Maria Natoli is interested in the balance between the sentimental purpose and decorative function of jewellery, and where these two intentions overlap. Her contemporary pieces are also informed by her fascination and exploration of retro and vintage objects and graphics.
Maria currently works from her studio in Brunswick, designing predominantly with precious metals and recycled vintage plastics. We talk to her about her inspirations, materials and staying true to your style.
Q1: In your own words, please tell us what you do and how it came to be…
I am a contemporary jeweller. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always liked making stuff. I grew up on a farm on the Sunshine Coast where I had the freedom to tinker around in the shed making things, using all the tools, as well as always having an art or craft project on the go. The path to actually becoming a jeweller came later in life though, when in 2010 we re-located to Melbourne. I took the opportunity to take a little pause from full time work when we moved, and explored the idea of doing some study in a creative field (something I’d always wanted to do, and it seemed like the best time and place!). I had always had an interest in jewellery, so I enrolled in a few short courses at first and loved it so much that I enrolled to study gold and silversmithing full time.
Q2: Was your current business always on the cards or did you have other dreams growing up?
I think doing something creative and making was always on the cards for me, however I did initially study Education and have worked as a music teacher for nearly 20 years now. I still teach part time, but designing and making jewellery satisfies the need I have to create something tangible and be using my hands!
Q3: What inspired you to start your business?
I really just wanted to make what I liked and wanted to wear myself. Selling my work made it financially viable to keep making, especially since the materials I use are quite expensive! I’m quite honoured that people are drawn to my work and want to wear it, that in itself is a great motivation.
Q4: How did you navigate this process and break into the industry?
I was very fortunate that at my graduate exhibition I won an award for my designs that was sponsored by one of Australia’s leading contemporary jewellery galleries. After this I contacted the director to thank them for the award and to ask for advice on my work and how I could develop it into a range. I was just hopeful for a bit of feedback and mentoring however it led to my work being stocked there!
Q5: How did you source the right materials and manufacturers?
I’m lucky living in inner Melbourne, as all the suppliers I need are just a short tram trip away, but when I’m looking for something in particular, or need advice, being part of a community of makers has always helped me find what I’m looking for. I have a great circle of jeweller friends, I regularly meet up with a small group of other female jewellers to discuss things related to business or the technicalities of making, and I’m also a member of online jeweller communities.
Q6: Did you find the right materials and manufacturers limiting or a driver for your creative design and product development process?
I am predominantly a hand fabricating jeweller which means I handmake each piece. I do outsource some things such as stone-setting and occasionally casting, so I guess I usually design with this in mind and try to keep as much of the process within the limits of being a handfabricated piece. I guess I really value the idea that my work is handmade entirely by me, but I’ve been trying to not be so rigid in this thought process lately, as I don’t want to limit myself and my designing process. Sometimes it’s hard to admit to yourself that you can’t do it all!
Q7: How do you describe your style and how do you stay true to this?
My style is graphic and minimal. I think my style has definitely evolved since I began making, and will hopefully continue to evolve as my interests change. I love vintage graphics and design from the 60s and 70s, so that has always informed my work. I try very hard to create unique pieces that are not trend based or seasonal.
Q8: How do you want your customers to feel when they are using your pieces?
I don’t actually have any intentions about how my customers should think or feel, as jewellery is quite a personal thing in which the wearer will often imbue the piece with their own meaning. I have however received some beautiful feedback from some of my customers about how wearing my jewellery gives them a sense of strength, and sometimes even a sense of protection.
Q9: Who, or what are you listening to or reading right now?
I’m currently reading Mirka Mora’s Autobiography “My Life, Wicked but Virtuous” as well as re-reading “The Barefoot Investor” and hoping to put some of those strategies into action this year!
Q10: What advice would you impart on the next generation of women, and women in business?
Don’t worry about trends and trying to design for others, do/make what you love.