Bold, feminine and romantic: tattoo-inspired jewellery


Inspired by classic tattoo art, Maggie handmakes all her jewellery in silver and sets it with Sapphires – dreamy. Maggie’s small collection, titled Norma Kerr is bold, feminine and romantic. We caught up with her in her studio in Hay on Wye to find out more…

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Tell us a little about yourself and what you do? I have worked as a jewellery designer and maker for many years in London and in Italy. Designing for costume and fashion jewellery at one end to fine jewellers at the other. I started my career working at Garrard & Co (the Crown jewellers) so I have seen all sides of the industry. I especially love the tiny Dickensian workshops in London’s Hatton Garden and the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham –  I don’t think they’ve changed in 100 years. In some ways, there are many similarities between the skills of jewellers and those of tattoo artists – working in small studios down a side street off the main drag. Somewhere you wouldn’t go unless you knew what you’re looking for, or are part of that tribe.

Where are you based and what is your workspace like? I live and work in Hay on Wye, one of the best places you can possibly imagine – it’s full of bookshops and surrounded by stunning countryside. The town is very small and all of the shops, restaurants, pubs and cafes are independent so the place is full of personality. Hay is a thriving town – which is pretty hard to find in such a remote part of Britain (25 miles from a train station and an hour from a motorway). There is a great quality of life here. When I am not at my work bench, I’m the Director of Development for the Hay Festival – but that’s another story…

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My workbench is on the ground floor of my house next to the kitchen – a jeweller’s bench doesn’t take up much room. Over the years I seem to have acquired lots of skills, so I can also turn my hand to making my own jewellery display pads – covered in beautiful dusky pink silk, lining the lids of my leather boxes so that my jewellery is really beautifully presented – like old fashioned jewellers’ boxes that are beautiful in their own right. I love that I have the skills to make everything look exactly how I want it to, bespoke and special. Having craft skills is such a source of pleasure, I can’t recommend it enough.

Tell us about your working day… My daughter Grace is 12 years old, so getting her up and ready for school is how my days start. I like to leave a little early to drive her to the bus stop, so we can sit in the car and chat or listen to music. Billie Eilish is our latest discovery. Grace is quite chatty in the car, I love that.

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When I get home, I prepare everything for the day: tidy up my bench, heat up the pickle (an acid solution used to clean something after soldering), make a coffee, then get on with making. The process starts with filing and cleaning up the cast components – components that are unique to me from models I made in wax. Once each piece is ready to be soldered together, I start with attaching the wings to the heart. This takes a big flame on my torch – these are big pieces that take time to get up to temperature to be hot enough for the solder to flow. Once that’s done – it goes into the pickle bath for 10 mins or so – I repeat the process with the ribbon, then one of the three motifs: sword, flame or flower. Next is the chain and clasp, once they are soldered on, the piece is ready to be polished. Polishing is my least favourite part of the process and it’s a real skill. I often send pieces up to workshops in Birmingham to be polished for a really stunning finish.

Setting the stone (Sapphire) comes next – it’s a delicate job and I love choosing a beautiful stone to set. When everything is looking fabulous, the next job is to send it off to the Assay Office – to be hallmarked with my makers mark and assayed sterling silver. Last is engraving, this is a specialist skill I don’t have so I work with another great craftsman in Birmingham who engraves the name or word across the ribbon. It’s a long process from start to finish.

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What do you love about the process of making? Is each of the pieces you create unique? I set up my workbench a couple of years ago after a long break from jewellery (when I turned my hand to become the Producer of Hay Festival in Wales and in Kenya). I did it as a way to help myself relax. I had forgotten what it felt like to make something by hand. How you can lose yourself in the process, the concentration it takes to really focus on the craft. The skills I had learnt, I had not forgotten. Buying new tools and equipment, sourcing precious stones, researching the best engravers and polishers, being a part of the trade – it does feel quite special. I imagine being a tattoo artist has a similar mystique.

The work I produce is quite unusual in how it’s made, I combine the techniques of costume and fine jewellery production. Each piece is unique and depends on the client’s choice of Sapphire stone colour and engraving – it is totally bespoke, in the same way you would choose a name or word to have as a tattoo. It is something that will last forever, something that is important and meaningful. There is a lot of romance too.

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Logo transparent backgroundWhy Norma Kerr? I am one of four sisters and we all share the same middle names Norma (from my Dad’s side of the family) and Kerr (from my Mum’s side). It was always a great source of embarrassment to me growing up – especially Norma, as it sounded so old fashioned. I hated anyone asking “what’s your middle name?” As I got older I started to like the names more (especially when I discovered Marilyn Monroe’s real name was Norma) and that we all four sisters had the same name felt quite unique and special. So, when I started the business, I knew I wanted the logo to be based on classic 1940s-50s style female tattoo design – I had seen in a tattoo reference book years ago. So, once I drawn my own version I called her Norma Kerr. Norma Kerr is a sort of alter ego, a kick-ass girl who sits on top of the world – a strong woman.

Are all your pieces inspired by tattoos? Yes, my collection is entirely inspired by what I think of as classic tattoo motifs; hearts, wings, flowers, ribbons and so on. I think there is a real affinity between engraving and tattooing. I like the idea of engraving one of my necklaces with a name or something meaningful that you can wear and then pass on as an heirloom to future generations. Where there is the story behind the engraving, a story of love, something or someone being commemorated perhaps – just as you would with a tattoo.

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What is your favourite piece you have created? Is there a meaning to the stones you use? Originally, I came up with three necklace designs; Love, Hope and Grace. The piece called Love has a sword through the heart – let’s face it, there is nothing more painful than love. Hope is a flame, a flame of hope is something about nurturing a spark, hope for the future. Grace is a state of mind, to be graceful is about beauty and serenity. The rest of my collection complements these three pieces – with matching earrings and bracelets. I use blue, pink or yellow sapphires in my work – I chose precious stones over semi-precious, there is nothing semi about my work, only the best will do! Precious stones are cut so beautifully the colours are intense. Jewellery set with yellow or pink sapphires is quite unusual too. I like that.

If you could be a piece of jewellery, what would it be and why? I would be a diamond – bright and full of sparkle!

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IMG-20190704-WA0010Please tell me about the significance of the Grace necklace. The Grace necklace is the heart, wings and flower design. All things of beauty, a heart is something we want to give or receive from our loved ones, wings – wings of desire, wings to fly free, to be a free spirit. And flowers – there is little more beautiful in nature than flowers. I love to grow them, have them in my house always they give me so much pleasure. And did I mention – Grace is the name I gave my daughter?

Visit normakerr.bigcartel.com or follow on Insta @normakerrsapphire for sparkly inspiration 



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