When I began planning my adventure in Scotland, I naturally asked all my friends for advice on where to go. A friend of a friend said I HAD to visit the Isle of Iona, as it was a completely magical place. OK…so I got out the map and located it. Hmm…it was part of the Hebrides Islands, a little isle off the coast of the Isle of Mull, off the coast of Oban. It didn’t sound like the easiest place to get to, but I was determined to make it happen. And, it turned out it wasn’t as difficult as I originally thought.
To get to Iona, I purchased a full day, round trip tour from West Coast tours. I bought my ticket almost 6 months in advance (not that you have to), and I lucked out big time on the weather — cool and sunny! We departed Oban just before 10 in the morning and enjoyed a scenic 50 minute ferry ride to Craignure on the Isle of Mull. From there, I hopped on a bus and took an hour and half drive across the ruggedly beautiful Isle of Mull. The driver gave an informative and sometimes humorous commentary during the journey.
Then it’s just a a 15 minute ferry ride over to Iona. Once I debarked in Iona, I just started walking. I knew the main thing I wanted to see was the Abbey, but you never know what you’ll encounter along the way. And what did I find??? An incredible jewelry gallery, Aosdana! Honestly, this was about the last thing I ever thought I’d find on this remote island.
Aosdana “derives from an ancient Gaelic word and is the collective term for the bards of old whose role was to record the histories and genealogies of the land, through poetry and music.” It all started with local jewelry designers, Alex and Euphemia Ritchie and Iain McCormick. In 1996, Iain gave a young female relative, Mhairi Killin, the wealth of his expertise and designs. In 2003 Mhairi opened Aosdana, where she showcases this work, as well as the work of many other Scottish artists. I was extremely impressed by the gallery, both in its clean displays and breadth in style of work. Here’s a peek inside the gallery.
I was very drawn to this zoomorphic ring with a dark finish. Its pattern was so much more complex than any Celtic design I’d seen before, and I learned it symbolizes renewal of life and eternity of spirit. Love it even more!
I was also intrigued by the green stones in many of the pieces, such as in this charm bangle. I discovered that these stones are often referred to as “St. Columba’s tears” by the locals, and they sometimes carry of piece of it in their pockets to ward off drowning. It’s a mixture of serpentine and white marble, and it naturally occurs in shades from lime to dark green.
As I strolled around the gallery, I couldn’t help but admire a large statement necklace hanging on the wall by Kelly Munro. This “creel” necklace is made of brass, rubber and wood. It could easily function as a piece of art if displayed when you’re not wearing it.
I also think the handcrafted silver work by Susan Macleod is quite lovely. Here’s her Sweet Pea & Pearl necklace.
Another artist who uses wood in her jewelry is Cristina Zani. I think it’s so pretty how she carves the wood and then uses paint and gold leaf to make it an organically beautiful centerpiece.
Grace Girvan uses pebbles from the beaches of Iona in her designs — here’s one featuring two stones with fascinating patterns.
If you find yourself on the Isle of Iona, you definitely have to visit the Abbey. (It’s just up the road from Aosdana.) It was founded back in 565 AD, and it’s still in use today. Can you imagine going to services in such an ancient building? There was moss and ferns sprouting from the interior walls — truly a mystical place!
When walking back to the ferry landing from the Abbey, you’ll pass Aosdana, and shortly thereafter come upon the Iona Heritage Centre. I found this a perfect spot for an alfresco cheese toastie for lunch. (translation: grilled cheese sandwich)
As I waited for my ferry back to Mull, I couldn’t help but get lost gazing into the crystal clear and frigid waters.
I’m so grateful that I followed the advice of my friend of a friend to visit this charming isle. If you find yourself visiting and you’re looking for a great place to stay in Oban, I highly recommend Greystones. This immaculate, modern boutique hotel, run by Mark and Suzanne, has five rooms. It’s the former private home of the director of Kimberley Diamond Mine. (Quite perfect for a jewelry blogger, don’t you think?!) I can’t rave over the views enough — and the yummy breakfast!
For drinks, enjoy the outdoor area at Oban Inn (established in 1790!), and then have a delicious seafood dinner at Eeusk.
I know it’s been quite some time since my last Jewelry Judge post, but I finally came across a worthy subject! In June I attended the wedding of a dear friend. At the reception, I found my way to my table, and before I even started chatting with the lovely lady seated next to me, my eyes were transfixed on the layers she was donning around her neck.
The lengths of the necklaces, the different scales of chains, the mix of metals and the glimmer of diamonds really drew me in. Not only was it a very chic look with her all black ensemble and sassy haircut, but it really was a conversation starter. Of course, the large medallion pendant was the piece de resistance!
She told me that she purchased this vintage Cartier turtle medallion from Lang antiques back in the 90’s. It was when the economy had taken a downturn, so she was able to purchase it for an amazing price — she actually offered them less than the price tag. Mixed with other family heirlooms and some more recent acquisitions, I just love the whole look. I may not have thought to put it together that way myself, but that’s one thing I just adore about jewelry. It really is a way to express your personal style!
I spent my birthday this past February down in southern California with my bestie — my mom. We pile all our things in her light green mini van and take a road trip about once a year, hitting all our favorite towns and shops up and down the state. This year, I added a very special jewlery store to my birthday agenda, and boy am I glad I did!
I have been following August on Instagram for quite some time, drooling over their well-curated collection of designers. Their cohesiveness in style, yet breadth of designers has quite literally left me breathless on more than one occasion. I was thrilled when Bill Hermsen, the owner of August, let me know about a new collection they picked up, Rallou Mindfulness. August is, in fact, the first place in the United States to carry the Greek-based line from designer Rallou Katsari. Needless to say, I knew if this line was going into August, there was no doubt that I’d love it as well.
I asked Bill what drew him to this line and he replied, “Rallou’s work is deceptively simple and executed in luxurious materials. There’s something very compelling about that combination.” I couldn’t agree more. As I scrolled through Rallou’s Instagram feed, a feeling of calm came over me, and it really make me think about how powerful her clean designs are.
Each of the designs has a carefully selected name and meaning. Take, for example, the drop rings, in which the drop is a “physical representation of present moment.” Throughout Rallou’s “Seemingly Solid” collection, “The drop is used as a physical representation of the present moment and works as a mindful reminder to live, to flow, to simply be here and now.”
Rallou’s whole concept is that of mindfulness — being present in the here and now. This ethos is very evident on the quotes on her Instagram page.
As I looked through this line, I was particularly drawn to some of the earring designs. Here is the minimal and elegant “Now” stud, which creatively sits on the ear unlike any I’ve seen before. Its meaning is, “right Now life unfolds, notice.”
There are also various permutations of the earring, including this one which I love, the “Connection,” which reminds us of our connection to nature.
The “Will” earring (which also doubles as a brooch) encourages “the Will to bring peace inside and outside yourself.”
There’s even an earring which doesn’t require any piercings — the “Joy.”
This article wouldn’t be complete without also showing you the “Moment” ring, with its fluidity coming to life in gold and diamonds. It reminds us to “bring attention to this moment.”
Isn’t it just dreamy on the hand?!
As Bill told me, “Rallou is for the woman that appreciates subtlety and restraint, but it can also be layered beautifully with other collections.” Personally, I’m just dying to visit August again to try on this line in person and see how it effortlessly combines with other lines they carry. In the meantime, I’ll continue to gaze longingly at August’s Instagram feed and enjoy exploring their online store. With Bill’s background in textiles, jewelry, and interior design, I’m always assured a beautiful treat for the senses.
Not only is it wonderful seeing jewelry designers I know when I go to the Couture show, but I’m always invigorated by meeting designers for the first time and seeing their work in person. Daria de Koning was one of those designers I had on my short list. Her use of color is wonderful, and she definitely is a queen of cabochons, which happens to be one of my favorite cuts. As typically happens at the show, I’m exposed to stones I’ve never heard of before. Yes, I learned some new ones at Daria’s booth! Let’s dive into some Q&A with this talented designer.
You have a background in painting as well as jewlery, right? How does painting influence your work?
Originally I went to art school thinking I would major in painting (derailed and became a graphic design/visual communications major). Graphics really helped train my eye and painting is similar to what I’m doing now — I’m just working with “hard” color in gemstones, versus fluids like watercolors or pastels. But I’m still working to create good compositions with the flow that a good painting magically creates. It just happens to be smaller and 3-D.
How does your jewelry making process work — sketch an idea first? Find the stones first? Something else?
It depends on the piece. I’ll make loose sketches sometimes, but a lot of the time I’ll build designs with stones and then go right to creating the 3-D piece…
I saw so many amazing pieces at the Couture show. Can you please share a couple of your current faves with us?
Oh jeez…there’s nothing better than having one of my “thoughts” become 3-D and real…but that tends to mean I’m most excited about whatever I’ve just finished. ha ha. I’m really stoked with my star crossed lovers bracelet. I’m starting to go down a path of working with negative and positive spaces while still incorporating my cluster cabochons. The malachite necklace is pretty baller and really packs a punch.
And, it wasn’t at Couture because I couldn’t finish it in time, but there’s this emerald ring that is fabulous.
I can only imagine how difficult it must be to create something so unique and beautiful and then let it go. Have you kept any particular piece for yourself?
I do get attached to my pieces. Each one is so special and I know that I’ll never be able to recreate it, so sometimes it’s really hard to let go. But I’d be a terrible business woman if I kept them all. It’s easier when I can sell directly to a private client since I know a piece will go to a happy home. Sending it out to stores is so much harder! Funnily enough, I don’t really own much of my own jewelry. I have some prototypes I’ve built and also I’ve kept maybe four pieces that I love to wear (and are easy to wear) from earlier collections.
What are the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of being a jewelry designer?
Overall it’s very rewarding. I love making jewelry, playing with pretty things, making something unique and special. As an artist, I love the whole process of a piece from conception to creation and the final. It’s so satisfying!
The most challenging aspect is the financial scenario of remaining independent (which I am — I built my business piece by piece) yet having to be the bank for everyone until something sells. This impacts everything in my business, ranging from holding me up from creating something new because I can’t buy stones, to impeding marketing plans like photoshoots, etc. From a creative point, the most challenging would be waiting for those perfect stones to “find” each other. Sometimes I’ll hold onto a gem that caught my eye for years before it can be made into that special something.
As I sit to write this article, I find myself desperately missing Scotland and a wee bit jet lagged as well. I have just returned from a month in the UK — three weeks in Scotland and a week in London. It was a most amazing solo adventure, and I’ve discovered lots of goodies to share with you. First up, I have to tell you about Joseph Bonnar, a truly amazing antique and period jewelry store in the New Town section of Edinburgh. I had the pleasure of visiting the store twice during my week’s stay, as I just didn’t take in enough the first time.
Entering this establishment feels like being in a well-curated jewelry museum where you can actually try on and BUY the artifacts! Just incredible. Many of the pieces come from local families, so Joseph can actually trace the heritage of many items. Here’s just one of the cases of antique Scottish jewelry. This store has the best selection of Scottish pieces that I came across on my entire trip.
Merchandise is very clearly labeled with information and price, which makes shopping very user friendly. I was drooling on the cases in the “gold” section. Both the variety of snake rings and this huge oval pendant (it must have been over 2 inches!) were screaming to go home with me. Alas…
As I chatted with Joseph about various pieces, he would suddenly pull something extra-special from the back for me to take a look at. We were discussing the resurgence in popularity of riviere necklaces, when he handed me this leather box from 1860. Take a gander at what’s inside! *gasp*
On my second visit, I was fortunate to see this paste crown and pin from the 19th century. It’s Central European and ended up in Edinburgh as the owner married a Scot. I wonder who she was…
A particularly lovely ring I saw is this Georgian silver and gold cushion cut diamond ring with enamel details. Isn’t it just exquisite?
The ring that stole my heart, and just happened to fit perfectly on my pinky finger, is this sweet Georgian citrine ring. I needed a pinky ring, right? I thought so.
I could have spent the whole day in this store, and I thank Joseph and his lovely staff for all their time and expertise. They do show quite a few products on their website if you’d like to get a more in-depth look at their collection. But personally, I say it’s worth an in person visit!
If you find yourself in Edinburgh, I’m sure your antique jewelry shopping will work up an appetite. I wanted to share a few recommendations with you, as I tried out many restaurants during my time there. For lunch, the restaurant at Harvey Nichols (Harvey Nick’s, for locals) was both delicious and had a stellar view! It’s only about a 5-10 minute walk from Joseph Bonnar.
For dinner, I found two excellent choices. Both of these are in the Old Town, not far from Edinburgh Castle. The first is Howies on Victoria, the brightly-colored street that leads down to the Grassmarket area. While they had me at the elderflower gin fizz, the warm bread and salmon with tempura fried anchovies truly won me over.
The other dinner I really loved was at The Outsider, which came with a view of the castle. It’s not often that I enjoy pan fried stone bass while gazing at a frickin’ castle!!
Edinburgh… I will be back. That, I can promise you.