September 2024

A Fist Full Of Gold

Words: Caroline Clements Images: Melanie Katsalidis & Fraser Marsden

It all started in kindergarten, stringing together pieces of bow tie pasta and sucking soggy Burger Rings off your fingers. You see at the age of five, a handmade penne necklace is really quite glamourous. Some years later, jewellery designer Lucy Folk is perpetually inspired by the time when her materials came from a bag at the supermarket and could also be found in her dinner bowl that night. Since then, Folk has created a range of ‘wearable food’ in more tasteful forms that are worth their weight in gold (and silver).

The first thing I think about when I sit down to write about Lucy Folk is that we already have something in common – notably, she loves food. “For as long as I can remember good food has been at the forefront of my life.” Growing up behind the scenes of her father’s cafés and restaurants, helping to prepare all sorts of tasty treats. Her Austrian father has always been in hospitality, and after a long career in interior design her mother has taken to tending the veggie garden at his office. “To this day they still makes sure we have a wonderful assortment of fresh food on our plates.” Sharing this passion for food with friends and family has been a simple yet constant pleasure throughout Folk’s life, so making ‘wearable food’ was a natural path to pursue.

“The recipe for Lucy Folk jewellery is a combination of originality and tongue-in-cheek humour”, says Folk. “I love preserving food and giving it a new context on the body, re-creating it for fellow foodies in precious metals for timeless wear.” So after many cups of cordial in jewellery making classes on Tuesday nights after school, Folk went on to study gold and silversmithing at RMIT. “Originally I was carving a lot of Jelutong wood and electroplating real food. Now I stick to sterling silver, gold plating and 18 carat yellow gold.” This process requires loads of patience, fine handiwork, messy procedures ranging from sanding, polishing, oxidising, sawing, wax carving, soldering and pretty much everything in between except putting the finished jewellery piece in the box ready for the shops. 

Folk is based in Melbourne and notes the CBD as having some amazing sources for materials. The Manchester Unity Building is a treasure trove of all sorts of people that service the jewellery industry. Though preferring to source things locally, Folk also finds when traveling she collects interesting materials from flea markets, antique stores and all sorts of dark corners. However, with have such an array of materials it can difficult to implement these into her designs, and when pieces are precious or vintage it’s hard to put a price on them.

That said, with her jewellery box full of ‘wearable food’ pieces, Folk recently embarked on a trip to Europe to flaunt her wares. “My trip was very interesting. It is really difficult to break into the European market and I still haven’t managed to crack it.” With tough competition, a lot of designers are making drifting to Asia for economic reasons. At one end of the spectrum, there is a lot fashion jewellery made from base metals which is then silver or gold plated, and people are mad about plastic jewellery and incorporating fabrics and all sorts of different materials into their work. Hand made sterling silver and gold jewellery, on the other hand, is very fine and expensive, usually riddled with diamonds and sparkles. “I love Victoire de Castellane, she’s the head designer for Dior Fine Jewellery. She has an amazing imagination, and sets no boundaries.” Obviously when you are working with an unlimited budget and selling pieces for exorbitant amounts then you can be adventurous with precious materials. “She doesn’t hold back,” Folk notes, and sometimes her work can be completely outrageous and can take up to four months to create just one ring. “She’s almost a surrealist in the jewellery world.” Folk, places her own work somewhere in between.

The market is limited in Australia and the point of difference for Folk is that she has a background in both gold and silversmithing. She doesn’t skimp on materials or quality and where possible she likes to mix gold and silver and be as creative as possible. “I don’t source anything from overseas for my production range and I make everything by hand. My work has so much metal weight and this translates into big costs.” So it makes sense for Lucy Folk to to be placed in shops, boutiques and galleries that sell other expensive items, otherwise it would be difficult to even cover costs. As such, Folk is eager to broaden her clientele by stocking at varied outlets from specialised jewellery stores, to high end fashion boutiques and design stores, both in Australia and overseas. 

One of these places is Pieces of Eight Gallery in Melbourne. Designed and created by fellow student Melanie Katsalidis, PO8 gallery and workshop was begun with her father, Nonda, in 2005. Soon after Folk took a spot in the workshop where there are always at least six designers sharing the space. It’s fronted by a small retail gallery that Katsalidis has curated. She now represents over 30 artists and jewellers and holds exhibitions in the window every four weeks. And while Folk sells her work in fashion boutiques and specialised jewellery stores such as Alice Euphemia, Glitzern and Kozminky, she works to order at Pieces of Eight and they carry the largest range of her work.

Perhaps these items seem like luxury goods in the current economic climate, but Folk does not think this has affected the jewelery market in an obvious way. “I think accessories are timeless and people are focusing on buying things that can be worn forever. Plus jewellery isn’t as disposable as fashion and everyone needs something special once in a while.” Which leads me to my own Lucy Folk popcorn ring from the Nibbles collection. One of her signature pieces, “the popcorn ring is definitely my favourite piece,” Folk states. The popcorn piece is a solid 18 carat yellow gold and the ring is sterling silver. “I love the two metals together and it has an amazing weight to it. It’s hard for people to decipher what it is exactly.” It could be a nugget of gold or a gnarly rotting tooth, the ambiguity is part of the appeal.

Folk’s most recent range is a Seafood collection “turning shellfish into unique, luxurious jewellery.” The summery selection includes a caviar ring, lobster leg and mud crab necklaces, crab claw cufflinks and several other morsels from the sea including a silver oyster shell that’s stamped with “Salty shucked love”.

Lucy Folk’s latest range will be out in time for summer. Check it out before you get food envy here and here.

Pieces of Eight Gallery has a studio open day on Tuesday September 1 where you can come behind the scenes and meet Lucy and all the other resident jewellers, open from 3pm-6pm.

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