July 31st 2014
Tucked away in an unassuming walk-up apartment in Sheung Wan, Hatton Studios is a haven for Hong Kong’s professional and aspiring jewellery makers. Jumping at the chance to style some bling of their own, Localiiz ladies Crystal Wilde and Stasia Fong took a class in an attempt to convert their magpie mentalities into talent.
The Localiiz Ladies!
After a long and sweaty walk (made much longer and sweatier than necessary due to our directional ineptitude), we arrived at the Hatton Studios, warmly welcomed by Nathalie Melville and her two adorable pups, George and Ginger, enjoying an unusual day at their owner’s side as she worked, much to our delight! Almost like stepping out of the Narnia wardrobe, the building’s dim and pokey stairwell opened up onto a light and airy Santa’s grotto-style realm of creativity, flanked by traditional semi-circular jewellers’ benches and heavy-duty metal equipment, both impressive and a tad intimidating.
Realising she couldn’t be the only person in the city looking for a place to craft jewellery, Nathalie opened Hatton Studios two years ago. Naming the eight-desk workspace after the UK capital’s glorious jewellery quarter, Hatton Garden, Nathalie – also the founder of Melville Fine Jewellery – was determined the venture would cover all aspects of the art she fell in love with at London’s Central Saint Martins College.
“On setting up the studio it became increasingly obvious there was very limited bench-based training in Hong Kong, so I decided to create an education programme to give people access to the craftsmanship and creativity I was lucky enough to have available to me when I first set out as a jeweller,“ Nathalie told us.
She explained that there were two processes we could try: saw piercing and forming – so we decided to attempt one each. Despite feeling a tad uninspired, we eventually came up with two very different, but equally brilliant (toot toot), ideas. Crystal elected to try her hand at an artsy initials necklace via the forming technique, while Stasia chose to express her quirky (and foodie) side with a dumpling and chopsticks design, for which she would employ the saw piercing method.
Both were to be made out of silver, Natalie’s preferred material for teaching due to its forgiving nature – perfect for nervous novices like us!
“It [silver] is far better to work with than nickel (in terms of ease of making) and not as bank-breaking as gold,” explained Nathalie. “I love that, unlike a carpenter or ceramicist, you can work, rework, change, manipulate or hammer for hours on a piece of silver and – short of melting it into a little ball – nothing is a disaster.”
With Nathalie nearby to guide us, we set forth on the daunting task of our first attempt at silversmithery. Stasia began by painstakingly cutting her dumpling and chopsticks out of sheet silver, snapping multiple saw blades in the process – apparently very normal, although we have our doubts. Crystal’s first step was annealing (basically blasting her silver wire with a blow torch), before tapering the ends with a file and working the metal into the desired shape.
To cut a VERY long story short, our three-hour session quickly turned into an eight-hour session, for the sake of our art and because we were agonisingly slow workers! Stasia’s finishing touches included the use of a heavy-duty saw piercer to create the pleats in her dumpling, while Crystal spent a fair bit of time fixing her various components together at the soldering desk – specs on, tweezers in hand. Both of us however required Nathalie’s steady hand to help stop our ‘jump rings’ melting into tiny blobs when soldiering them onto the pendants.
Finally, the fully-formed but rather blackened pieces were dunked in a delicious-sounding pickle bath (if you like that sort of thing), and dusted, buffed and polished to perfection. Although we both left with chipped nails, sore fingers and jelly arms, the experience was truly fascinating and rewarding, and gave us a new respect for the immense patience, elbow grease, craftsmanship and, most surprisingly, science that goes into every handmade piece of jewellery.
It was a true pleasure to work under Nathalie’s calm and collected demeanour and direction, and it’s really no wonder that so many of her students have moved on to create their own high-end collections. We have no reservations about saying that she was the gem of our experience at the diamond in the rough that is Hatton Studios – enough jewellery puns for you there?
Nathalie’s secret? There isn’t one. She’s just doing what she loves.
“The moment I sat in front of a spot welding machine my life changed, and I knew what I was meant to be doing. It’s a wonderful and fulfilling outlet that allows a moment of calm in an otherwise hectic city.”
Have we tickled your fancy? Hatton Studio’s Beginner Jewellery Course costs HK$2,750 per person, with a maximum of six students per course for four weeks (one night per week, 2.5 hours per class). Course prices include tools and silver, and students will leave with a piece of jewellery they’ve made themselves! Advanced classes, private lessons and bench hire are also available. Visit Hatton Studio’s Localiiz Page for details!
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