By Chere Di Boscio
A bit of a pack rat, Canadian born, British based jewellery designer Pippa Small has long stocked a houseful of cultural artefacts gleaned from her travels. Even as a little girl, Pippa collected gems, shells, minerals, bottle tops, seeds, sea-washed glass…absolutely anything she could use to make little personal tokens for friends and family, as well as herself.
These little objects formed a “tactile diary of her existence”, with small bits of button reminding her of a lover’s shirt, a shell evoking a past holiday, a piece of wood recalling a wonderful walk in the woods. Eventually, this ‘diary’ became a profession, and after having studied anthropology, Small combined her two passions–people and jewellery–to create a unique, ethical brand.
Small’s jewellery has always told stories–and today she tells stories about the indigenous people who mine her 18k Fair Traded gold; the traditions and aesthetics of the tribal people whose style she reflects in her own designs, and many more.
Such visual tales have attracted clients around the world, including myriad celebrities, and have also brought on collaborations with Gucci, Nicole Farhi, and Chloe, as well as superlative rough diamond collections made together with Christina Kim of Dosa.
Small is also a regular at London Fashion Week, where she showcases her latest collections, which are sold in various boutiques around the world and online, including Net a Porter.
Still fascinated by what other people have to say, the anthropologist/jeweller now divides her time equally between her anthropological work and her jewellery collections, merging her two interests to help provide a livelihood to indigenous miners in Bolivia, for example.
But Small also works more directly with indigenous groups, such as the Kuna people of Panama. Here, she says: “I found that every woman was heavily adorned in beautiful gold and beaded jewellery – from wrist to elbow and knee to ankle; coloured beads are threaded in complex designs. The women wear gold nose rings and beautiful charms of gold butterflies, birds and sea creatures. I was entranced.”
The designer learned how to recreate the style of the Kuna in her own work: “with the permission of the chiefs, I spent some time with a very traditional community on the tiny island of Soledad Miria, working with the goldsmiths on my last collection of jewellery,” she says.
Small has also undertaken ethical projects in countries around Africa and in Afghanistan, more of which you can see here.
This is clearly a woman as obsessed with people as much as beauty, and every piece Small creates tells not only her own story and those of the many people she’s been inspired by, but of the wearer, too.