Ethical wedding jewellery made with soul from Shakti Ellenwood
Samantha / 11 July 2017
Shakti is one of the incredible ethical wedding jewellery designers from our directory. She specialises in exquisite fair trade wedding and engagement rings with proper heart and soul. Based in her studio in Somerset, all of her jewellery is handcrafted and receives a special ‘blessing’. She is truly passionate about her craft and her route to designing jewellery is truly a fascinating one.
Intrigued now? Well we asked her some questions for you so you can find out more…
Ethical wedding jewellery rich in ritual and romance
Hi Shakti, welcome to the Meet the Maker series thank you for taking part. We’d love to know the back story behind your business, how did it start out?
Well, it all began back in India in 1994. I was living between Japan, Thailand and India and during a visit to Pune I became very sick with a high fever. I was living in the infamous ‘White House’ guest house and a concerned fellow traveller and resident, Asi, took me in and kept watch over me. He was a jeweller and sat at a small work bench, on the floor, hammering, soldering and sawing.
I became captivated by the intricacy of the work and the beauty of the high karat gold and gemstones he worked with. When I had recovered, he presented me with the most beautiful gold and turquoise ring…I was hooked! I knew with all certainty that this was what I was meant to be doing.
From there I followed a boyfriend to San Francisco and by an act of serendipity I got a job at The Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts, where I trained in the Graduate Jeweller program over the next five years. Later training with 5th Generation Armenian Master Goldsmith, Hratch Nargizian, a man of extraordinary skill and talent, who remains my mentor to this day.
Such a wonderful fascinating story! The story isn’t the only thing fascinating about your business, you describe your rings as being “rich in ritual and romance”, could you tell us more about this and what that means to you?
I sat with the Huni Quin tribe, who live in the depths of the Amazon Rainforest. They instilled in me the importance of ritual in all that you do. How all things must be created with a conscious awareness and with respect to the materials you are using, where they have come from and where they are going. To the Huni Quin all of life is prayer whether they are hunting, cooking or singing. I have described in more depth the details of how this is incorporated into my work in the question on ‘little gold prayers’.
Every ring is rich in romance from the inside out, a symbol of love a commitment. This romance is created by the ancient love songs I sing as I work, by the artisanal aspect of how they are made, the prayers bestowed upon them and ultimately to the dignity given to the miners who pull this precious metal out of the earth. Visually, this romance can be see through the delicacy of the work, the ‘secret’ hearts which are carved into the back of the engagement rings, the star settings and the milligrain edging often seen in my jewellery.
Wow, we would love to hear more about the ‘little gold prayers’?
They were named ‘little gold prayers’ by a friend of mine who was watching me work one day and the phrase just stuck.
I always begin the day in the studio by saying a prayer and making a blessing for the work I will be creating that day. I then burn sage, which is a herb loved by the Native American Indians, to purify and cleanse the space. As I work I sing songs and mantras to make sure that each jewel is infused with the highest possible vibration; giving it a resonance that can be felt when the ring is worn. Finally, I tie the ring with a piece of velvet ribbon whilst saying a prayer for many blessings to be bestowed upon the couple and their life together.
How truly special, what a lovely sentiment. In addition to the blessing that each ring has, what in terms of the design makes your jewellery stand out and why should a couple consider buying their engagement ring or wedding ring from you?
I think there is a combination of factors that when added together tell a story that is unique to my work. It is this combination that creates the feeling that a couple has stumbled across something special. Something that they can add their own story to.
Each ring is made by hand, which encapsulates the romance of artisanal design, that so many couples are looking for these days and I use the same techniques passed down from our goldsmithing ancestors of 4000 years ago. Within my work, this ancient influence is melded together with a contemporary aesthetic to create my earthy, organic designs.
All my engagement and wedding rings are ethically made with Fairtrade gold. This is at the heart of what I do and is important to many young couples today. They want to know about the mine from which their gold came and how they have helped that, particular, mining community and they want to be confident that no harm or exploitation went into the creation of their rings. All my stones are conflict free and I often incorporate CanadaMark diamonds into my designs which come with a fully transparent chain of supply.
Finally, the spiritual and ritualistic approach to my work ensures that each ring is made with love and conscious awareness and this is the glue that holds all of the above together.
Is there anything in particular that influences your designs?
Yes, very much so! Since I began my training to be a goldsmith, I was drawn to civilisations and bygone eras that produced jewellery that had meaning beyond just adornment. My own designs are influenced by the Ancient Egyptians, who viewed all the jewellery they made and wore as talismanic in some way. For example, children were giving turquoise bracelets to wear as this ensured they would never drown. They also wore their jewellery in burial as they believed it would help them on their journey in the afterlife. Often people say to me that my jewels look like they could have been found on an archeological dig and this is because of the influence of ancient jewellery in my work.
I am also very drawn to the jewellery of the Victorian era. I love to use rose cut and old mine cut diamonds, in my engagement rings, that were very popular during the reign of Queen Victoria. The Victorians were romantic and loved their sentimentally to be displayed within their jewellery in the form of love tokens, also their jewellery was full of symbolism; such as pearls meant tears and butterflies symbolized soul and rebirth.
What sort of couples do you think choose a Shakti Ellenwood Precious Jewellery ring for their wedding?
I think the type of couple that choose my rings are making conscious choices in their lives and being ethical is very much on the top of their wish list whilst searching for rings; but along with that, they don’t want to compromise on design and usually want a handmade ring that reflects their unique personality. Many of my stones are one-of-a-kind which appeals to couples who want something exclusive to them. I guess they are a little bit more alternative than most.
If a couple were to choose one of your rings, what would their experience be like? What’s the process from choosing their design to receiving the finished product?
As each of my couples are very much unique, I tailor each experience around what the individual couple wants. Some are happy to go ahead and order a ring from my website without any communication at all, whilst others like to come and have tea and I get to learn about their wedding plans, hopes and dreams and tell them a bit about my story. Then they select a ring from my collection or they look at the stones I have and we work together to create something perfect for them. However, most usually I communicate with clients via email, where I will answer any questions they may have until they feel happy with their decision and are ready to go ahead and make a purchase. Then the ring usually takes around 4 – 5 weeks before it is posted out by Special Delivery. I don’t usually reach out to clients to discuss how things are going but I am happy to answer their requests for updates. I love it when I receive photos of the proposal and wedding, with all the happy smiling faces.
You mentioned earlier about how the Huni Quin tribe, instilled the importance that all things must be created with a conscious awareness. Can can you tell us a bit more about why you choose to make your business ethical and eco-conscious? In what ways does being an eco-friendly business impact on your work?
It has always been important that I have integrity in my dealings with our planet and my fellow humans, so when a friend first made me aware of the many atrocities occurring that were directly related to gold mining, I got that sinking feeling. The gold I was using was being called to question for crimes against humanity and I was uncertain about my future within an industry that I adored. After doing some research I became aware of recycled gold as a possible answer. I worked with this recycled gold for a few years but one weekend I went on a meditation retreat and had a clear message that recycled gold wasn’t good enough, if I really wanted to do the right thing then I must ONLY work with Fairtrade. As soon as I got home, I signed up to become a licensee. Working with Fairtrade gold has its challenges. Sometimes there are shortages in the supply chain and there is a very limited variety of the sheet and wire thickness’ you can buy so I often end up making my own from scratch.
My packaging is made using recycled cardboard and I started my ‘Giving Back’ project in 2015, which this year sees me donate £20 for each engagement ring sold to three charities: Friends of the Earth, Save the Arctic and Greenpeace.
I greatly admire Yvon Chouinard, the founder, and owner of Patagonia, who create climbing and snowboarding gear, and have taken on his company mission statement as my own:
Build the best product.
Cause no unnecessary harm.
Use business to inspire and implement solutions
to the environmental crisis.
– Yvon Chouinard
What a brilliant mission statement to work by thank you for sharing it with us! To finish up with a couple of last questions. Firstly if you were to be getting engaged or married now, which of your designs do you think you would choose and why?
I would choose either my Iris engagement ring, which has a beautiful ½ carat rose cut diamond. I love how rose cuts hark back to the Victorian era which gives them an antique feel, with a sense of history, a story to tell. There is something very romantic and whimsical about them. They don’t sparkle like the modern brilliant cuts but they have something quite special in their own understated way.
Either that, or I would choose a rustic diamond engagement ring, these are diamonds that grew within the earth’s crust with different colour minerals that grew inside them. It gives them a one-of-a-kind imprint and they come in a variety of colours with plumes and swirls of inclusions. I adore the red/orange ones and I love that, whichever one I ended up with, it would be utterly unique to me.
And finally, what can we expect to see from Shakti Ellenwood Precious Jewellery over the next 12 months?
I have many beautiful new diamonds, which I purchased in Switzerland last March. They will all be spun into rings, at some point, over the coming months. I will also be producing a new collection of coloured gemstone engagement rings. Plus, you’ll be seeing many new wedding bands in the mix.
Thank you again to Shakti for participating in this series. I am sure you will agree that both her story and designs are beautiful. If you are recently engaged and looking for the perfect ring, or both in search of your wedding rings then you really must check out all of her designs.
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