Tucked away in a quiet Featherston street, Chris Adams creates unique pieces of jewellery. The precision of his soldering flame is echoed in the delicacy of his rings, necklaces and custom-made pieces he designs and creates. Susan McLeary reports.

When Chris met Merle he lived in Wellington and she lived in Featherston with her son Liam.  After some time in Merle’s native Germany, where Chris furthered his jewellery training and experience, they opted to bring up their new young family in Featherston. 

“We all decided that New Zealand was a safe place, ‘somewhere lovely’ with more options for us, so we came back,” they said. 

“We chose Featherston four years ago as a good and affordable place to live well, in a small friendly community with plenty of outdoor spaces and activities for our children. Liam is now 11, with Charlie 3 and Lila 2.” 

At that time Featherston had no day-care. Trained as an early childhood educator, Merle became an in-home educator for child-care provider PORSE. 

“The PORSE approach to home-based childcare is based around the importance of play, learning and development through close child-adult relationships. I care for four children under five in the house daily,” she explains. 

So, while Merle welcomes children into their home, Chris goes down the drive to the garage turned studio. 

“Jewellers are still trained in the old-fashioned apprenticeship system, working alongside a master craftsman. I was fortunate to train at the highly-respected Village Goldsmith in Wellington, with Ian Douglas; a four-year apprenticeship and three years as a qualified jeweller,” Chris explains.

“I learned the full range of skills from groundwork like ring sizing and chain repairs, to mastering heat control. This is the precise use of a fine soldering flame to melt and combine metals, and the core skill of a jeweller. 

“I repair and remodel jewellery, often old family pieces, which is learning experience too. Each piece reveals how it was made so that it’s clear how to fix it, and I enjoy exploring the variety of approaches and methods, presenting different metals, stones and styles and stimulating my design ideas.  

“A recently commissioned ‘man ring’ was designed around rotary engines. An engagement ring combined an aquamarine with family connections and ginko leaves, in a very personal design for the couple.

“Sometimes modernising traditional, sentimental family pieces is quite a technical as well as artistic challenge, and I love that. Jewellery needs to be beautiful, functional and wearable. 

“One of the advantages of returning to New Zealand is the boutique nature of my business. Overseas there is more specialisation, so someone might be a setter, a fabricator, a polisher, a designer, a retailer. In New Zealand, everyone does everything and I enjoy that variety and individualism. 

“My clients like that connection too. They value the fact that the same person they shared ideas with made the piece to create a completely individual item, and theirs is the only one. Individuality is important to New Zealanders. 

“Jewellery is a Renaissance art. It brings maths, science, art and design together; it’s about balance.   It needs a structured approach as I puzzle out how to make the concept that’s in my mind. A client might want a ring with stones set with a low profile on the hand, so I work out the physical constraints of depth and fit, wearability and comfort, and structural integrity. 

“As a kid I enjoyed building things and working out how they fit together. At 30-something making jewellery is just as satisfying. I like looking at a finished piece and thinking that was fun to make,” he smiled.