Getting your hands on rare boulder opal can be as elusive as catching a cloud, says Auckland jewellery artist Cherise Thomson
Just like one of the beautiful, rare opals in her own line of jewellery, Auckland opal artist Cherise Thomson was discovered in an off-shore mining activity of sorts.
It was late 2016.
A US-based photographer scouring Instagram for stunning objects saw Cherise’s jewellery and knew it was right for Maris Collective – a Californian styling and retail firm making big waves in the luxury resort market.
One thing led to another. By January 2017, Maris Collective had contacted Cherise to stock her largest-ever collection of handcrafted opal rings and necklaces.
“It was exciting,” says Cherise, 44, from her home on Auckland’s West Coast. “I was familiar with Maris Collective and knew it was right for me.”
Cherise’s one-off pieces, they said, would round-out a collection of luxury goods for Maris’ new store in Hawaii’s Ko Olina resort.
Priced between $US2,000 and $15,000, they would sit alongside high-end brands like Chloé, Chanel and Jean Paul Gaultier, as well as other newly-discovered brands like hers.
And they would speak to the kind of guest prepared to pay top dollar for something unique and glamorously on trend.
“Yes, well, there is that,” says Cherise. “Opal’s definitely hot right now. About four years ago it started appearing in haute couture shows. Today, Dior’s art director is calling it her muse. Similar things are happening at Chanel.”
In contrast, Cherise’s obsession with the colourful, but fragile gem goes back to a childhood split between New Zealand and Hawaii.
She remembers the play of the light on her grandmother’s opal ring. Opal was her mum’s birthstone.
As a kid, she’d use telephone wire to make jewellery she’d sell to the neighbours. But incorporating a stone like opal into her designs was always on her mind, even back then.
In 2015 – with an international business degree and qualifications in metalsmithing and jewellery-making under her belt – Cherise turned the fantasy into reality.
“I’d sourced a small amount of Australian boulder opal and that was it; I just fell in love with it. I knew I had to make a collection with it. Every stone is different. You look at it and it’s like looking at ripples in the ocean.”
Today, the mum-of-two designs up to 20 pieces a year.
While Maris Collective stocks 10 pieces at a time, Auckland’s Gallery Pacific and private buyers take pieces as they’re made or on commission.
To date, Cherise has sold jewellery to private buyers in New Zealand, the United States, Dubai, Kuwait and France.
She’s now in discussion with two new high-end retailers about stocking Californian boutiques Elyse Walker and A’maree’s.
This summer, Cherise’s work is on show in Queenstown’s Waka Gallery for the first time.
“These are exciting times. I’m definitely not interested in mass production. My goal is to keep production small scale, but to make more high-value pieces over time.
“When I design a piece, I envisage it being worn by someone who sees it as an art object; someone who loves the added features like an extra opal added to the back clasp of a necklace. To me, each piece is like a Cinderella slipper – completely original and meant to fit exactly the right kind of person.”
Seven years ago, Cherise, her Kiwi partner and their eldest child relocated to Auckland from San Francisco, ending several years of jet-setting around the globe.
For Cherise, it started in the mid 1990s with university study in London.
A decade on, she’d clocked up stints in sculpture restoration for Sotheby and the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York and jewellery modelling for Chanel, Tiffany & Co and Neiman Marcus in Honolulu, as well as spells in London’s advertising and San Francisco’s tech sectors.
Eventually, she and her marketing executive partner agreed it was time to head home.
“The move was hard at first. But the quality of life here is extraordinary. And we came to realise it’s possible to live in New Zealand and have an international brand and clientele. It’s a work-life model that was completely unthinkable 15 years ago,” she says.
On top of that, says Cherise, New Zealand’s the ideal headquarters for a global jewellery brand founded on ethical production.
“We’re a young Pacific nation that cares about sustainability and solving problems creatively. As an artist, that philosophy makes perfect sense to me.
We’re a young Pacific nation that cares about sustainability and solving problems creatively. As an artist, that philosophy makes perfect sense to me.
cherise thomson, jewellery artist
“The Australian boulder opals I use are 160 million years old. Of course, it matters to me that each gem is sustainably mined and can be traced back to an individual miner.”
All other materials Cherise uses – from gold and silver to gems such as diamonds – are sourced from ethically-approved mines or recycled waste from the jewellery industry.
The bigger challenge, says Cherise, is acting quickly enough when the inevitably limited supply of boulder opals comes up for sale in New Zealand.
“That’s all part of the appeal to be honest. It’s why I love what I do. Getting your hands on these precious stones can be an exercise as mysterious and creative as reaching out and catching a cloud.”
SEE CHERISE THOMSON JEWELLERY
See Cherise’s opal jewellery at Waka Gallery, Queenstown or visit www.cherisethomson.com/