You may remember that earlier this year we went on a roadtrip with five of Australia’s leading Instagrammers. The goal of the journey was to travel from coast to outback, visiting makers and designers who sell on Etsy and to capture the creative environments and the landscapes that shape their lives and work. You may very well have followed along on the visual journey via the Instagram hashtag #city2outback.
Over the next few months we are going to introduce you to the lives of the five Etsy makers we visited on the journey.
First up is Phillip and Majella Lynch-Harlow from Exquisite Gem.
From a tin shed on the outskirts of the small North Queensland town of Ayr, husband and wife team Philip and Majella Lynch-Harlow create stunning and ethically responsible jewellery pieces from natural gems and recycled precious metals.
What is your favourite daily ritual and why?
We love to go for a quick drive in the afternoon to Alva Beach which is just ten minutes away from our home in Ayr. Just is so relaxing and clears our minds. Sometimes we go for a walk on the beach, but often just sitting at the lookout and watching the ocean for a few minutes is all we need to mentally switch gears and relax. It’s nice to have that chat time on the drive to talk about our day and to plan what we need to do next.
How does your town/city inspire you?
We live in North Queensland – surrounded by farmland and natural wonders including pristine waterways and the Great Barrier Reef. It’s big, it’s beautiful and it’s real. We travel all over Queensland, fossicking (or prospecting) for gemstones and are inspired to create jewellery that really celebrates the natural beauty of the stones we find and the place we live.
What were you doing before you started your Etsy business?
Before we discovered Etsy, we were both teachers who dreamt of turning a lifelong hobby and passion for gems into a business. Phillip had been faceting for over 40 years and had been a volunteer instructor in the craft for almost that long. He had originally cut gemstones for the trade as a young university student, then had worked as industrial chemist, teacher and published scientific research and text books on gems and geology. Phillip is now retired from teaching and able to devote his time to our shop on Etsy. Majella continues to work as a teacher and then manages the computer side of the business after hours.
Can you walk us through the process of how you go from an idea to a finished product?
It all starts with a family trip to a fossicking ground! Our current favourite place is Mt Surprise in central North Queensland where we go hunting for topaz and aquamarine. We spend days carefully digging in dry creek beds, sifting the gravel to find the rough stones. Then Phillip spends a few hours on the faceting machine with each stone – he tries to facet at least two per week. The natural beauty of the gem is the focal point of all of our jewellery design. Phillip hand makes all of our original jewellery and also has a small casting unit to allow us to create affordable, multiple copies of some of our more popular designs.
What is your favorite part of the making process?
The most satisfying task is working with customers to design something together that fits their personality, taste and budget… it’s also very romantic as so many of our buyers are celebrating their love and nervously planning their engagement and wedding. We have helped quite a few young men plan their proposals and secretly work out their girlfriend’s ring size.
Let’s talk tools. What’s the most important tool in your studio/workshop and why?
How can we choose? Because we do everything from finding the stones to faceting to the setting, we couldn’t live without any of our tools! The faceting machine was the first tool we had and is still at the heart of the business. A laser welder and laser engraver are the latest and most high-tech tools that we have.
Do any of your designs have a special personal meaning for you?
It’s the gems themselves that have personal meanings for us… some of our most precious family memories are of fossicking holidays in some of the most rugged and beautiful places in Australia, digging for gems by day and roasting marshmallows by night.
What has been your proudest moment since you started your business?
That very first online sale! We sold a silver garnet ring to the UK, and celebrated that first sale by sending our customer a bonus ring and then went out and splurged on a fancy dinner. We spent more than we made in that first sale, but it was such a thrill and we suddenly began to really believe that we could make a success of our little shop.