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Under The Loupe with Hannah at SLAB Jewellery

Reviving our "Under The Loupe" Jewellery interview series, we chat with Hannah from SLAB Jewellery. Inspired by the moody and macabre Memento Mori jewels, SLAB Jewellery is a Bristol-based jewellery company, crafting stunning skull rings, bone necklaces, snake jewels and more. 

If you have a taste for the dark side, then you will LOVE this!

Hi Hannah, thank you so much for taking part of “Under The Loupe”, introduce yourself and your wonderful jewellery brand “SLAB Jewellery”.

"Hi! Thanks so much for having me. I’m Hannah, and I’m the person behind SLAB Jewellery, handmade Gothic jewellery with attitude. From chunky signet skull rings and dagger charm earrings to spiked necklaces and rose crown stacking rings, each piece of SLAB Jewellery is crafted in Bristol, using low-impact recycled silver and gold. Inspired by historic Memento Mori jewellery, I create perfect gifts and arresting adornments for those who aren’t afraid to express their individuality."

Hannah in her Studio, Image courtesy of SLAB Jewellery

What prompted you to start SLAB Jewellery? And also, what is the origin behind the name?

I’ve always been creative; studying fashion promotion at uni and going on to work in digital design, marketing and web design… but I missed making tangible objects with my hands. I started making jewellery with my sister after evening silversmithing lessons with Kim Thomson and I knew that this was something for me. Jewellery has real power to hold memories and meanings, and it also has real longevity, with ancient pieces that are still super wearable.

Full Udolphi Collection, Image Courtesy of SLAB jewellery

The name SLAB Jewellery came from my desire to have a short, memorable and easy to pronounce brand name. I also like the way it feels "solid" as a name. Plus it ties into my jeweller's Memento Mori theme as it is reminiscent of gravestones and memorial slabs."

Describe your work in 3 words?

  1. Handmade
  2. Gothic
  3. Awesome

What is it about Memento Mori jewellery that inspires you?

"I’ve always been drawn to macabre imagery, and how skulls are a recurring theme throughout many different ages of popular culture. I first noticed Memento Mori jewellery because I thought it looked badass, but as I learned more about it I loved the symbolism behind it all too. Skulls have been used as a symbol of death in art for much of history, for obvious reasons. But Memento Mori jewellery was actually used as a reminder to live each day well, as death comes for us all at some point, so we should live for the moment. I like to think of it as the original YOLO.

SLAB Memento Mori Skull Rings, Image Courtesy of SLAB Jewellery

I also like the fact that although people were familiar with skulls and skeletons, there is a very specific stylised look to Memento Mori skulls… they’re not super literal and anatomically correct. I’ve tried to capture that slightly naive effect in my carvings, without copying anything too exactly."

Has your style changed over the years?

"I started out doing a lot more one-of-a-kind rings. I have so many ideas and so many things I want to try that it’s hard to filter it all down into a streamlined collection. I then gave myself a limit of 15 pieces with a range of price points, and that became the Udolphi collections.

I’ve since been exploring more with bones, as shown in my helcium choker, inspired by ossuaries in ancient churches in the deepest darkest parts of Kent. I’m fascinated by how bones were stored in churches, not as full skeletons, but divided by the type of bone and then laid out in beautiful patterns.

The Helcium Bone Choker, Image Courtesy of SLAB Jewellery

I’m also doing more with snakes now than when I started, like my verezzi necklace. I love all the meanings that come from these ancient symbols. Skulls represent death that comes to us all, but roses are the new life that comes after death. Snakes with their tails in their mouths also represent the cyclical nature of death and rebirth, so I’ve been starting to explore how I could incorporate snakes into my work too."

Do you have a favourite historic Memento Mori piece?

"Ooooh, this is too hard! I love this mourning ring in the British Museum collection and this Memento Mori ring in the V&A . For me, it’s the combination of the naive style skull with the text around the edge. I’d love to start incorporating text into my pieces… but I’d have to think of the right phrases first!"

Drawing on from this, do you have a piece in your current collection that you are proud of?

"I’m always most pleased with my most recent piece! So at the moment I’m really loving the brand new floral bone pieces: Rosula and Ossilvis. The hand carved roses representing new life emerging from textured bones that look like they’re being reclaimed by the forest. At the moment, these are only available to my email subscribers, but they’ll be joining the main collection soon.

The Villefort Ring, Image Courtesy of SLAB Jewellery

I also really love the super spiky rings that I make. The Villefort ring (shown above) honestly looks amazing when worn with any other ring, stacked over the top. The spikes are always quite difficult to make as they’re super delicate when I’m carving them in wax, so I love seeing them worn and enjoyed." 

Slow jewellery is evidently at the core of your brand, so it clearly means a lot to you. What do you think defines "slow jewellery" and do you think it is something that can be widely adopted amongst the jewellery industry?

"I think slow jewellery, like slow fashion, is when both the maker and the customer are appreciative of the raw materials and the time and skills that go into each piece. Slow fashion was a backlash against fast fashion, where people buy new clothes every week, and throw them away equally quickly. My interpretation of slow jewellery is to really consider what materials I’m using to create my pieces, and if they then are going to last a lifetime.

Image Courtesy of SLAB Jewellery

The brilliant thing about using precious metals as my main material, is that they’ve been recycled for centuries, and they can go on being recycled if they do come to the end of their life as a piece of SLAB Jewellery. I cast into recycled Silver and Gold, and hand forge earrings from eco Silver which is recovered from electrical waste. There’s definitely scope for me to do more, I’d like to be more confident that my chains for my necklaces are traceably made from recycled metals, but it’s a journey that I’m excited to go on.

Image Courtesy of SLAB Jewellery

In terms of the wider jewellery industry, I think there’s a lot more awareness from consumers about how their choices can impact our planet, and that will be reflected in how jewellery is made. The joy of being a small business is that I can make these decisions quickly, and I know that my business is doing its absolute best to tread lightly on the earth. I see a lot of small businesses leading the way in terms of being accountable and it’s really up to the big players to catch up with us."

We would love to know more about the ancient practise of of lost-wax casting! Please tell us more and why you chose to utilise this forgotten skill?

"I actually first experienced carving with wax for jewellery at a workshop with Ami Pepper who is an insanely talented jeweller. I absolutely fell in love with it straight away! I knew exactly what I wanted to create during that workshop, and although I felt under pressure to complete my design within the time, I was just buzzing when I did it.

After getting that first ring back, I knew that this was what I wanted to do. I felt a real spark inside me that I hadn’t felt with other creative endeavours. I asked for a wax carving kit that Christmas and just set about starting to create all these designs that I had in my head. There was a lot of trial and error with my first pieces… it’s very different doing it on your own compared to being taken through the process during a workshop! I also hadn’t quite realised how much work there is to do after the piece is cast. There’s a big difference between a freshly cast piece of silver or gold, and a properly finished piece of jewellery.

Image Courtesy of SLAB Jewellery

I found out that lost wax casting has been used for centuries, and I love that this ancient technique is still used in the jewellery industry today. Carving in wax enables me to create shapes and textures in my jewellery that would be much more time consuming and expensive to create using traditional silversmithing techniques. The character in the skulls that I carve by hand for example, or the subtle differences in each hand made petal in my roses. I love the tactile nature of carving in wax, and it takes on an almost meditative quality when I’m in the wax carving zone."

You say that your jewels are “designed for individuals who aren’t afraid to express their own individuality”, would you say this is your ideal customer?

"Yeah definitely! Although my pieces feature skulls and bones and can be quite gothic, the people who wear and style my jewellery are all different. From super glam women adding a darker touch to their outfits with a pair of spiky earrings, to men embracing a delicate skull ring, and people with whole stacks of SLAB jewels. I love seeing my jewels styled with other independent jewellers’ pieces, and I absolutely adore it when people tag me in their pictures on social media.

Image Courtesy of SLAB Jewellery

My ideal customer is someone who is happy to embrace the unusual. Someone who isn’t afraid to express exactly who they are - whether that’s a new parent slipping on one of my spikiest rings for a night out without the babe, or someone with a custom made piece full of secret little details to remind them of their favourite bands. I have some customers who are gloriously gothic, and others who style my pieces alongside their sleek minimal wardrobe, and others who wear their jewels with a riot of colours. I love how many people find a connection with what I do."

Can you tell me any history or inspiration behind the names of each piece? I find the names such as “Villefort”, “Morano”, “Orsino”, “Cavigni” and “St Aubert” so interesting!

"So originally I didn’t actually have specific names for the pieces, but I found that the descriptive names for them somehow didn’t capture the imagination that well. I knew I wanted to give them names, but at first I wasn’t sure where to start. I wanted the names to be related to one another, instead of being random, so I started researching novels. I came across ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’ by Ann Radcliffe, which is a famous Gothic Romance novel, and most of the names are the names of characters from that book. I tried to match the jewellery to the characters, so Cavigini is “sly, careful, and flatteringly assiduous” which really worked for my snake hoop earrings. And Emily St. Aubert is the main character, so it worked as the St Aubert ring is an interpretation of my first ever SLAB Jewellery ring."

Image Courtesy of SLAB Jewellery 

Other than Memento Mori, what are your big inspirations for designing your pieces?

"I’m inspired by religious artwork, mostly Catholic pieces as I love how many layers of symbols are worked into each piece. Every layer of clothing and every seemingly random thing held in hands is representative of some aspect of story or character. I love that these pieces of art are beautiful, but so meaningful.

I’m also super inspired by other jewellers in the community. There is so much creativity out there, and so many awesome small biz jewellers. My own personal jewellery collection is so much richer now from buying from other small businesses."

How has Covid-19 impacted your business?

"It’s impacted timelines for sure. I’m always conscious that I would much rather under-promise and over deliver, rather than have anyone waiting for longer than I’ve advised for one of my pieces. But with COVID rules changing, and with my suppliers needing to self isolate sometimes, it means that I can’t be quite as certain as I would like to be.

Image Courtesy of SLAB Jewellery

Having said that, I’m lucky enough that during the very first lockdown back in April 2020, I was able to build my studio in a spare room in my home. So I’ve been able to keep creating new designs throughout the pandemic. I think actually not having the opportunity to go out and see friends meant that my collection came together quicker than it would’ve done otherwise!"

What are your plans for your business for the rest of 2021 and moving forward?

"Well, it sounds crazy, but I’ve already started to think about how I could make this Christmas better than the last. I absolutely love what I do, and my main aim is to try to reach more people who might love it too. So I’m focusing on making sure my collection is super tight, super refined, and ready for people to wear and enjoy.

Image Courtesy of SLAB Jewellery

I’m also thinking about how I can improve my little business to ensure that my customers always get the best possible experience. I think this is another thing that shopping small brings, when buying from an individual or small team, the level of care that goes into each package is on another level to buying from a big ol' multinational."

And lastly, what is your favourite piece in our Lillicoco collection? 

"OK! So I just scrolled through your ENTIRE collection of gorgeous jewels… there are SO many incredible pieces, it’s hard to choose! But this Victorian 15ct Gold Etruscan Revival Garnet pendant is so spiky and extra… I love it!"

Thank you so much Hannah for taking part in our "Under The Loupe" series! If you loved reading this - why not check out these? 

Under The Loupe With Roo Jewellery

Under The Loupe With Fatima de Ronquillo 

The Most Gothic Jewellery of All: Memento Mori

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Molly Chatterton

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