If you follow my Instagram videos you'll know I'm a sucker for a vintage find, constantly trawling and hunting for that special piece, things I would have once found in my grandma's jewellery box. Although not vintage Cathy Pope jewellery has the same aesthetic, inspired by trinkets of the past, slightly costume, but in silver and gold with stones that promote prosperity and happiness, she is a woman after my magpie heart. My favourite piece is the Spinner necklace featured below, often choosing to wear it layered with vintage necklaces of various lengths, it is a piece that has friends reaching to touch it, something special. I decided to have a chat to Cathy about her work, ethical manufacturing and her design practice.
1. Your jewellery features a lot of beautiful gemstones, what is it about these stones that appeals to you and how do you source your stones?
I love celebrating the imperfections of semi-precious gemstones and enjoy sourcing and designing with less conventional types. I’m a fan of pattern and texture which is why I’ve used red jasper, snowflake obsidian and malachite in my latest ranges. I’m always striving to create a new experience for my customers and design unique pieces they haven’t seen before. Most of my stones are custom cut in India after I select the raw geode. Trade fairs in India and Hong Kong are also wonderful gemstone playgrounds and great places to source new stones.
2. Your jewellery is ethically produced which is something I am trying to be more aware of with my fashion purchases. Can you tell us more about your production process and how you maintain ethical standards?
I realised early in my business that my jewellery would need to be manufactured offshore so I felt a responsibility to know how, where and who was making my products. It’s intrinsically important for me to tell the story of my brand and to know my jewellery is made by people earning a fair wage in good conditions. I also believe that just because jewellery is made in a third world country that it doesn’t have to be unethical so three years ago i jumped on a plane to India and did my ground work. I was very lucky that the first factory I visited really impressed me and ticked all my boxes. The owner is a great guy and his staff are happy, the making quality is high, conditions clean, freshly laundered uniforms, transport provided, health insurance for the workers and their families and a fair wage. I’ve visited 4-5 other factories and there was only one other I would consider using. With my stones its hard to get to the source but my stones are not precious or rare so the stakes aren’t high. Most of my chains are made in Italy and many pieces of jewellery assembled in NZ . I also only manufacture in small quantities so theres no mass production happening which is where exploitation can occur. Every year I go to India to spend a few weeks with my manufacturer. I’m proud to be able to tell that story.
3. A lot of your pieces remind me of special occasion jewellery my grandma had, and the styles are the kinds of styles I hunt for when looking for vintage, do you find inspiration in old jewellery, or is this more a reflection of your personal style?
My personal style with clothing is modern and classic, but I do enjoy vintage jewellery. I like accents of colour and detail which I can achieve through accessories. I find inspiration in op shopping and trawling through antique fairs and shops discovering estate treasures. I collect a lot of jewellery and have inherited many beautiful pieces which are a constant source of inspiration and ideas.
4. You previously worked as a wardrobe stylist, what encouraged you to start a brand of your own?
I still work as a wardrobe stylist on tv commercials and have been in costume design for film and tv for almost 20 years. The jewellery was an accidental business but came as a natural progression from dressmaking, costume and design. Before Cathy Pope Jewellery I wore mostly heirloom pieces that I’d inherited as I’ve never enjoyed wearing mass produced or junky jewellery. I’d been given a string of chunky crystal beads by a woman I’d done dressmaking for years prior and one day decided to pop a bead on a simple big chain and realised I’d created the perfect necklace. Soon my friends were ordering them and then one day a shop assistant asked to stock them, the media loved them and that’s how it all began. The chunky chokers have been popular ever since and I’ve just about used every stone imaginable!
5. What are the hardest things about starting a brand, did you have any previous jewellery making experience?
The hardest part was not starting the brand but keeping it going. A bit like an accidental hit song, my chunky chokers were a hard act to follow. I’m not a trained jeweller but can design and I did a one week intensive jewellery making course at Peter Minturns about 6 months into the business to understand construction and how the metals and stones work together. I’ve never wanted to be a jeweller but I needed to educate myself so I could be a better designer.
6. When you design your pieces are you designing what you like, or do you design with someone particular in mind?
That’s a great question and one I’ve struggled with a lot. In the beginning I only designed for myself and that’s what people really responded to. After building a customer base and starting to listen to people I found myself designing a few ranges that I didn’t feel the same passion for. I was trying out new ideas but I went off track. I’ve really had to step back and try and look at my business objectively and question why I’m doing this and who I’m designing for. The answer is that I can only design and sell jewellery that I truly believe in and wear myself. I take everything my customers say on board and I’ve realised that most of the elements my customers like are the same things I love - imperfections, simplicity, boldness, colour, good design and integrity of materials. I keep that brief in mind when I’m researching, designing and drawing now.
7. What are your favourite pieces from your current collection?
I can honestly say that I adore every piece from my current collection Snowflakes and Jasper. As a designer thats a rare thing as we’re often so highly critical of our own work. But not this time. This collection took a year to design and I worked with stone cutters and jewellers in NZ to sample up the prototypes before taking them to India in August for manufacturing. My designs are always a little unconventional and challenging and the spinner necklace has been particularly tricky to get right. I’ve always wanted to design an easy to wear everyday hoop with a twist and I feel the collection is tight and works really well together.
8. Diamonds are a girl's best friend ... do you agree?
Well to be honest I do love the diamonds in my wedding ring but I’m more excited by emeralds, tourmaline, citrine and jasper.
9. As a designer, who are the people that you look up to or find inspiration from?
I admire strong women with timeless elegance and style. I’m drawn to iconic and androgynous figures like Anjelica Houston, Kate Blanchett, Marlene Dietrich, Katharine Hepburn and designers like Halston, Schiaparelli and Lanvin. For jewellery I adore the art deco period as well as bold 70s costume jewellery and designers like Erte. I’m more interested in the history of fashion and jewellery rather than trying to keep up with fads and trends.
You can see more of Cathy's beautiful designs (and maybe grab one for Christmas) here