Based in Dublin, Saba Jewellery by Geraldine Murphy was set up in 2003 and is inspired by her love of animals. Passionate about jewellery, DIY, making clothes and animal rights, Saba Jewellery makes beautiful colourful collections, all around animals, like cats, fish, rams, crabs, elephants and more.
Having worked in animation, Geraldine concentrates on strong lines, distinctive poses and motion in her designs. She is involved with Animals of Asia, an organisation that works towards improving conditions for animals across the world, including bear bile farming, stopping the cat and dog meat trade and ending captive animal welfare.
When did you first fall in love with jewellery and knew you wanted to become a designer?
I had been living and working in San Francisco and Barcelona for several years in design and strategic marketing, and when I moved back to Ireland I took a night course in silver jewellery making at The National College of Art and Design in Dublin. After one class I realised that I had found what I had been searching for. Two years on and I had started working in classical animation, drawing and doing colour work on a couple of films. I love drawing and painting but making things in 3D is what I enjoy most.Working with my hands is what I really love.
Values are really important to us at JewelStreet. What are your core brand values?
My core values are compassion, integrity, joy. Seeing joy in life, getting joy from interactions with people, animals, nature and helping others - to me it gives meaning to a person's life. Honesty and integrity are high on my list and when I design my pieces they must mean something to the person who wears it. I want people to look at my designs and say to themselves "yes, this is who I am, this is the story of my life, this piece of jewellery speaks my language".
The kind of jewellery we wear is a very personal and private choice - you are making a statement about who you are. When somebody sees a customer of mine wearing a Moon Bear necklace, cat earrings or whale cufflinks, that person immediately knows what interests and values are important to that person.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your designs?
Mostly from my love of animals but having worked in animation, I’m also inspired by how dynamism can be brought into a 2D or 3D design and really make it look alive: for example, I try to make sure that there is some action in my designs. I want the piece to look alive, animated, like a creature has just been caught doing something. The cat catching a goldfish, the fox chasing a crow, the owl flying across the moon. I concentrate on strong lines, a distinct and easily recognisable pose.
Are there any specific manufacturing/crafting techniques you use?
I make my jewellery at my workshop in Dublin, by hand. There are a few different techniques but they fall into three categories:
- Handmade from sheet sterling silver. I have a steel die which I use to shear out the sheet in a hydraulic press. Then I do the doming and forming with various hammers, add facial features, then rivet 9kt rose gold into the eyes, sand, polish and assemble.
- Certain designs I send to a waterjet cutting company in Co. Louth on the border with Northern Ireland. The designs are cut out of sheet copper, sent to me where I enamel them at my workshop using kiln fired (vitreous) enamel.
- Other designs are cast in sterling silver. The castings are sent to me and I sand, solder, texture, polish and assemble them at my workshop.
Tell us about some of your most inspiring clients, or bespoke commissions.
I do some commission work for a small number of clients including Trinity College Dublin who need special gifts for international visiting speakers. One of my other clients include the comedians Foil, Arms and Hog - a fantastic bunch of guys - and I made cufflinks and a pendant which will be for sale on their website closer to Christmas. I have one other client, an international sporting body whose headquarters are in Dublin, for whom I make bespoke gifts for their chairman to give to special guests (some include Prime Ministers).
Are there any celebrities you would love to see wearing your designs?
Ricky Gervais - he is a real animal-lover and is great at lending his support to animals who are incredibly vulnerable to abuse. He's tough, he doesn't care if he isn't politically correct about it: when he sees abuse he calls it out. I admire that - I wish more people were like him! Also Maggie Q, the American actress - she is fantastic at publicising the need for compassion towards animals and is an ambassador for Animals Asia.
How do you want someone to feel when they wear your jewellery?
I want someone to feel confident and joyful when they wear my jewellery. I want them to feel like it is a talisman for them, something that they will cherish forever.
A few years ago, when I started to sell online, a woman contacted me through Facebook about one of my cat necklaces. She was American and told me how much she loved cats. I sent out the necklace to her and about a week later I looked her up on Facebook. It turns out that the woman was in her 50s and disabled. She came across as incredibly joyful and content. Judging from her photos, her family were very close to her and very caring.
I felt so proud that someone living with such massive challenges and restrictions in her life wanted, and was wearing, a piece of my jewellery. That cat necklace meant something special to her - it was a piece of jewellery that told the story of who she was. It was touching and incredibly uplifting to see that.
If you could only wear one piece from your collection, what would it be and why?
I think it would be the first thing I made at the night course 20 years ago: a bunch of grapes in oxidised sterling silver. Although that design is not actually part of my collection, it might be one day.
Do you work with any charities?
I recently got into a partnership with Animals Asia. For a long time, I had been wanting to make my small business into more than a job and it wasn't until recently that I worked out how to do it and what movement I wanted to support. What I wanted was for Saba Jewellery to become an activist brand.
I've always had a thing for bears. I've never seen one in real life, but they have some strange hold on my heart: their connection to the earth, wildness, power, freedom. I feel powerless when I think of the needless suffering of Moon Bears, so I decided that I would see what I could do, through my one-woman business, to raise awareness, do some fundraising and to try and make a difference.The result is my handmade, sterling silver and 18kt gold Soul Friends Collection that was launched in June 2018 and I donated 20% of my direct sales for that entire month to Animals Asia.
Do you have any exciting future plans and where do you see your brand in 5 years?
My hope in 5 years time is that the vast majority of my business is online and that I am making a real difference in the world of compassion towards animals. I hope to do more teaching as I currently teach enameling at my workshop several times a year.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
One of my friends who is a very successful jewellery designer once told me, that it takes 10 years to become an overnight success. How right he was!!!!
If you could travel to one place in the world right now, where would it be and why?
I'd visit the Animals Asia Moon Bear sanctuary in Vietnam.
Are there any other designers whose work you particularly admire, and what jewellery is on your current wishlist?
There is an American enamellist called Sandra McEwen whose work I adore! I'd love to have one of her pieces.
Winding down after a day in the studio is sometimes difficult for a designer, what do you do to help the process?
I'm a member of a Badminton club and play a couple of nights a week. I sew a lot and I've been doing a dressmaking course one night a week for the last year. I also walk my dogs — they come into the workshop with me every day, but they're always looking for a long walk in the evenings. They are both rescue dogs with a variety of different quirks but they are such loyal and loving companions - I couldn't live without them.