Creating a New Collection: The Work of Luana Coonen

From the desk of Roz Eberhard, Director and Curator at Eclectic Artisans.

EA. Your work is heavily influenced by elements from the natural world. When embarking on designing for a new collection, do you undertake research field trips or is it more an organic process drawn from memories.

LC. I’m constantly on ‘field trips’. A majority of my off-time is spent in the outdoors, either hiking, camping, on my stand-up paddle board or backpacking. Yet inspiration comes to me at all times: when in the studio, while out on a hike, sometimes right before I fall asleep. Yet the true inspiration often comes to me not during these active times, it’s when I’m just sitting dwelling on the pattern of how a leaf grows, or watching a bug crawl up a stick. Those quiet moments when I’m just sitting watching a view is where the big ideas come from, and all the designs sprout from there.

EA. Are you a sketcher, photographer or CAD design artist?

LC. Defiantly a sketcher, thought I’ve watched the world modernize around me, I pride myself on being an old-school goldsmith. With that comes lots of time with a pencil, sketchbook and ruler. My studio is covered in little drawings of jewelry I plan to make.

EA. Where do you find the natural components that you add to your work

LC. I used to gather all my natural specimens out in the field myself, but now that my work is fairly well known, I receive almost half of my treasures from fans, friends and clients throughout the year (with little notes like “I thought you’d like this!”). The boxes often contain snakeskin, colorful bird feathers, dried flower petals and the like. So now my treasures come from both me and the great unknown.

EA. Many jewellers rely on the process of creating samples from non-precious metals to refine their designs. Is this something you do?

LC. Yes, absolutely. Though most of my finished jewelry is in gold and silver, I still work with copper often to flush out the details: the form, size, shape and how the mechanisms will work. Copper is actually a lovely material to work with (it’s very soft & malleable). It’s nice to have a material which I can work so quickly with and not have to craft carefully like gold. New ideas often sprout when you just let your hands do what they are good at.

EA. What is your favourite technique or material to work with?

LC. Soldering is by far my favorite technique (working with a torch to ‘weld’ the metal components together). It feels like baking- if all the components are correct, something beautiful rises before your eyes. Though I am the one in control, I always feel like I’m watching magic unfurl in front of me, a bit like alchemy. And my favorite material…. rose petals, does that count?

EA. Do you ever feel that you need to follow trends when creating a collection?

. Absolutely not- I often resist trends. I’d prefer to make designs which stand the test of time, ‘classics’ I refer to them.

I do not like to constantly update the aesthetic of my line if it goes out of trend. With that said, I’ve seen designs I make come into trend and sell better than in the past, but I just keep making old and new designs regardless of what’s happening in the world. I’m a bit stubborn like that.

EA. What was the biggest risk you ever took with a design?

LC. Ha! Probably when I was still in art school, learning to be a goldsmith. I would approach a project and people would say “you can’t do that/make that” but I would try anyway. Sometimes it would work and I’d discover a new approach, or sometimes I’d crush or burn something. And that’s how learning happens.

EA. What is your favourite piece in this collection?

LC. Defiantly the locket- the lockets I create are few and far between and each one tells a story- a little something about me, and a little something about the person who will wear it. Each one is unique, this is probably the second one I made and remains one of my favourites, it features red coral I found washed up on the beach in Lombok, Indonesia when I was on a 4 month globe-trotting trip. I was doing a lot of listening to my heart at that time.

EA. Do you create a new collection annually? Or when you feel it is ‘time’.

LC. I create new pieces throughout the year- usually a design here and there I can’t stop thinking about, but around January or February I release a larger collection when I attend trade shows so my galleries can have new work to choose from. So it’s a bit of both. Honestly it just depends on scheduling, if I didn’t run a jewellery business I’d be making new designs every day of the week!

EA. How do you judge if a collection has been successful?

LC. Three components: how much I enjoyed making it, how well it sells with my galleries, and the feedback I get from clients (good or bad feedback is welcome). If all three add up, it’s a success. If one of those components are missing, I cut it from the line.

EA. The word ‘sustainable’ is used a lot these days, what do you do to ensure your work ticks the ‘sustainable box’?

LC. Good question- for the first 10 years of being a jeweler, I refused to work with gemstones. I thought they were a bit typical but also I could not stand the idea of stones being pulled up from the earth and leaving a big mess behind. That’s where I got the idea to work with natural materials instead (butterfly wings, leaves, lichens, etc). I would find these fallen specimens in their natural environment and felt comfortable with that relationship. I pair these with 100% recycled gold & silver, because I’m a big fan of recycling, it’s just so easy.

Fast forward to now~ Once I found out about Fair-Mined and traceable gemstones, as well as working with reclaimed and antique diamonds, I allowed precious stones into my line. I am still very stringent about where my materials come from, I still work only with 100% environmentally- friendly sources, it’s just so important to me. I’ve noticed that sustainability has definitely come into trend, which makes things easier for me as now there are more resources.

EA. What is the biggest challenge you face working as a jeweller?

LC. Not enough time. As I my business grows, more is needed out of me- admin work & traveling to shows, working on bespoke pieces, emailing with clients. Where I really need to and want to be is at the bench making new work. If I had a duplicate of myself that would be a miracle.

EA. Have you already started thinking about the next collection you will produce?

LC. Yes, my next two collections are going to be: light and feminine wedding rings with Montana sapphires inspired by turn-of the century designs, and a new encasement series focused on teardrop/lotus patterns featuring mica and hydrangea petals. I also have a few one-of-a-kind moth and moon-series necklaces I can’t wait to make.