Vanessa Stephens

Anyone who knows me well, knows I love jewellery! So, when I was doing some book research on a jewellery designer character, I asked the lovely Vanessa Stephens if I could drill her on a day in her life.

Vanessa is behind Oceanhaze Jewellery, which was recently profiled in British Vogue. She donates part of her profits to the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

Oceanhaze Jewellery - AMCS Supporter BadgeWhen I approached Vanessa about interviewing her, she said: ‘Funnily enough, it was years ago that a fiction book inspired me to learn jewellery-making! It was about a family-run jewellery store, set in the time of art nouveau jewellery, being made in 1890-1910. It described how enamel pieces were designed and made, in amongst the story, and it sounded beautiful and something interesting to pursue. I wish I could remember the name of the book!”

So cool. Now, on with my questions…

Hi, Vanessa. Please describe your studio set-up.

I use all the general tools and firing equipment a jeweller will use. It would be about 100 or more tools that I use at different times.

Large and heavy equipment, such as a rolling mill and draw plates, are not a part of my studio as they are time-consuming to use. I find it more efficient to buy the metal cut to a general size that is ready to be cut again or formed into a piece with my tools.

I often use ‘Metal Clay’ (99.9% fine silver particles, with an organic binder, that is burnt away during firing to form solid fine silver) for its malleability and sculptural qualities. I also make moulds and take impressions of shells to use in my work.

One of the suppliers I use,, sell a basic jewellery kit that would give an idea of some of the basic tools I use. Its contents menu would cover many of the tools, equipment and materials that I use.

A selection of Vanessa Stephens necklaces and earings

Did you do any study or are you self-taught?

I have a bachelor’s degree in visual art, an advanced diploma in jewellery design and manufacture, a Bachelor of Education, and have studied enamelling techniques.

I have worked in the jewellery industry, taught jewellery-making at WEA Adelaide, and exhibited and sold my jewellery in a number of galleries around Australia including the Jam Factory in Adelaide and Beaver Galleries in Canberra.

What’s your favourite and least favourite parts of the job?

My favourite part of being a jeweller is designing, and the making is a close second.

Probably my least favourite thing about jewellery-making is that it can be a very lengthy process and I’m always keen to try my new ideas but have to be patient and finish what I’m currently working on!

It is important to me that through collaboration with the Australian Marine Conservation Society that 10% of my profits are contributed to the AMCS.

Oceanhaze Jewellery is a ‘Pearl Business Supporter’ of the AMCS. They do so many amazing things that help our environment. I try to draw people’s eye, through my work, to the incredible beauty of the ocean environment and highlight, therefore, how important it is to conserve it.

A selection of Vanessa Stephens necklaces and earings

Is jewellery-making a full-time gig? And what’s a typical day like when you’re in the studio?

Jewellery is full-time for me. A typical day would start around 6.30am. I will be answering emails, setting up social media, designing, searching online for materials, ordering materials, working out my ‘to do’ list, and checking the news while I have breakfast. I will then get ready for the day.

Most of the morning is spent on photographing jewellery and processing orders. After lunch, I’ll generally be designing and making jewellery and editing photos. Other tasks are listing products online to my website and shops, going to the post office, posting to Instagram and Facebook, doing accounts and tax etc.

I usually listen to music while I work. I may go to the beach for inspiration and to take photographs for my Instagram and Facebook accounts. I also read about the arts, and contemporary jewellery designers’ work.

How do you source your gemstones and materials? Any travel involved?

I source all gems and materials online. I do mainly everything online and through the post, including sending work to retail outlets or galleries. Occasionally, I may drop jewellery off in person.

I find it is more efficient to do as much as possible online and by post. No travel, in general, is involved with regards to my jewellery unless you count going to local beaches.

A gold shell necklace by Vanessa Stephens

What channels do you sell through?

I sell through my website, Etsy, Instagram, and Facebook. I’m also currently with Local Threads, Bimbo in SA’s Norwood, and Pepper Street Arts Centre in SA’s Magill.

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