Sometimes with jewellery, you’ve just got to keep it simple and let the beauty of the raw materials shine through.
That’s what attracted me to Shimara Carlow’s work, which is beautifully organic and simple. The gemstones are left to be the star of the show and there is a beautiful natural feel.
No surprise then that Shimara is originally from Ireland and is inspired by the rugged countryside and coastline. You can see the natural and raw elements in her work.
I’m so impressed with her bravery – moving to Scotland to study, London to work and then to Australia to settle down and raise a family – and love how she relishes the multi-tasking life of a jeweller and sees this as a positive.
Read her story here:
Where are you based?
I’m based in Melbourne, in Australia. After the birth of my son, I gave up my studio at the Abbotsford Convent and built a studio in our backyard. It was the only way for me to continue working with a young baby.
Then I had twins, so it was very lucky I had the home studio, otherwise I don’t think I would have made it back to work!
You’re originally from Ireland, how did you end up living in Australia?
I was born in Ireland, to an Australian mother. So half of my family have always been here. After I graduated I studied for two years at the P and O Makower trust in Oxfordshire, learning silversmithing and honing my jewellery skills.
A lot of my contemporaries went on to study at the Royal College of Art in London. I knew I didn’t want to study again. I wanted to set up my business.
So I moved to London and set up a studio. While it was an invaluable time for me in terms of building up my business and getting exposure through prestigious shows (like Chelsea Craft Fair and Goldsmiths Fair) – London wasn’t for me. I decided to try somewhere completely different, and Australia seemed like the obvious choice!
You trained at the prestigious Glasgow School of Art, like so many other talented designers – what’s their secret?!
I was as surprised as the next person at being accepted onto the Jewellery and Silversmithing course at Glasgow. I had an unconventional education, and The Glasgow School of Art was really the first and only conventional institution I ever attended! Tenacity is the secret to making it as a jeweller (or in any of the arts for that matter).
How would you describe your jewellery?
I used to describe it as contemporary jewellery, but that term is probably too broad these days. I guess I would describe my silver and gold range as organic-inspired tactile jewellery. And the newer high end range as contemporary wedding and engagement jewellery – heavily influenced by nature.
What materials do you use?
I almost exclusively use sterling silver and 18ct gold (and occasionally do commissions in 9ct gold). I also use a variety of diamonds – my favourites being white, champagne and salt and pepper. And a variety of precious stones such as sapphires, Greens and parti’s, spinels, aquamarines and tourmalines are my favourites.
Where do you create your jewellery?
I work from my studio in our backyard, a converted garage. I’ve covered it in wisteria and grapevines, so that it feels like I am out in the country – instead of suburban Melbourne!
What inspires you?
I’ve always been inspired by nature and natural forms. I love the forms, textures and tactility of wood and stones, plants and shells. I’m also inspired by the natural landscape – from the rugged coastline of West Cork in Ireland, to the vast red expanse of the Australian outback.
What’s your favourite piece in your jewellery collection?
That changes. For a long time it was a set of five 18ct gold cup rings with diamonds. But currently it’s a beautiful pear shaped tourmaline stack ring, which I love!
What’s the piece you’re most proud of creating?
I think the piece I’m proudest of is a commission I did many years ago, while in London – a pair of hand-raised fine silver water carafes.
You do a lot of bespoke work, what is it about creating individual pieces that you love so much?
I love it when I’m working with a client and they (or we) come up with a brand new idea for one of my designs. It can lead to such interesting things, and makes me look at my designs from a brand new perspective.
I also love the opportunity to work with beautiful stones that I wouldn’t otherwise work with, and I love being able to turn an old sentimental (but unworn) piece of jewellery into something a client loves and will wear again.
What’s your favourite part of being a Jewellery Designer?
I love working with my hands, and I get to work with some truly beautiful stones. I also love being self-employed. It can be truly challenging, but so rewarding too.
What’s your proudest moment of being a Jewellery Designer?
Again, I think this would be from my London days, and being accepted to exhibit at Goldsmith’s Fair. These days, my life is so busy with family, that I don’t really feel able to push myself or my business as much as I used to.
Do you work directly with customers? Or sell your work to galleries?
All of the above! I sell through galleries, I have two main ranges, the silver and gold work, and the wedding and engagement pieces – and both of these are available through various galleries. I work with customers who commission special one off pieces, and I sell through my website too.
What’s your design process?
I get an idea, which is usually fully formed, or very close to it, then I head out to the studio and try it out! I wish I sketched and came up with ideas like that, but I never have, and all of my most successful designs and ranges have come about by having a flash of inspiration.
How important is jewellery design to you?
Honestly I don’t give it a lot of thought, I either like it or I don’t, and I either think it works or it doesn’t. If I’m designing with a client, I think I can visualise pretty accurately if it will be a great piece or not. So almost all of my design process is done on gut feeling. If I’m unsure I will try it out in silver so I can see where alterations need to be made.
What do you love about jewellery?
I love rings! And I love a sparkly diamond! That said, I wear no jewellery except my wedding and engagement rings! And even then, I commissioned art deco inspired pieces, I wanted them to be so completely different from anything I would ever make. My only other go to pieces is one of Eileen Gatt’s gold hare pendants which I wear if I go out!
How did you start creating jewellery?
My Step Dad used to make etched Celtic brass jewellery. When I was about 12 years old I started working in his workshop for pocket money. We would go off and do craft fairs together, and from there I started making my own range in silver with semi precious stones.
I designed some earrings, he etched the plates for me and I made them up and sold them on his craft fair stand! I knew I would never have a conventional career, so I started working towards being a jeweller. After leaving school at 16 with no qualifications, I spent two years at the local tech, and was accepted to The Glasgow School of Art. So it’s fair to say, it’s the only thing I’ve ever done.
Why did you fall in love with jewellery design?
I don’t think I did, I think it was just what I knew, and I loved it, so it all worked out well.
What are your aspirations for your business?
After having three kids, and moving to Australia, that has changed quite a lot. I’m really happy with where I am and where my business is at now. I love making jewellery, I love working on one off commissions and now I have my website and social media platforms set up, it’s all where I want it to be.
I think when the kids are bigger and I have more time to concentrate on my business it would be really interesting to work on more unique projects.
Where do you feel most inspired?
In the countryside, rural Ireland, the highlands of Scotland, the Australian bush and the coast, I love the sea!
Who else inspires you?
I feel like I am 10 years out of date! Since moving to Australia I don’t know any jewellers at all! I know the people I met when I lived in the UK, and I felt quite involved in the jewellery scene, but when I got here, I just fell out of it and didn’t look for a new one. I quite like being out of it in a lot of ways, it keeps me focused on my work and where I want to go with it.
How do you juggle all the different aspects of the job?
By having my studio in the backyard and my office at the house too, my husband is in IT so we work on that side of things together. I fit in trips to the city for supplies with my daughters when my son is at school, my bullion dealers and diamond dealers, setter and polisher are all right next to each other and so great with the kids, it makes it manageable.
A jeweller has to have a lot of different skills! How do you find that?
I love it! I would get bored doing only one aspect of that, so I relish fact there are so many facets to this job.
Jewellers often have to work flexible hours, how does that fit in with the rest of your life?
I definitely struggle to walk away and switch off, so I love working flexible hours, and I don’t know any different, but I do find it hard to stop and say I’m not at work today.