Meet the Maker | Pippa Small MBE

Published in the 2017 Walpole Book of British Luxury, jewellery designer Pippa Small MBE discusses precious stones and ‘their permanence and ancientness… as if they contain some kind of quiet, unspoken wisdom.’

As a child, I was always carrying stones around, putting them in my pockets, in the bath, my bed… sleeping curled up around them so that they had space to breathe. There’s something intrinsically human in the way we understand stones and rocks – their permanence and ancientness. It is as if they contain some kind of quiet unspoken wisdom.

Stones have seen billions of years of the planet’s history in their making, and that’s mind-blowing to me. Whether it’s a river-tumbled topaz shaped by years of waves or a diamond formed in the earth’s interior that softens to create a beautiful surface sheen, jewellery is wonderfully tactile.

I like to work with organic shapes and continue to be inspired by nature’s infinite beauty. It is far more powerful to keep a stone’s edge less polished rather than have it cast and bound. In a world that’s so homogenised, it’s nice to celebrate imperfections.

Of course, heirloom pieces that hold memories of the people who wore them carry a strong emotional attachment. I have a pair of earrings, studded with diamonds, peridots and rubies, which once belonged to my great-grandmother. In the 1920s during her intrepid travels, she stopped in Japan and bought them there. I work in Asia a lot, so it was surprising to read in her diary that we had stayed in the same places. My great grandmother was also an inventor and a painter and to me these earrings represent the female line in my family and how we can all draft stories into objects.

Jewellery also has an audio element. I was recently working in Burma. It’s a country where from dawn to dusk you hear the sound of bells – from the Buddhist temples, to the elephants that wear them around their necks. I like the idea of a bell with its own unique voice so I created a collection of filigree balls containing precious gems. The gems tumble around inside like seedpods and can be rattled by the wearer. I love the idea that you see a beautiful thing and then, with a little movement, sound brings it to life.

That’s why jewellery is so special. You can incorporate all the five senses into one piece. The palettes you can play with in terms of colour are endless. There are sapphires, which go from clear through to black and every beautiful rich colour of the rainbow, or tiger’s eye, which encompasses rich shades of gold and earth.

Sometimes you can look at a gemstone in a case and think it looks lovely but it’s not until you hold it in your hand, feel its weight, put it against the body, watch it catch the light in a certain way and suddenly you are completely mesmerised as it comes alive. I dream about stones, especially when I am working long days in India, picking them for my collections. Later, when I close my eyes, all I see are aquamarines, emeralds and lapis lazuli. It’s a sight to behold!

Pippa Small, MBE, is a British jewellery designer who creates handmade pieces with ethically sourced, uncut gemstones, crystal and Fairtrade gold. She continues to work with the charity Turquoise Mountain in Afghanistan, as well as collaborating with indigenous craftspeople around the world.