Born and raised in South Africa and now based in the UK, Tracy Hills is no ordinary jewellery designer. Cast from real, natural materials, her unique designs immortalise each and every detail to create a weirdly wonderful, true-to-life piece of jewellery. We get to know the woman behind the mysterious and macabre designs.
“I fell in love with jewellery when I was barely tall enough to peek into jewellery store windows”
Like many women, Tracy’s love affair with jewellery began at a young age. “As a young child I would delve into my mother’s jewellery box and play 'dress up' for hours. She didn't have much in the way of expensive jewellery, but she had lots of costume jewellery. I particularly remember her having strings of beads in bright oranges and lime greens (It was the 60's!).” At 6 years old she started to collect 'gumball' charms. “I had a huge collection and would string them onto wool and make myself charm necklaces and bracelets. So I guess you could say I've been making jewellery since I was 6!”
As a child Tracy practically lived at a beach in South Africa
Born and raised in South Africa, as a child Tracy lived with her family in Durban on the south coast. “The wonderful sunny African weather meant I practically lived at the beach. It was an idyllic childhood.” When she was a teenager, they moved further north to Johannesburg, which was a complete contrast to the way she had lived; from sea, sand and salty water to trees and fresh water lakes. “Spending so much time outdoors instilled my love of nature, which I carry though to my work today.”
"I’m still a rock chick at heart, which is evident in the style of the dark jewellery I design and make."
She was in a rock band
As a teenager in the seventies, when hippies, flower power and ‘make love not war’ ruled, Tracy embraced the scene wholeheartedly. By the time it got to the eighties Tracy was married and her musician husband taught her bass guitar and together they formed a four-piece rock band. “It was difficult finding nice 'stage' clothing and jewellery in South Africa at that time, so I taught myself to make my own clothing, including a animal print tailcoat, which I still have. I also made my own leather accessories, studded belts and cuffs as was the punk fashion in the 80's. I’m still a rock chick at heart, which is evident in the style of the dark jewellery I design and make.”
Tracy and her family were hijacked at gunpoint
In 1999, after being hijacked at gunpoint, Tracy, her husband and their daughter decided to emigrate - arriving in the UK with their two beloved Labradors in 2000. She hung up her bass guitar and for several years worked in admin, but the boredom soon kicked in. “I got bored, wanting to be creative again; so I taught myself to make costume jewellery which I sold on Ebay.” Inspired by a charm bracelet she was given on her 21st birthday and her collection of over 400 charms, Tracy started up her own website specialising in themed charm bracelets.
Being a mature student was tough for Tracy, but completely worth it
Eight years ago, Tracy’s daughter gifted her a 6-week silver jewellery making course and from the first firing of the torch she was hooked! “I immediately decided to enrol on a BA (Hons) degree in 3-Dimensional design in metalwork and jewellery at the Farnham UCA. in Surrey.” Being a mature student was tough, but completely worth the long, sleepless nights. “To have completed my jewellery degree has been the highest point in my career as a designer. For 5 years I slogged through illness, repetitive strain injury, and very little sleep. There were many times I wondered why I was doing it. Why I was putting myself under that kind of stress, but I persevered. I was proud of myself for not quitting, for seeing it through.” Tracy then decided to set up a business specifically for jewellery, and so Tracy Hills Jewellery was born.
"I am absolutely passionate about animals so could not conceive of using animals which have been killed specifically for ornament.”
Her jewellery uses real (ethically sourced) animal bones
Handcrafted from sterling silver and gold vermeil, Tracy’s unusual designs are based on wax casts of real items she finds, from twigs to bird claws. “I only work with ethically sourced animals and bones - animals which have been found dead in the forest during my walks with my dog or donated by other people. I am absolutely passionate about animals so could not conceive of using animals which have been killed specifically for ornament.”
“Once people know I make this type of jewellery, they are forever donating dead animals and birds which they have found or what their cat has brought in. One time, I even found a very large dead rat in a shoebox outside my studio door, which some kind soul had left for me to find. I guess that is better than a horse head on the pillow à la the Godfather!”
Tracy's designs immortalise nature
With a love of all things dark, Tracy's ideas generally strike whilst out exploring the beautiful Surrey forest with her dog. “Whether it’s finding an attractive piece of bark or a delicate bird or mouse skull; these found treasures all make their way into my jewellery. The first bird skull I found was a sparrow. It was a bleak wet day, and it was just lying on the ground, looking lonely and unloved. I wondered then if its feathered family missed it. This prompted me to make a mould of the skull and cast it in silver as a way of remembering - a way of immortalising it - hence naming the collection 'Immortal'.”
Her jewellery is for people who dare to be different
Tracy designs for people who dare to be a bit different, people who like unusual jewellery, or pieces that raise an eye or start a conversation. “Although most of my subject matter is a bit macabre, I hope that customers find it 'darkly elegant', and are happy and proud to wear my jewellery.”
"I have so many designs and ideas I can't wait to make. There aren't enough hours in the day to produce all that I want to.”
There aren’t enough hours in the day to create all of her ideas
Being original is an increasingly difficult task, but Tracy is constantly thinking about how she can make her designs unique. “Although bird skulls have been popular for a long while now, I went a step further by putting bows, top hats, and flowers on my skulls, which is completely original to me. I have so many designs and ideas I can't wait to make. There aren't enough hours in the day to produce all that I want to.”
She’s offering an exclusive 50% off her unisex Silver Twig Cuff
This unique twig bangle is cast from a twig Tracy found that had a particularly gnarly texture. Using the ancient method of lost wax casting she managed to recreate the twig in silver; every little marking and nodule perfectly captured revealing a detailed and true-to-life piece of jewellery. “I love it, because it is like wearing a piece of nature on your arm and is suitable for both men and women.”