All images courtesy of Ash Hilton
There's something beautiful happening Nelson that you may not yet know about. Husband and wife duo, Ash and Laurel, are producing some seriously beautiful, unique, low impact and affordable jewellery from their Nelson home studio, using recycled and ethically sourced gold, silver and diamonds.
Ash is known for creating pared down natural forms that are simple and modern without being cold. His signature rings feature etched designs of trees and mountains, but Ash's wife and business partner Laurel says it is his simple, organic plain and textured bands that are getting more and more popular. "Rose gold and mixed metals are really popular at the moment. Style seems to be shifting towards softer, more organic lines and shapes."
Ash makes the yellow and red ethical gold alloys himself, giving the rings small surface imperfections making every piece unique. "We like to think that they tell the story of where the gold comes from."
When Ash first started investigating the impact of precious metal mining, he was shocked by what he discovered. Worldwide, gold mining is responsible for some devastating environmental atrocities (for example a single wedding ring can create 20 tonnes of mining waste) and human rights violations including child labour. He felt so disheartened by what he discovered that he considered giving up on the jewellery dream altogether. However, he decided to persevere, and after lengthy negotiations with suppliers, managed to secure 100% recycled sterling silver and gold sourced from New Zealand and Australia.
Through a family connection, they approached a small scale (tiny actually) alluvial black sand mining setup on the West Coast consisting of two people, a tractor and a beach. "No giant open pit mines, no displaced communities, no mining waste...we bought our first ounce of pure gold. We marvelled at how something so small could feel so heavy and cost so much money" Laurel recalls. "We liked that we could visit the site and see exactly how it all worked so that we could offer our people an option that we know is 100% as ethical as we say it is."
Consumer awareness around sustainable and ethically sourced precious metals has come a long way since they set up shop over ten years ago. "Everyone had heard of conflict diamonds, but no one knew how bad metal mining could be. It almost felt like we were giving people an option they didn't even know they wanted". A few years ago, when Laurel approached a major jewellery retailer about offering their ethical New Zealand gold, she was informed by the CEO, "no one gives a toss where gold comes from." Nowdays, Laurel says, "you'd be pretty hard-pressed to find an independent jeweller not offering recycled gold and silver options." Now people are going out of their way to find ethically sourced jewellery and its much easier to source recycled and fair trade metals as well as recycled diamonds.
When asked what advice they would give anyone considering starting a jewellery business, Laurel says go for it. "We get really great satisfaction that we have a business crafting something that makes people really happy and that will last for generations. There are so many disposable things in the world, or things that fall apart way too soon. Jewellery can last for 1,000's of years. I think that's pretty cool."
So do we.
We will be doing an Ash Hilon jewellery GIVEAWAY in the next couple of weeks so make sure to stay tuned!