NZ Jewellery Designer and Maker Martyn Milligan
"I try to make pieces that reflect what I am interested in. I love living at Parapara , on the edge of the Kahurangi national park. For twenty five years my jewellery making and daily interaction with the bush surrounds have been closely linked. It is really natural for me to make flowers. I never planned it that way but I just enjoyed the process even when challenging and so over the years I have really become a florist of sorts. I like my pieces to feel like they come from our place in the world, and enjoy the interaction my pieces have with my interests.
I feel lucky to have developed a style of work which closely matches my experience of living here at Parapara."
martyn milligan 2014
My path to being a nz jewellery designer started in my late teens when I first learnt some basic metalsmithing from a couple of christchurch street jewellers. They were kind enough to show me how they made their eclectic range of low cost earrings and necklaces which they sold on the christchurch streets. We would work with mostly hand tools sitting on the floor with small anvils and really play with ideas in a very raw way.
The following year I headed north to Nelson to work in the apple orchards. I continued to experiment with metalworking as I tried to learn some basic jewellery making skills.
This lead me to Golden Bay where I entered a training course being held in in Takaka by the Work centre trust. The course headed by well known nz jewellery designer Michael Ayling, was my first real introduction to the jewellery making craft. Michael was a wonderful teacher and it is a testament to his enthusiasm that three jewellers form this course have gone on to have long careers making jewellery. Nicola Wooding, Jane Casey and myself.
Whilst on the short three month course I met a number of local artisans including the talented silversmith Reg Harvey-Smith and renowned stone sculptor, the late Bruce Mitchell. I still remember fondly the visit to his workshop on top of Takaka Hill ( the marble mountain). He showed us how he cut and carved the marble as the mist gently rolled right into his workshop through the big barn doors. It was enchanting.
After this course another local Golden Bay jeweller, Peter Meares invited me to work in his workshop in the remote Whanganui Inlet. Peter, also originally from christchurch , had built his house and workshop out on a remote piece of bush. Surrounded by Rata and Rimu forest, he had raised his family, selling his finely crafted silver and gold jewellery range to a wide clientele who made their way to visit his bush studio.
<h3>In return for operating his studio shop in the busy summer season , I could use the workshop to develop my own ideas. It was such a wonderful opportunity. For four years I tried almost every technique that came to mind or I could find in the rich collection of jewellery making manuals Peter had on hand.
By this time I was living in a tiny caravan on my newly acquired land at Parapara, and would travel by any means possible to make the 30 km journey out to Pakawau. One summer I mountain biked every day , then I had a small 175 cc motorbike before a succession of hand me down cars.I spent every possible dollar I made buying metal so I could make more items. If I sold something then the treat was a bottle of vitastout from Tinky’s pub in Collingwood. It was a simple existence but I was doing what I loved.
When my future wife Frith, fresh from art school, came along in 1994 the situation changed. With Frith pregnant with our son Willow we set about building a small cottage to live in and an even smaller shed for me to work in. So in 1995 shortly after our son's birth, I moved my tools to Parapara and so the Rinopai workshop began.
Frith and I worked together to design a small range of items which I made in enough volume that we could market to the the gallery outlets around N.Z
Our first range was ‘Kowhaiwhai’ was first supplied to The Vault, a design store with shops in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland in late 1995. It included two styles of necklace, matching earrings and our Ponga silver rings with Pounamu from the Cascade River in South Westland.
Today, 20 years on from starting of the Rinopai workshop, our designs are available in many galleries and shops nationwide. The design range grows annually as I still find plenty to inspire my design process. I still love to make jewellery and I find myself coming back time and time again to the simple skills I learnt so many years ago. My favourite workspace is still my small shed up on top of the hill at Parapara with a majestic view out across the Parapara Inlet. Some of our original designs are still in production and I still weekly meet customers who tell me stories about the pieces of jewellery they bought from me all those years ago.
"Through the last three decade of exploring design and jewellery making, nature has emerged as my muse. I am invigorated by its many complexities, intricacies, possibilities, and inspiration. Assimilating with a symbolist vernacular. I try to arrange these influences into a wearable object that contains a sense of origin. This is proving to be an engaging, simulating and ongoing challenge"
martyn milligan 2012