Based in Johannesburg, Tinsel specialise in creating high-end, one-of-a-kind designs produced by husband and wife duo Geraldine Fenn and Eric Loubser. With backgrounds in archaeology and classical history, Tinsel uses the traditional forms of jewellery as a huge inspiration for the brand. Rich with colour and unique sculptures, the brand carves iconic symbols such as the smiley face, the skull, the bird and the lobster into timeless designs with a quirky edge. We chat with Geraldine Fenn about the importance of craftsmanship and meaning in her designs. “Jewellery is such an intimate, personal thing, so it’s important to me that each piece I make has a story to tell.”
What drove you to start your own line of jewellery?
“I have always worked for myself as a jeweller, and I mostly make one-off pieces but it's also nice to work on a more coherent collection of pieces, where you can still experiment with different ideas but within certain boundaries.”
When did you fall in love with jewellery design?
“As a child I was mad about beads and collected them passionately, although I never did anything very interesting with them - the excitement was in possessing them, and arranging them in a little cabinet with tiny drawers. I always thought I would end up being an archaeologist, and that’s what I studied at university, but when I finished my degree I didn't feel like taking it further and I went to study jewellery on a bit of a whim. For the first few months I didn't love it, but then something clicked and I knew it was what I wanted to do. The joy you get from creating something with your own hands never goes away, and making jewellery is particularly satisfying because it's so intimate - people wear it so close to their skins.”
"The joy you get from creating something with your own hands never goes away"
What inspires you?
“My inspiration comes from many sources - books, movies, museums, seeing great art or watching a piece of theatre or dance - but ultimately it's experimenting with things practically in the studio that leads to the pieces being designed and made. I make all my jewellery myself (I don't have any employees, it's just me) - so I do outsource some things like casting, but I make all the models and do all the finishing.”
Values are hugely important to us at Jewelstreet. What are your core brand values?
“The most important value for me is authenticity as a designer - in today's world we get flooded with images from everywhere so you will inevitably be influenced by other designers' work, but it's very important to find your own voice and do the hard work yourself without resorting to the easier option of copying work from others.”
"It's very important to find your own voice and do the hard work yourself without resorting to the easier option of copying work from others"
How has your childhood influenced you as a designer?
“I was born in Oranjemund, Namibia, where my dad was an engineer on the diamond mine, but we came to Johannesburg when I was small and I've spent most of my life here. I guess I had a pretty normal suburban upbringing (for a white kid during apartheid, at any rate), but we also travelled a lot because I had family members in France, England and Spain. I have great memories of my grandparents' house in the south of Spain - it was filled with beautiful old pieces of furniture, art, books, silverware and other objects. I have always been, and still am, very close to my parents, and the sense of history and continuity that comes from being part of a family is an important element in my work. I love sentimental jewellery that has a history of being worn and then passed on, and I especially love signet rings, which speak of belonging to a family. I am a big collector of things so I always keep an eye out for unusual bits and pieces, which make their way into my jewellery in one way or another.”
What is the most meaningful piece of jewellery you’ve ever received?
“My husband, Eric Loubser, is also a jeweller, and made me a beautiful ring in gold with an ametrine in the centre and square rubies on the shoulder for the birth of our second son, so that's very special to me. I also have a classic pearl and diamond brooch that my great-grandfather gave to my great-grandmother when my grandfather was born, and my mom gave it to me when my first son was born. Jewellery that celebrates those big occasions, and that stays in the family for generations, is the most precious.”
Who are the clients you are most proud of?
“I've had many great clients over the years - the best ones are people who want me to make something for them or someone close to them to celebrate an occasion.”
"We have a very small audience for contemporary jewellery in South Africa, so it feels like a constant battle to get more people to believe in what we do and support us"
How do you want someone to feel when they wear a piece of your jewellery?
“I want them to feel adorned with something beautiful that is also unique. They should also feel proud of themselves for supporting original design and authentic workmanship rather than anonymous mass-production.”
What are your goals for the future of Tinsel?
“We have a very small audience for contemporary jewellery in South Africa, so it feels like a constant battle to get more people to believe in what we do and support us - I'm very far from having "arrived"! This is my main goal - to keep producing great work that I'm proud of and get people interested in the field, which will benefit everyone here working as a contemporary jeweller.”
Tinsel is available to shop on Jewelstreet here.