Inspired by the natural world, recycling and craftsmanship, Athene’s jewellery designs are as beautiful as they are sustainable.
Born into a family of craftsmen and women, Athene’s grandfather was a tailor on Berwick Street in London, and her mother a talented seamstress, Athene inherited their creativity making and selling dresses as a teenager, leading later to a move from fashion into becoming a silversmith and jeweller.
After graduating in 1996 from Sir John Cass School of Art, at the London Guildhall University, Athene’s continuously curious nature took her on to study millinery and carpentry, combining traditional techniques and new innovations into her work. These influences continue to drive her designs today – mathematics, repetition, movement, and repeated textural motifs all inform Athene’s work, alongside a particular interest in colour theory and its effect on mood.
With 30 years of creative design behind her, Athene’s latest collection is inspired by lichens, observed on a recent trip to Iceland. Organic patterns create a repetitive, almost meditative surface texture; whilst her current fascination of hand engraving on metal achieves a texture akin to those found in nature and the play of light across surfaces.
What has never changed however is Athene’s philosophy on design and life, “…have fun, look after the planet, embrace colour, be nice and always make a silly face if someone points a camera at you… and life is always better when you’re wearing fabulous earrings,”
Working primarily with gold and silver, alongside a range of modern materials from resin to Perspex, each handmade piece is created in Athene’s studio in Guernsey with her small team of designers. One-of-a-kind commissions are popular with Athene’s team, the wedding season is especially busy designing bespoke pieces for brides and their bridal party, from bracelets to tiaras.
Running a small business has its challenges, what do you enjoy the most about running your business?
Customer connection is the key to our success, and it’s one of our favourite reasons for getting up each morning. We love that so many of our customers come back to us for repeat purchases – we now have some triple generation relationships. Mother to daughter to granddaughter – all purchasing from us to celebrate their milestones.
In addition to creating a new collection every six months or so, our flexibility allows us to take on commissions. We love the challenge of crafting something different, be it a wedding tiara, earrings made from the wings of a World War II bomber – (yes really) – or a special piece for a birthday, made with recycled holiday mementos or grannie’s reimagined jewellery, reworked and brought up to date.
It’s a cliché, but every day is different, we might be making, designing, packaging, delivering, working on our online platforms, chatting to customers, travelling for buying and connecting with stockists, there’s so many different hats to wear and that’s what makes the whole thing so much fun.
How do you approach sustainability?
We absolutely love to repurpose items, so they get a new lease of life and become beautiful, even if from humble origins. Our plectrum earrings for example are made from store or credit cards. Many people would put them straight into the rubbish bin. We see things from a different perspective and, using our traditional skills, we can transform the unwanted into something desirable.
We use only recycled precious metals. And precious metals are themselves endlessly recyclable, gold and silver are both elements, and by definition cannot be destroyed, just reworked. They are environmentally sound materials, although obviously mining originally took place, by only using recycled metals, mining doesn’t have to continue in its current format, at least not at the same pace.
We also repurpose most of the packaging that comes our way – and recycle the rest, we use recycled cardboard in our merchandising displays, and have a huge amount of salvaged, and reclaimed display props, even old shop window dummies. Everything can be upcycled in some way if you’re inventive enough.
As a student, most materials were prohibitively expensive, so from early on I developed a habit of seeking resources from waste wherever I could. In fact, my thesis at University was about recycled materials available at the time, and how non precious jewellery was as viable as the established precious industry, and how much that was set to grow as consumers turned their backs on unsustainable practices – roll forward thirty years later – look how far we’ve come.
We’re constantly working on new products. An awareness on a deeper level of surroundings leads to a constant stream of inspiration, engraving being one of our of new favourite ways to create designs on recycled silver and recycled gold. Inspired by the weather, nature in general and travel, there is a never-ending stream of new ideas, all waiting their turn.
One of our current favourite strands to our new work is the hand engraved collection – with lichens, chrysanthemum and distressed granite walls being a huge source of inspiration, all things that I look out for on my daily dog walks.
See Athene’s profile on the Little Green Book here