artists do you represent?
At e.g.etal you’ll find work by more than 70 jewellery artists, mostly Australian, with a few international guests. It’s always been our philosophy to sell the work under the artist’s name. You’re not just buying an accessory, you’re buying an artist’s work. With each purchase we include a card revealing a bit more about the artist and their practice. We try to create a strong link between the artist and the jewellery, and in turn, between the artist and the wearer.
Do you design jewellery yourself for e.g.etal?
Yes, I’m a jeweller myself and I sell my work through e.g.etal. My most recent collection is called ‘Other Lives’. It celebrates the many parallel lives of an artist. Each ring is named after one of the eclectic creative pursuits I have embarked on during my career: the stonemason, the quilter, the songwriter, the codewriter, the beekeeper, the poet… The collection also pays homage to one of my earliest series, referencing the pure geometric forms of circles and squares – balancing their opposing qualities.
How has the jewellery offered at e.g.etal evolved over the years?
When we first started e.g.etal, we were mostly selling work in silver, semi-precious stones and other materials. We were young designers and we often couldn’t afford to work in gold and precious gemstones. But then more and more people began to commission us to make their wedding and engagement rings, and we realised this was an area we needed to grow into. We encouraged our artists to develop precious collections and we helped them financially – buying diamonds for them to get them started! These days, engagement and wedding rings are very much e.g.etal’s specialty and the core of our business.
A Katherine Bowman ring.
Are more people now looking for unique rings and wedding jewellery that makes a statement about who they are?
Absolutely. People often come to us because they are seeking styles beyond the traditional. Every one of our rings has a story, and each piece is conceived and made by a skilled craftsperson. At e.g.etal we allow couples to do something very special: to collaborate with an artist and commission their dream ring.
Who are your clientele?
Our clientele is quite varied but they have one thing in common: they value handmade, authentic pieces. The ‘bling’ of a stone is not as important to them as the symbolism and personal relationship with a piece.
Not only are the designs really different – do you think they challenge our concept of what a wedding and engagement ring should look like?
Yes, our rings absolutely challenge traditional ideas. White diamond solitaires are a rarity here. Instead, our artists and clients tend to favour gems such as parti sapphires or unusual coloured stones, even black and raw diamonds. An engagement ring will be worn for a lifetime, so we give expert guidance on materials and stones that will stand up to everyday wear. But beyond that, there are no expectations. We even had one client who wanted to buy a small sculpture from one of our artists in lieu of a ring! We love moments like that: making quirky ideas a reality.
Emma Goodsir, Michelle Cangiano and Todd Reed rings.
There are lots of different materials and gems used in your jewellery such as tourmaline, coloured sapphires, diamonds and gold – but what do you consider to be the most unusual material that is being used at the moment?
Many of our artists use quite traditional materials and techniques, but they work with them in new ways. They also often elevate little-known gems to highlight their intrinsic beauty. For example, some of our artists use ‘salt and pepper’ diamonds, which have marble-like black and white threads or speckles running through them. These inclusions have traditionally been thought of as ‘flaws’. But we encourage our clients to think of them as the diamond’s unique ‘fingerprint’. They are remnants of the incredible forces of nature, which over millions of years, created the stone.
Metals and other materials are used in really interesting ways and combinations such as oxidised metals. Do you feel that this challenges the wearer to think of jewellery as changeable, rather than a static piece that must be kept in pristine condition?
We often talk to our clients about how their piece will wear over time, and how this will become part of the story of the ring. For instance, some blackened metals will wear away, gradually revealing the texture or detailing of a piece. Some pieces are specifically designed to evolve, such as Jin Ah Jo’s ‘Intervals’ series that can be stacked and added to over time, with new interlocking pieces to mark life’s milestones.
Suzi Zutic and Jeanette Dyke rings.
I’m also intrigued by the design differences – some pieces are very ornate, some seemingly simple with hidden elements such as ball tracks on the inside of the rings. Does this creativity inspire your customers and keep them coming back to see what’s new?
We try to represent a really diverse range of artists. Our collection ranges from very architectural and minimalist designs, which require amazing skill and technical precision, to very organic, meandering pieces where you can even see the marks of the maker’s hands in the finished piece.
We also regularly present briefs to the artists for exhibitions, inviting them to push themselves creatively or explore new ideas around a concept. There is always something new to see at e.g.etal!
Do you love that there is a story behind the design of each piece of jewellery?
Yes, this is my favourite part of selling jewellery. Not only does each piece have a story and point of view imbued by the artist, our clients can also overlay their own story on to a piece. For example, a client recently purchased a piece from our 20th birthday collection which featured a gem ‘hidden’ inside an envelope stamped with the Roman numeral for 20. To the client, this was the perfect piece to mark her 20th wedding anniversary, and the little gem inside represented her daughter.
How does giving a platform to independent jewellery designers enhance or inspire jewellery design in Australia?
We have always seen ourselves as strong advocates for jewellery artists. e.g.etal has helped establish Melbourne as the contemporary jewellery capital of Australia. Our city is now considered one of the most vibrant jewellery communities in the world.
Nicky Hepburn and Natalia Milosz-Piekarska rings. Image by Gold and Grit
Is your jewellery available online to clients Australia wide and world wide?
Our jewellery is available worldwide via our website, which showcases the largest online contemporary jewellery collection in Australia. We also work on ring commissions with many interstate and overseas clients by email and phone. In the past year we’ve worked with clients in 14 different countries including the US, UK, Japan and Singapore.
Where to now for e.g.etal?
Our birthday celebrations continue this year with an exciting program of events, partnerships, exhibitions and new artists!
As a designer and maker, is your non-working life centred around creativity?
Yes, I feel like everything I do has a creative component. I am always making things. Can’t help myself! I run four businesses, have a husband, two kids and a large four-acre garden (with resident sheep, chooks, dog and cat). My most relaxing things to do are gardening and cycling through the Macedon ranges.
Krista McRae and Katherine Bowman rings.
A huge thank you to Emma for sharing e.g.etal’s story and philosophy with us. That link between artist and jewellery (and artist and wearer) is so special. To find out more about e.g.etal, their designers and the stunning rings showcased throughout this post, head on over to the e.g.etal website.