Artisan jewellery fit for the ancients

Sydney-based jewellery designer Marina Antoniou was set on an entirely different path until she found herself on the Greek islands

Marina Antoniou has always been creatively inclined, unlike the other members of her family.

“I’m the weird one,” she says with a laugh.

For Antoniou jewellery making was a child-like dream that she had at the back of her mind since her early days in high school.

That is, until she took a trip to Greece during her semester break, transforming her dream into a real career move for the then 21-year-old.

“It was definitely my travel and seeing local artists’ work [that led her towards jewellery making]. I went overseas during my course, I was in Greece actually, and I came to the realisation that industrial design wasn’t what I wanted to be doing,” she recalls.

“I came back from my trip and from there did a bit more research, dropped out of uni and went straight to TAFE to study Jewellery Design.”

Now in her fourth year of working for her eponymous label, Antoniou produces her bespoke deigns out of a little studio in Sydney’s inner-west two days a week, while also working for Courtesy of the Artist (COTA), a contemporary jewellery and object store based in Sydney’s historic Strand Arcade.

“They [COTA] have supported me so much and really given me the opportunity to make jewellery and let people see my jewellery,” she says.

The designer is inspired by many things, though she finds herself constantly being drawn back to jewellery and objects from ancient civilisations.

Linked to her love for working with metals, her pieces often vary between white and yellow gold.

“They’re traditional jewellery making materials and really beautiful to work with, not just with my hands but with my tools and the finishes I’m able to achieve,” she explains.

When first starting out, despite being new to the industry, Antoniou always had a sure vision and direction of the aesthetic she wanted to achieve.

“I had a very clear idea, I knew what style I wanted,” she tells Neos Kosmos.

“It’s quite organic, but still very considered [her designs]. A lot of the time I will just see what the hammer does for me. It’s like a combination between a little bit more free-form and also quite measured and considered. So a fusion of those two styles.”

Although she prefers jewellery making to her previous pursuit of industrial design, aspects from her past studies seem to make an appearance in her current designs.

“Measurements were very important to the millimetre and in jewellery that’s very important. Even though I like to make organic pieces, I still need to have balance, symmetry and consideration,” she tells.

After graduating from TAFE with an Advanced Diploma in Jewellery and Object Design, Antoniou continued her studies with a course in Jewellery Manufacturing, where she learnt various techniques which she uses today.

Like most young graduates, the designer planned to set out working for another jeweller so as to continue on her path of learning more about her trade and the industry.

However, after dedicating herself solidly, she says she soon found herself dissatisfied with the decision.

Feeling she had more to give, Antoniou decided to take the big leap of faith in starting her own label and with her enthusiasm and determination, she received a $10,000 arts grant to help kick-start the endeavour.

“That was the point that it really started for me – getting that boost,” she recalls.

The grant helped the young entrepreneur get started with setting up a website, developing her branding and was a huge help in buying her tools of the trade.

With a lot of competition in the market, buyers handing over their money want something original, and that’s exactly what Antoniou offers her customers.

“They definitely want something that’s handcrafted; they definitely want something that is made in Australia and they want to know where the stones are coming from if we’re using a specific stone. They want something that’s bespoke and specifically for them,” she says.

“They also want to know a little bit about the maker and what inspires me.”

Antoniou has released a small collection via her label, with the bulk of her commissioned work coming in the form of engagement and wedding rings, along with gifts for any given occasion, such as anniversaries and birthdays.

Aside from always referring back to the ancients and their jewellery, she is also inspired by the stones themselves, often coming up with a design specifically for that stone.

Alongside studiously working at her label and commissioned pieces, the designer is currently collaborating with three other designers from Courtesy of the Artist.

Focusing on Australian gemstones, the trio are designing and putting together a collection of jewellery using Australian gemstones only, with the collection launching next month.

Despite appreciating the global international market and the work of other jewellery designers abroad, this is one designer who tries to keep things as local as possible.

“I’ve managed to get some beautiful white opals from a mine in Australia. I also work with our local gem-cutter who hand-cuts Australian sapphires from Queensland. They’re the ones people are starting to want,” she says.

One thing Antoniou tells Neos Kosmos she loves about her profession is that she is able to work with a client and bring their ideas to life, finally being able to hold the end result in her hands.

The look on her clients’ faces when they see what she has come up with will never get old, she says.

“The relationship that I have with the people I’m making for, I started to realise; this is what I love the most. I know I have such amazing clients and every one of them has just been so appreciative and wonderful to work with.”

Antoniou is an example of where you can go if you follow your heart and intuition.

The 28-year-old designer is happy with how things are going and thankful for that trip she took to the Greek islands, where she met local artisans in Rhodes’ Old Town.

“I’m really comfortable with where I am at the moment, with what I’m doing for Courtesy of the Artist and my own business,” she says without a hint of doubt in her voice.

“I don’t have that urgency to stock my work elsewhere at the moment. That exclusivity is really nice to have in Sydney and Australia.”