Pearls…Gems of the Sea!

I’ll admit to being late to the pearl lovers community. For over 30 years of creating jewellery I’ve used everything from gemstones, semi-precious stones, gold, silver, copper, antique & vintage buttons, ceramics & porcelain, up-cycled & found items, wood, glass & crystals. It wasn’t until 6 years ago, when I along with hundreds of other jewellery designers, were invited to participate in the first annual “Cygnet Bay International Pearl Design Competition.” I had not given much thought to pearls before, although I had admired them, but never created with them. The main criteria for this competition was to use an Australian grown South Seas Pearl, from the Cygnet Bay Pearl Company. (Link to their website:) https://www.cygnetbaypearlfarm.com.au/our-tours/?utm_source=GMB Having secured one of their glorious pearls, I went on to design the winning piece, much to my joy! The competition was stiff and all the unique and beautiful pieces were worthy. I entered a ring which I called: “South Sea Dreaming.” See image below. Winning this competition inspired me to look deeper into pearls and the possibility of incorporating them into my designs.
Next I completed a course called: “Pearls As One”, offered by the Cultured Pearl Association of America. As I learned about these remarkable “Gems of the Sea”, I wanted to know more. In the meantime, I started to include pearls in my jewellery, especially earrings and pendants. Once I released these onto the website, to my joy, they became bestsellers! I am thrilled and excited to create more in the coming months-Keep an eye on the website! https://www.reneeblackwelldesign.com/collections/pearl-earrings/ Before Covid, I traveled to Thailand and the USA every few years, to source the pearls I would use in my designs. By carefully hand selecting each pearl or strand of pearls, I am able to secure the best quality possible. Thankfully on the last few trips I came back with enough to last quite a while, although I can’t wait to get back to traveling.

Did you know?

Pearl is the official birthstone for the month of June. Pearls are traditionally given on the 1st, 3rd, 12th and 30th wedding anniversaries.
An organic gem, pearls are formed inside mollusks such as oysters & mussels. They are formed when an irritant such as a tiny stone or bit of sand gets inside the shell. A lustrous substance called “nacre” is secreted around this irritant to protect the soft internal surface of the mollusk. As layer upon layer of nacre coats the irritant, a pearl is formed. This can take up to 7 or 8 years.
The most valuable pearls are perfectly symmetrical and naturally produced. However, there are many different types of pearls, all with their own unique beauty! Below are the main categories.
Cultured Pearls-Created as described above.
Biwa Pearls-Irregular shaped pearl.
Baroque Pearls-Pearls with irregular shapes.
Blister Pearls-Pearls that grow attached to the inside of a shell.
Black Pearls-Grey to black in colour.
Freshwater Pearls-Pearls that form in fresh water mollusks.
Mabe Pearls-Cultivated blister pearls.
Seed Pearls-Small, tiny pearls.
Kasumiga Pearls-Very rare pearls with a rosy hue.
Tahitian Pearls- Produced by the Tahitian Pearl Oyster
South Sea Pearls-Australian! Amongst the finest quality pearls grown anywhere in the world!

Pearls vary in colour from white to pastel, cream, even black, brown or silver. This colour variation depends on the type of mollusk and the water where the mollusk lives.

Care and Cleaning
Pearls are extremely sensitive to heat, humidity and chemicals. Handle, wear and store them with care.
Put your pearls on after applying cosmetics, hairspray or perfume. Wipe them clean with a soft cloth after wearing, as sweat can cause damage. Never soak pearls in water or any sort of jewellery cleaner.
When needed to clean, wipe the pearls clean with a barely damp soft cloth. (My silver polishing cloth is perfect for this.) If cleaning a pearl necklace in this way, always lay it flat to dry, so it doesn’t develop kinks.

Go here to view the entire collection of glorious pearl treasures on the website: https://www.reneeblackwelldesign.com/collections/pearl-earrings/

Colour!

When I was about 12 years old, my Mom surprised me by saying I could redecorate my bedroom with the colours of my choice, and I was thrilled. I sat down with a box of crayons, and made my own colour swatches, combining a variety of colours I thought looked good together. After several days, I hit upon avocado green and orange. Possibly an odd choice for a pre-teen in 1970, but that’s what I wanted and that’s what I got! Avocado green carpet and “formal” green drapes to match. We painted the walls a medium orange, and bought a hot orange crushed velvet bedspread and throw pillows. All of my bedroom “accessories” were either orange or that unmistakable shade of green. I loved everything about it, and to this day, feel those two colours work well together.

Me, in that very bedroom, book in hand, reading as usual!

If asked, most people have a favourite colour. I honestly can’t tell you mine at the moment, but for many years I would without hesitation say, orange. In recent years I’ve leaned towards neutrals (black, taupe, grey, cream and the like) in my wardrobe. I traveled so much before Covid, I enjoyed being able to reach for just about anything in a suitcase and it would match. In my home and furnishings I favour red, amber, burgundy and a riot of “hot” colours, also in the art that adorns my walls. As far as jewellery goes, it’s a free for all depending on my mood.

As a jewellery designer/creator, colour is at the top of my list. I don’t follow the “on trend” colours of the moment, rather I create jewellery with colour combinations that I love and would wear, or can see my customers wearing, or at times a blend that works well together.

At one point I felt I might write a book on colour, but when I started to research the topic in depth, I discovered there are volumes of great books already written on the subject. I am absolutely fascinated by the whole subject of colour. What different colours mean or represent. Why we are drawn to certain colours and not others. I was told in third grade purple and red should never be worn together, yet this colour combination is one of my favourites. In fact the incredibly popular “Red Hat Society” has these two colours for their logo & signature look-See image below. Link to their page: https://redhatsociety.montonton.com/site

Likewise, convention says navy blue and black should never be worn together, when in reality these two colours were made for each other. Much of what we know about colour is learned & conditioned into us at an early age, paint the sky blue, the sun yellow, etc. And then there’s the company Pantone, the colour trending/forecasting leaders of the design world. Did you know they choose a colour of the year, well in advance, which is why when you go into your favourite home wares, department store or boutique , you’ll suddenly see everything on offer is a particular shade of green or purple or whatever “they” have chose for YOU to like that season. Want to know more about Pantone, go here:https://pantone.net.au/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMImtyDiuyg9gIVQUwrCh0jrQXXEAAYASAAEgLO0vD_BwE

And in case you’re curious, the Pantone colour of the year for 2022 is called: “Very Peri”, see image above.
Personally, I like to colour outside the lines whenever possible, yet I’m often confronted by past conditioning. As a designer, it’s part of my job to break through these barriers in order to fully develop the possibilities of colour, as it relates to my jewellery creations.

I have a glorious, purpose built studio where I go on a daily basis to dream, design and create my jewellery treasures. The tables groan under the weight of buttons, beads, crystal & stones-All colour coordinated in bins and open boxes, waiting for “their turn” to become Renee Blackwell Jewellery. The studio is a kaleidoscope of colourful delights, and without fail when a visitor comes, one of their first comments is usually: “WOW!!! The colours!”

The process of marrying colours to create the desired look in a finished piece, combines intuition, years of experience and a fair amount of magic. This “magic” is what I and every other designer (whether its clothing, fabric, eye wear, home furnishing or jewellery) strive for. It’s our “secret sauce” so to speak. A great example is the 7 drop crystal earrings pictured below. This style has been a favourite of my customers for years. This combination of 7 crystals is an example of colours complimenting and blending to create a finished look. Imagine, if the top hot pink crystal was removed. The earrings would have a whole different look and feel. It’s this ability to blend seemingly disparate colours, while avoiding a clash, or being to predicable, that satisfies my design eye, and ultimately the wearer.

So, what’s your favourite colour?


Yowah Opal Festival & The Great Queensland Outback!

The small town of Yowah, Queensland is home to the annual Yowah Opal Festival, an event I had longed to attend for many years. With international travel off the radar for the foreseeable future, we thought this was the perfect time to venture into the great Queensland outback. I had also wanted to create a piece of jewellery to enter into their annual jewellery design competition. The main requirement to qualify in the competition, being the use of the distinctive Yowah Opal. As it turns out I had been purchasing these remarkable Opals over the years from different dealers, and had a nice selection from which to choose. Competition pieces tend to be either pendants or rings, however I had in mind a sterling silver bracelet, set with a variety of Yowah Opals. The body of the bracelet would be similar to a wooden one I had purchased in Kenya many years ago, and have longed to replicate it, but with my modern twist.
Hubby and I loaded up our 12 year old Border Collie Jasper, along with our three month old baby Border Collie, Ruby and headed out. Traveling with a puppy is a whole new experience, yet she did really well and we all enjoyed the journey. We had pre-booked into “Doggie Friendly” accommodation along the way with no issues.
Finally arriving at the festival on Saturday morning, we were greeted by the interesting, unusual and unique “town” of Yowah, with the population of a few hundred. Every single person living there is an Opal miner or involved in Opal mining in some way. Once at the festival itself, we hit the open air market, which did not disappoint. This was filled with Opal dealers sharing their magical stones for all to see & buy and what a place for a jewellery nut, like me!
Fast forward to the big event that evening, the Opal jewellery design competition awards.
There are three categories for the jewellery competition, based on the value of the piece, and I am thrilled to say my bracelet won First Place in the top category! Hurrah, Whoopee, Cartwheels of excitement! Other than the obvious honour of winning, entering a jewellery competition allows me to stretch my creativity as a designer, and I really enjoy that.
It’s hard to capture this bracelet in a photo, virtually impossible to get all 12 stones in one shot, but you’ll get the overall idea. I also added gum leaf engraving on the bracelet, with slight antique finish on the leaves, which was the perfect touch. I called the piece: “Embracing Yowah.”
At the end of the week end, we packed up the dogs and ourselves and with hearts filled with our adventure, started the journey home, back to my studio, full of inspiration and happiness.

Falkland Island & the Penguins!

Travel…What’s That?
There was a time, not so long ago (pre-Covid), when I traveled a lot. I come from a long line of travelers, grew up traveling with my family and it’s in my blood. As the years passed, I continued on my own, traveling the four corners of the world. When I started creating jewellery, I just could not find the unusual, interesting and unique components close at hand. So began the 25 year journey, which combined travel and sourcing goodies to work with. With Covid, the brakes went on last March, for me and the rest of the world. No. More. Travel. Even travel within Australia is a concern, with regular border closures. I have thought about my adventures often in recent months, reminiscing on the joys and stresses of international travel. I have sourced buttons from antique dealers in Paris, Argentina and London. Semi-precious stones from countries to numerous to count, but India and Sri Lanka among my favourite. I have attended the international Button show in the USA and the smaller, yet still fabulous one in Melbourne. My favourite source for pearls is from an old fella’ I’ve been visiting at SE Asia’s largest market, in Bangkok, Thailand, for many years. When I was in South America about ten years ago on a buying trip with my lovely 90 (!) year old Mom, we spent a few days on the Falkland Islands. Here is the photo (sorry, not great quality) of me, at a remarkable Penguin Rookery. And yes, it was as cold as it looked, yet utterly wonderful. So, who knows when I will be sitting on a plane again, awaiting those magic words: “Ladies and Gents, buckle up, we’re ready for take off.” In the meantime, memories are a wonderful substitute. 

“Connections”

For over 30 years I’ve created jewellery. Literally thousands of earrings & bracelets, hundreds of rings and pendants and assorted “other” goodies to adorn the body. I’ve sold these at markets, home parties, to friends and family and at one stage, we were in 144 jewellery stores around Australia. I now sell exclusively online. When we spent five years in Mexico, and a few years in California and ten years in Washington, I continued selling my treasures. Now, having lived in Australia for nearly 23 years, countless Aussie women have my pieces. Many women are serious collectors. (You know who you are!)

Occasionally, I wonder where all the jewellery is.  Who’s arm, ears or neck do they enhance? In what jewellery box do they lie? On what special occasion has the piece come out to party? Who has worn their pieces and then passed them along?

I regularly have customers who tell me their “Renee Blackwell Jewellery” stories. You know, where and when they got a certain piece. Who they were with when they bought said piece, or who bought it for them? On what occasion did they receive it. Birthday, Christmas, anniversary, graduation or wedding. Oh, the stories they could tell! You see, the jewellery you’re wearing is a part of you and your experience. It sits on your finger as you fly across the world on a jet. Dances from your ears, as you sing, clap and dance at your favourite concert. You touch and stroke the pendant around your neck, as you contemplate what to order at a special restaurant.

Because of this, I am connected. I am connected to you, dear Renee jewellery enthusiast. Just as I am connected with each bead, every stone or button, every single component, in every single piece of finished jewellery to emerge from the studio.

Next time you reach for your favourite Renee piece, remember the bond we share together, and wear your Renee jewels with the satisfaction that through your jewellery choices you are honoured, appreciated and connected!

Renee

London Silver Vaults

March 8, 2021

I last visited London five years ago. At that time we visited every button, antique, haberdashery, rock and gem shop available. Spending every single moment, of every single day (ten days in all) sourcing treasures to work with in my jewellery creations. I had heard about the London Silver Vaults, but had not carved out the time to go in previous visits. This time, we made it a priority, and I’m so glad we did.

The London Silver Vaults is a large subterranean market that opened as The Chancery Lane Safe Deposit on 7 May 1885. Originally renting out strong rooms to hold household silver, jewellery and documents, it transitioned to housing silver dealers in secure premises a few years later.
The Vaults boasts 29 specialist shops; each one a treasure trove of beautifully crafted antique and modern silver, and jewellery, dating from the early 1600s to the present day.
Today, it is the home of silver shopping and a true hidden gem; well-loved by international royalty, film stars and discerning shoppers seeking the world’s finest silver.
All of the vault owners are independent retailers and many are third generation family businesses, with expert knowledge and a rich history. From silver tableware, cutlery, decorative pieces and gifts, to fine jewellery and rare collectors’ items: the Vaults sells the widest variety of silver in the world. The outside of the building is not really impressive, but once inside and deep into the “guts” of the vaults, it’s a whole different opulent world!

Of course I was not looking for finished jewellery, rather unique and interesting cutlery to be used in my earrings and ring creations. I was not disappointed! Entering each shop/vault I drooled as they brought out one remarkable cutlery set after another. I was really clear as to what I was looking for. The cutlery needed to be in perfect condition, with interesting and beautiful patterns, not the usual “Cheap and Cheerful” cutlery available at second hand shops and the like. I wanted a step above. At the end of a very long afternoon, I walked away with several sets, which have now been transformed into my bespoke jewellery.
Below are a few examples, with both pairs of earrings available. The ring is part of my own jewellery collection, but if you’re interested in spoon rings, let me know and I can send thru’ a few photos of availability. (They are not on my website.)
I hope this little peek into just one of the many places I’ve sourced goodies over the years gives you an idea of the this part of my process.
Check out all the latest & greatest jewellery on my website here: https://www.reneeblackwelldesign.com/

Jewels & Journeys

Feb. 17, 2021

Walking thru’ life…

I asked my Facebook followers a few days ago “what do you do for exercise?” I received a few answers, which consisted of “a bit of this, a bit of that” with many just saying they try and stay active, which we all know is better than nothing.
Me? Well, I walk, and walk and you know….walk!
It’s not always been like this. I was a total fitness nut in the 80’s and 90’s and taught aerobics for 16 years. And when I say Aerobics I mean Hard. Core. Aerobics. You may or may not remember the fanatical fitness frenzy during those years, but yep, that was me.
I finally “mellowed” into yoga, thank God! This happened when hubby and I spent the better part of five years living in Mexico, where I stumbled upon a lovely Yoga teacher. I loved the combination of gentleness and strength and vowed to never again pound my body. In the years since then I have continued with Yoga, at times in classes and at times on my own.
But thru’ all of the years, it’s walking that has sustained me.
When I’ve been in my jewellery studio for 8 straight hours and can hardly stand up straight…I go for a walk.
When I’m overwhelmed in any way….I go for a walk.
When my lovely border collie Jasper looks at me in that special way…WE go for a walk.
When I’ve been on the computer processing jewellery orders and I can hardly see straight…I go for a walk.

I live 10 k (6 miles) down a dirt road, on a rural property, and my feet know every single inch of this road. Every tree, every bush, every cow, camel (yes, our neighbors have camels), every lama and every dog. I walk on my own. I walk with my hubby. I walk with my dog. I walk with my faithful walking partner Mary, who has walked with me nearly every Monday morning for 18 years! And a newer walking buddy, Glori and I now go on Thursdays.

Why do I share this in “Jewels & Journeys?” Well, walking makes me a better person. A better spouse. A better jeweller and business woman. It clears my mind and takes me out of my head and into nature. I look up and see the sky, the rain, the clouds and the fresh air.

So, if you’re looking for me, I may be at the computer, in my studio, relaxing with a book or perhaps…walking thru’ life!

Cheers,
Renee

Welcome to Jewels & Journeys-First installment!

Jan. 27, 2021

Welcome to the first installment of “Jewels & Journeys with Renee”.

It’s hard to know where to start. The beginning of my jewellery journey, the years in the middle, or what’s happening currently in my jewellery world. I have customers who have been purchasing my designs almost from the day I started, way back in the late 70’s, as a struggling college student. And now because of Covid, I have a whole new audience of women purchasing my jewellery for the first time. I can only put this down to more time spent online and more people comfortable ordering from a web based business. Word of mouth is also important, and I have always had first time orders from women who “saw your pieces” on their girlfriend. I have sold thousands of pieces of my (mostly) one of a kind treasures—collected & enjoyed by countless women far and wide.

Sri Lanka-Pearl of the Indian Ocean & Teardrop of India!

Today’s journey, randomly selected, is a peek into my trip to the beautiful island of Sri Lanka, a few years ago. Hubby and I spent 10 remarkable days journeying from one end of the island to the other. The main focus as always with my travels, is sourcing goodies to create with, in this case gemstones. Sri Lanka is known for its tea, lush beauty and of course Sapphires, and it was mainly Sapphires we were after. We visited stone cutting workshops, ruff’ and raw stone shops, and ultimately two sapphire mine, which was one of the best parts of the trip. (See photo of me me standing at one of these mines.)

As always, the highlights of our travels is meeting people, and this trip to Sri Lanka was no different. We became fast friends with our driver who carefully and thoughtfully drove us for the better part of a week. We also became buddies with some of the guys at the mines, although they were never able to talk me down into one, no matter how much they tried! (See photos.)

We did source some nice sapphires and other semi precious stones that I’ve used in my jewellery creations, but the real joy of the trip was the majestic beauty of the island.

The trip ended on Valentines Day, with a last night in the Capital city of Colombo. We spent just one night at the most amazing boutique hotel, complete with a butler for each room. This was the first and only time this has happened in all my travels, and let me just say, it was a bit delightful!

We woke up at the crack of dawn the next day and made our way to the airport and flew on to India, for another two weeks, again sourcing stones. That’s another story for another post.

Hope you enjoyed this little peek into one of my many trips and travels around this remarkable planet, we call home!

xoxox
Renee