Posted: 17 Aug 2012 | By: John McPhee
In times when we sell houses and eschew antiques and inherited possessions, it seems that jewels are some of the few items that might be handed down through generations. Certainly that is the experience of Genevieve Lilley at Venerari, in the Strand Arcade, Sydney. She tells of clients bringing in their mother’s jewellery and having the stones removed to be reset and the gold reworked to create more modern rings, necklaces and bangles. At Venerari they are making modern classics to be worn, treasured and passed on to the next generation.
Lilley, an architect, and her husband Kingsley Wallman, the son of one of Australia’s opal pioneers who mined in the Winton district of far-western Queensland, bring a fresh approach to jewellery design. As might be expected, an architect’s designs are carefully clear-cut and geometric without any extraneous decorative detail, and the manufacture, carried out by a studio crew, reflects the care taken with each piece of jewellery. The results demonstrate a fresh approach to jewellery making and a delight in peculiarly Australian materials, especially opal.
Venerari opened in 2004, and the associated workshop the following year, so that design and manufacture of jewellery is entirely in-house. Looking afresh at opals, Venerari creates rings and pendants making use of this very Australian gemstone in new ways. The beautiful deep blues, shot with red and green, of black opal, and the subtlety of milky opal, are set in simple but strong settings that complement and focus attention on the beauty of the stone. Greater respect for this gemstone and individually designed settings, such as those being designed and made at Venerari, will help revive interest in opals.
Other Australian gemstones, such as sapphires and pink diamonds, and even more unusual stones such as ametrine, watermelon tourmaline and rutilated quartz, are favourites at Venerari. This is not to say that diamonds are unwelcome, as some very striking engagement rings featuring precious stones have been made in the studio and supplied to clients around the world. The strong bespoke element of Venerari’s practice means that they are commissioned to create new individual jewellery, in particular, special pieces such as engagement and anniversary rings, and to set old family gems. They even feel that the global financial crisis has had its upside with people scrabbling around in the sock drawer and coming up with discarded and forgotten jewels and unset gems. As always, bespoke work brings in some unusual requests and undoubtedly the strangest has been for a ring to hold the recently extracted wisdom tooth of a film director! And, rather than being a grotesque curiosity, Venerari has turned it into a thing of beauty. One wonders if it will be handed down through generations, or reset!
Venerari is bringing a fresh approach to modern jewellery design. Happy to work with precious stones, the designers are looking further afield and including unusual and unexpected gemstones in their work — most importantly, magnificent Australian opal. The results are strong statements, jewellery to be worn by people who are sure of themselves and their place in the world.
Venerari, Ring, 2006–2007, sterling silver, opal, 30 x 30 30mm. ©Venerari.
Venerari, Pendant, 2011–2012, sterling silver, opal, 30 x 30 x 8mm. ©Venerari.