It’s time for our second instalment of Under the Loupe, are you excited? We are absolutely buzzing to introduce our next interviewee Roo Bannister of Roo Jewellery! A historical and completely self-taught jewellery brand, Roo Jewellery was launched in 2019 and she has gone from strength to strength ever since!
We chat to Roo all about her brand, her experience working with antique jewellery and why she loves Georgian jewellery just as much as we do!
Hi Roo, it’s great to have you feature on the Lillicoco Blog! Why not introduce yourself and Roo Jewellery!
I started Roo Jewellery in 2019 because I simply wanted to own some of the world’s most famous museum’s jewellery collections, but I sadly and obviously couldn’t. Influenced by different historical periods and cultures, I design and handcraft pieces of jewellery that connects you to the centuries before, from “Ex Voto” and snake rings to molten coins and ionic amulets.
When starting Roo Jewellery, I knew that I wanted my jewellery to be high-quality wearable, accessible and engaging artefacts, connecting people to art, and with a distinct historical look that also resonates with the modern age.
Image Courtesy of Roo Jewellery
My work was initially inspired by my studies in Egyptology in London, and then shaped by my recent studies of History with Innovation at the University of Bristol. From there, I started designing mainly ancient Egyptian style jewels, as well as teaching myself how to carve pieces in wax. Alongside this, I was also working for Annina Vogel, a prestigious re-worked antique jewellery company. I worked here intending to save some money to launch my own jewellery business, but it opened my eyes to the fascinating world of antique jewellery.
It was during my time at Bristol University that the Roo Jewellery you see today really came to fruition, this is when I created my Venus pendant and started to explore classical inspirations and wander away from ancient Egypt. I started selling jewellery to help pay rent and fund my studies, and it's grown exponentially to where it is today! In fact, I have recently moved into my own studio and continuing Roo as a full-time business.
I have so many plans for how I want Roo Jewellery to grow in the next few years! Not only do I want to further refine my craft, but I also want to shift my brand’s focus more towards storytelling and contextualising the pieces within their original historical narrative.
Describe your work in 3 words:
You have distinct Archaeological and Renaissance revival influences throughout all of your pieces, not just in the design but also in the stories and mythology. What first initially drew you to these motifs, and where did this interest first come about?
I have always been very interested in history, and I have always loved jewellery too. I have fond memories of going through my grandma’s jewellery box when I was younger, and her telling me all of the fascinating stories about her pieces. After finishing my A-Levels, I literally thought “I love history and I love art - what do I do now?”. For me, pursuing historical jewellery and silversmithing was a way of making art and history more accessible.
What’s great about my history courses was that they were quite fluid and open, so I could easily tailor my studies to jewellery history. It soon became apparent that this was what I wanted to do as it combined everything that I loved, and crafting historical jewellery has brought me so much joy! They are just precious little objects that are so illuminating and you can find out so much about the stories and tales of how people once lived. I love how historically jewellery can emotionally connect you to these eras in a way that is rare to find.
How has your style developed over the years?
My jewellery style has definitely changed over the years, as obviously when I was first learning about Egyptology I started making ancient Egyptian style pieces, yet for now my work is quite classical in style.
That being said, I am constantly interested in sculpture and art, so whatever rabbit hole I go down on Google, I can easily find artefacts that really excite me and that I know will impact future creations. So recently, I have loved researching and building on more medieval collections alongside the ancient world, which is super exciting. I am always playing with ideas too, and I might see a found object, a gemstone or a piece of vintage jewellery that really inspires me as well.
My jewellery style has also evolved organically and in tandem with my skills. At first, I taught myself to create jewellery initially through wax casting and then I went to study silversmithing part time whilst I was at university. I use heat a lot when crafting my jewellery from wax, so they are clearly made to look old, with an uncontrolled almost wild feel to them - just like you have unearthed them yourself! It’s really important to me for the pieces to look like they have had a life before they have reached you, and that they have a story to tell. Now I am looking at setting stones within future pieces, which is really fun and completely opens up another realm of possibilities!
I love reading the stories behind your pieces i.e the ex voto, the adonis tears! It’s clear that your jewels are informed by museum collections. Is there a particular sculpture or piece of art that you are obsessed with?
My all time favourite has always been the Ring of Horemheb at the Louvre. I actually went to Paris a few years ago and was so disappointed to find that the ring wasn’t on display at the time. It’s an ancient Egyptian swivelling signet ring of rectangular form, with a carved crocodile, a lion and a scorpion engraved on each panel, as well as the name of the general Horemheb.
I actually have quite a few pieces that I am obsessed with, from scarab rings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to amphora vessels and the original cheeky Eros earrings, but, my pinterest exploration can really go anywhere. The other evening I went deep into the world of Medieval pilgrim badges!
Drawing on from this, is there a specific piece in your collection that you think “Yes, this is so good!”
There are lots of pieces that I have loved and still do love. My phalloi ring was directly inspired by phallic children's signet rings in the British Museum. I thought “I’m making one of you!” and I’ve worn mine everyday for the last five years.
I also love the tall amphora vessels. Amphora vessels are ancient wine and oil vessels that were able to produce vintage wines as they were sealed. So much so that after amphorae fell out of use, they couldn’t make vintage wines again until the development of glass bottles in the early modern period. Also, Amphora jewellery was actually quite common in the ancient world, and was carved out of Coral and Gold.”
I have noticed that quite a few, if not all of your pieces are made from sustainable materials like recycled brass and recycled silver. What are your thoughts about sustainability within the jewellery industry and also broadly in our current ecological climate?
It’s clear that, unlike the fashion industry, jewellery is lagging behind in terms of sustainability and ethics, but there are definitely brands that are doing their bit!
You can still really easily go and buy a Silver ring or a Gold ring without knowing where it came from and also not knowing how it has impacted both human life and mother nature - as it is very complex and often not mentioned - so how will the consumer’s know?
As part of my MArts in Innovation I took the time to find out the issues surrounding the jewellery industry, and obviously I was shocked to discover just how dirty the industry is. So it quickly became integral to my brand to make conscious decisions which respect the environment, and not to put anything out there that harms people and our planet – which sadly many companies don’t commit to.
That being said, my USP is historical jewellery not eco-friendly jewellery. This is because I want eco-friendly and sustainable jewellery to be standard within the industry- and I believe that one day hopefully it will be. It is also way more difficult to start up the business self funded from my student overdraft and try to be completely clean and ethical from the get-go. It’s more expensive to buy recycled and fairtrade materials, but I do think that the industry will get there in the end, and that actually producers, suppliers of metals and stones etc, will also clean up their act, and be scrutinous in their sourcing.
I am approaching my jewellery practise in sustainable steps, and as I’ve sold my work I’ve been able to reinvest money into better practice. For example, now all of my cast silver work is made from traceable Ecosilver, and the printed piece you get in your parcels are made from recycled materials and are in turn recyclable or designed to be kept. Also, the recycled materials nicely tie in with the historical jewellery concept as the materials have already had a life!
You mentioned that you worked with Annina Vogel, how has this also shaped your work?
I have always loved antique and vintage jewellery. Actually, the only jewellery that I ever buy myself is vintage or antique, so from the settings to the stones, it has naturally fed itself into my work.
Through Annina, I learned loads about the practicalities of gemstones. Such as, what you can wear everyday, and what you can and can’t get wet. This will definitely impact when I start creating jewellery with gemstones and how I teach my customers to care for their pieces.
I’m 100% sold on antique chains and antique stone settings. My favourite pieces have always been the old cut silver backed gemstones of the Georgian period, especially the old mine cut and the rose cut diamonds, and I would absolutely love to be able to do something similar with my work in the future.
What are your plans for your business in 2021?
I have many exciting things in the pipeline for this year. From practical things like finding workshops to finish my jewellery so that I’m not polishing every piece myself (I have a broken collarbone from 2019 in fact!) to creating entire collections rich in stonework and colour, rather than just individual findings. I have loads of jewellery that is just brewing away, so with my new studio my creativity can finally be unleashed. I want to transition to what I have wanted to make and sculpt for years, like making my own intaglios and also creating miniature vessels from hand blown glass.
I also really want to do some refining of my brand. Like getting some graphics done, a new logo, adjusting the name, and tightening it all up. Essentially, I want to put my proverbial “big girl boots on” and get lots of really great things done with Roo!
How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your work?
To put it bluntly, Covid-19 has been an absolute nightmare in regards to the production of my jewellery. My original caster had to cease production without any notice, which meant that I had to shut the shop for 4 months, but, this was to focus more time on finishing my degree.
That being said, the naturally chaotic nature of the pandemic has actually meant that my business has grown so much more than I could have ever imagined! This time last year I was looking at grad jobs, and now I am actively pursuing Roo Jewellery full time! When I reopened my shop I had the most orders I have ever had. I think it's because the pandemic and the pressures and financial uncertainty independent small businesses face at this time caused people to really step up, support and invest in their favourite makers.
So even though Covid has been really terrible, it has had some silver linings and has been a huge pivotal shift and progression in my career.
How do you style your jewellery?
Surprisingly, I actually don’t really wear that much jewellery day to day, but I do go through phases of wearing loads at any one given time, but, you can always see me wearing my phalloi ring, a snake ring and a bangle. Although sometimes I'm wearing big hoops or chunky earrings, a vintage gold chain with a vintage charm or one of my amulets.
To be honest, I actually need to start keeping more of my work - but I have a taste for Gold which is quite an issue! When I finished my course, I treated myself to a Ruby as a little (big) graduation present and I will use that some day to make myself a special everyday signet.
What is your design process?
I think I have quite an organic design process where I usually follow my gut and what is exciting me at the time. So, when I have something in mind like the Eros earrings, I will collate as many Eros related pieces that I can find from the original classics to the revivalist interpretations, so I can be as informed and as immersed as I can within the concept before I start crafting.
Then rather than drawing and sketching the finished piece, I just dive straight in with the wax until I feel that I have come up with the finished product which is then cast. So my process is probably a 3-step process which starts normally through researching then moulding with wax and then working on the cast metal with traditional silversmithing techniques.
Is there a piece in our current jewellery collection that you love?
So I absolutely love this Georgian Rock Crystal Paste pendant, it’s absolutely amazing and I am currently obsessed with Georgian set stones. I have also always wanted to buy myself a Georgian Diamond or Paste ring one day just because I love the settings so much!
Georgian Silver Rock Crystal Paste Pendant, Source - Lillicoco
I also adore these Georgian Silver pie-crust Paste earrings too, because you probably have already guessed it but the settings are just the best!
Georgian Silver Pie Crust Paste Earrings with 18ct Gold Hooks, Source - Lillicoco
Thank you so much to Roo for taking part in our Under the Loupe series!