EMMA LUKE – Interview with the Mecurialist jewellery designer

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Jewellery can be described as the ultimate man-made enigma. It embodies a timeless characteristic, yet it can accurately disclose a period in history. It can be worn by a person their whole life, and live on as an heirloom for another, becoming immortal in its own cyclical existence. Jewellery is used to profess love, demonstrate personality, authenticate world travels and bestow upon its wearer an ancient form of protection. Humans have adorned their bodies with jewellery for ions; from English royalty to Mayan tribesman, displaying everything from wealth and status, to tradition and culture. Jewellery is treasured, adored and revered, yet also sentimental, romantic and personal. Made from precious metals, gemstones and materials like leather or cotton, jewellery also embodies many earthly qualities, yet its finished product is like nothing on Earth. Each piece of hand made jewellery is unique, and this is ultimately what drives people to create it, wear it, love it and gift it.

Emma Luke founded Mecurialist in Melbourne back in 2008. She decided to create objects that get better with time and wear; adapting to its owner’s own story. The mantra of Mecurialist is the belief that there in beauty in the mysterious and awe to be found in life, if you wish to discover it.

Emma Luke
Emma Luke

1. What is it about the power of jewellery – it’s ability to transcend time and cultures – that captured your imagination?

I have always been an avid fan of antiquity. If I hadn’t gone down the path of jewellery, I probably would have ended up an Egyptology nerd. The historical and social constructs surrounding adornment and its power throughout the ages has always fascinated me. Some of the oldest and finest pieces of jewellery we don’t have the technology or capabilities to replicate today. They say the only conclusion is some of these pieces were created by children trained from birth to be master artisans, which unbelievable! There is a mysticism about jewellery and its effect on people is quite intoxicating.

2. You studied silver-smithing as part of your Jewellery course at NMIT – what is it about this precious metal that made you want to craft objects from it?

There is something magical about precious metal and the alchemic way it responds to heat and tools. The first time you hold a silver ingot it has a certain weight and warmth to it that is very infectious. Precious metal is beautifully soft to work with and each type is unique in its temperament and characteristics. I love mixing less precious metals like brass and copper with silver, because they are equally beautiful and I like the idea that the value of a piece is not just tied to the perceived value of the material. Some of my most treasured antique pieces are out of seemingly worthless materials like tin and brass.

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3. The name of your label, Mecurialist, speaks to both the alchemistic and industrial properties of the pieces you create. Do you find the juxtaposition of precious metals and highly poisonous liquids like Mercury – that were previously used to heal ailments – a perfect irony when creating something as immortal as jewellery?

When Mecurialist was first formed the nature of our process was very alchemic. Like  mad scientists we would create concoctions to dye and treat leathers, to create bespoke bags. As the label evolved and made the transition into metal some of the tools and materials changed, but the process remained true to our origins and very alchemic. The mercurial, ever-changing nature of metal and jewellery making suited the original intent of our namesake beautifully.

4. You began creating gorgeous leather stained bags. Is this still a love of yours to produce?

Leather goods will always be close to our hearts as this is where Mecurialist began. Coming from a background in industrial design and watches, metal is my native medium, so it was a natural progression to train as a jeweller and move into precious metal.

5. Your latest collection is entitled, Bedouin. What pieces can we expect to see and what inspired this new Lookbook?

I spent six months travelling through Europe and Asia last year and this collection is a tribute to the exquisite travellers, gypsies and psychedelic communities I had the privilege of meeting and travelling with along the way. The creativity and self expression of this global tribe from all walks of life, cultural and social backgrounds was exquisite and truly inspiring. The subsequent collection is quite tribal and eclectic in the textures, forms and influences represented. There are a lot of quite large, embellished pieces in the range.

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6. Do you have a favourite specimen from this collection?

I have been delighted with how the embellished shield rings have turned out, I personally love larger, statement pieces of jewellery. But it can be challenging to create larger pieces that are comfortable to wear all the time. Often people are reluctant to wear something weighty and dominant. The response to these pieces has been great, as has the diversity of people brave enough to give them a go.

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7. Your flagship store, Stone, Glint and Bone is a quaint and ethereal space found at the South Melbourne market’s so:me design precinct. Together with other Melbourne jewellery designers, Noami Walsh and Aimee Sutanto, you stock emerging designers and vintage pieces. What was the importance of having a bricks and mortar storefront to exhibit jewellery in?

Jewellery can be a pretty solitary profession if you are cooped up in a studio alone all day, so the shop is great because you have that social interaction with the so:me space design precinct. We also use it to test a lot of our pieces, and gain feedback from customers on fit, weight, price, etc. which is invaluable and helps inform the wholesale ranges and pieces we produce and sell elsewhere. It’s also a convenient port of call for our commission clients and the stylists we work with to come in for a fitting or peruse the collection.

8. Which emerging designer are you most excited about stocking and why?

Both Aimee Sutanto and Naomi Walsh bring very unique styles to the table, Aimee’s work is very geometric and she creates a lot of amazing pieces based around micro cube structures. Naomi’s work on the other hand is quite organic, and has an ethereal and magician-type quality to the tiny representations of the natural worlds she creates. Rhiannon Smith from Two Hills, also produces a gorgeous range of incredibly delicate pieces that are very popular with our clientele.

The diversity of pieces and influences from these three designers I think really suits our demographic and customers are always delighted that our designers are happy to work with them to produce affordable and  unique custom pieces.

9. Mecurialist pieces can also be purchased online via Boticca. Have you encountered a new international audience through this medium?

Boticca has been wonderful in introducing Mecurialist to a wider international audience, particularly in the U.S and Europe. They have a vertically integrated marketing and sales model which supports and promotes their designers really well. It’s been really exciting to see how quickly there business has grown. I have been delighted with the exposure and new customers base this platform has provided.

10. What do you believe is the connection between the human body and jewellery throughout history?

Jewellery has the ability to allow people to express themselves and feel confident, loved, beautiful and powerful. I love that, unlike clothing, wearing jewellery is not necessarily governed by a person’s age, size or appearance. Anyone can look and feel wonderful and it has a timeless quality that can see it, and in turn, it’s history handed down through generations.

A favourite piece of mine from the Mecurialist collection.
Stunning Mecurialist arm cuff.

11. How crucial is travel to your creative inspiration?

You can find creative inspiration anywhere; but art and history, new places, people, tastes, sights and sounds definitely motivate and inspire me. I like to go out and collect these experiences, then absorb reflect and retreat for a while.

12. Where is your spiritual homeland, where you can revive your soul?

Home is definitely where the heart is for me – I have been very fortunate to come from a creative family. I look at my style and taste now and I am very much a product of that upbringing. Both my parents are artists and they live in a crazy old 1890’s pub in rural NSW with a huge jungle of a garden and loads of beautiful creative spaces to get lost in – full of weird junk. It’s the perfect place to lay in the grass, dream and contemplate the endless blue sky.

13. The Albert Einstein quote that you often refer to, talks about mystery being the source of all true art and science, and those who do not pause to wonder are as good as dead. What keeps you constantly in awe?

I am very fortunate to be surrounded by so many beautiful, talented and intelligent people involved in art, design, academia and music that constantly inspire me. Travel and new people constantly feed my creative juices, but mostly remembering to be open minded, you can find beauty and awe in everything you just have to learn to open your eyes and really see.

14. How do you feel about producing pieces that will become heirlooms or vintage pieces, when you work in an age where fast fashion is an unfortunate consequence of a fast-paced mainstream existence?

I have worked in a global brand and a few product design agencies before so I have certainly experienced and understand the realities of the FMCG machine. I have also lectured in design sustainability, and there are a lot of complex social, cultural, economic and environmental issues at stake when it comes to sustainability.

For me, batch production, longevity and sustainability have always been important so I have tried to covet those characteristics through my own choices. I do hope that I can contribute to social and environmental sustainability with my work in the future.

15. Do you believe that jewellery pieces can house parts of a person’s soul or have magical protective powers, as is an ancient belief across many cultures?

I do believe a piece of jewellery will embody the energy of its owner, or the giver. Often jewellery has a mind of its own, especially pieces with stones, and it will leave you if it has served it’s purpose and someone else needs it more. Many stones and crystals are believed to have medicinal purposes and if you look at the crystalline lattice of a stone under a microscope the structure actual looks different if it is charged with energy.

I have also lost pieces which have miraculously returned to me. One ring disappeared at a festival in Hungary and returned to my possession five months later in Australia – bizarre! Another piece which I made with a very large and unusual smokey quartz crystal in it (I made it when I was going through a bit of a rough patch), mysteriously disappeared when things had improved. So I guess it had served it’s purpose and moved on to someone that needed it more.

16. And finally, what is next on the horizon for Mecurialist, your store and yourself?

Jewellery is a constant learning process and I have been very privileged to have some wonderful mentors, so spending more time with them and honing my craft is something I hope to do more of. I haven’t made it to India yet so I would definitely love to spend some time there this year.

In regards to Stone Glint and Bone we are hoping to work towards taking a collection to a trade show in Europe when the time is right, and work on producing more commission pieces for our local clientele. Otherwise we’ll wait and see what the universe has in store for us 🙂

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To find out more about Mecurialist or Stone, Glint + Bone, head here: http://www.mecurialist.com.au

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