In search of ancient treasures with jeweller Katherine Brunacci

Posted by Rae Gellel on

Tales of adventurers traversing exotic, faraway lands in search of ancient treasure are littered throughout both history and popular fiction. They have long been a source of fascination for Tasmanian-born jewellery designer Katherine Brunacci, who seeks to instil that feeling of discovering something rare and coveted in her latest fine jewellery collection, Trove.

Hand-carved and cast in wax and glittering with ethically sourced gemstones, each piece included in Trove is a personal treasure, unique to the wearer and inspired by precious historical artefacts. The collection also incorporates themes of travel, independence, personal strength and identity, which resonate deeply with the globe-trotting Katherine. For its richly layered motifs and skilful execution, Trove has been selected for showcase at Shine 2021, our annual exhibition of fresh and promising talent.

Katherine explains: “I've always had a love of ancient history and artefacts and the adventurous journeys that their discovery entails. That a piece of jewellery can be thousands of years old and still be as breathtakingly beautiful as the day it was created, I really do find that magical.”

Katherine Brunacci at her jewellery bench

Although she once considered a career in fashion, Katherine felt the sometimes-wasteful nature of the fashion industry might be at odds with her ecologically-conscious values. A self-professed “history-nerd” who can often be found pouring over historical texts in the nearest library, she decided to find a vocation that would combine her interest in fashion with her passion for exploring the past. The ancient craft of jewellery-making presented the perfect solution.

"I was going to get into a career in fashion, but I didn’t like the idea of fast or throwaway fashion. I’d always gravitated towards old things and history - so I thought I could couple the two together. My love of jewellery making really started from there, I took some night courses in jewellery and it was a case of love at first sight.”

Katherine went on to train professionally in jewellery making in her native country of Australia, at The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. After achieving a bachelors and master’s degree in fine art, with a major in gold and silversmithing, she also earned qualifications from the Gemmological Institute of America and Gemmological Association of Australia, training that reinforced her commitment to use ethically-sourced gemstones throughout her work; “As a gemmologist, it's really important that I’m a fully ethical jeweller, and that the gemstones I do source are from ethical mines.”

Katherine entered the British jewellery industry in 2017, when she travelled to the UK for a training course and, as she puts it, “six months turned into four years - I decided to see how far I could develop my brand here.” Whilst the British Museum quickly became a favoured spot of hers for sourcing inspiration, Katherine also drew creatively from her experiences of adapting to a new culture and country:

“Here in the UK, you have the British Museum, which is great. I like to go there for inspiration. I also have a huge personal library - I love my books, and have a lot of museum catalogues. Whenever I travel, I find a lot of inspiration in elements from different cultures, and I like to grab little components and kind of mix and match.”

Katherine Brunacci looking at her medium Lantern necklace

Travel is one of the major themes featured throughout Trove. It is expressed through globe shaped pieces, such as Katherine’s Silver and Gold Vermeil Global pendant set with sparkling sapphires, which bears resemblance to the planet earth.

Whilst the collection draws heavily on the idea of fantastical adventures, such as those to perilous lands in pursuit of ancient treasures, the theme of travel also relates to journeys of a more personal nature:

“One of two focal points within the collection is a mini-series called Globo that includes pieces that are symbolic of travel. Globo is Italian for globe. I was born in Tasmania, on a little island off of Australia, so the series is quite personal to me. It's that sense of travel, adventure and exploration that I've had to incorporate within my own practice, and it has a special place in my heart.”

The second major theme present throughout Trove is even more personal still, and is portrayed through the use of a lantern shape. “The lantern is symbolic of inner light, strength, and the self,” Katherine explains. Countering the statement Globo pendant is a Geo Lantern Silver and Gold Vermeil Necklace, set with sapphires, amethysts and green onyx, and inspired by medieval religious iconography. “It has been hand-carved by myself and is encrusted with ethically sourced gemstones. It is designed to be worn on the lower length, so it's for the wearer to enjoy as well so they can capture that detail and feel the weight of it and hold it in their hands.”

Jeweller Katherine Brunacci setting stones in her jewellery

Katherine aims to achieve a historical aesthetic throughout her jewellery, creating pieces that could have believably spilled, gleaming and glittering, from an unearthed treasure trove. Due to the longevity of precious metals, there is always the possibility that Katherine’s jewellery may become a piece of history in itself, if passed down through the generations.

“A lot of my jewellery, I feel you can see the historical elements within it. I like to capture the aesthetic stylings from ancient jewellery and incorporate that into my work. Everything I make is heavily textured, involving lots of colour, which I achieve by using multicoloured gemstones. My pendants are all three dimensional, I don’t do much flat work, I favour bigger work - they are all quite hefty, one-of-a-kind pieces.”

To further enhance this sense of her clients discovering something truly special through her work, Katherine uses the lost wax process, hand carving and casting pieces in wax to ensure that they are one-of-a-kind, with details that are impossible to recreate exactly.

“I hand wax-model every piece. I don't use any master moulds and I think this is partially so I don't get bored making the same pieces over and over. Each piece is a new, unique creation. It's nice for me to be able to say to the wearer, that's yours, and no one else's. There might be pieces that look similar, but this one has got its own little forms, its own little indentations and structure - no-one else will have one identical. Again, that's that element of treasure - that you're finding something magical and unique to you. That's what I want to get across.”

Jeweller Katherine Brunacci creating jewellery through wax carving

With the oldest known example of the lost wax technique estimated to be approximately 6,000 years old, it’s use throughout Trove is also yet another nod to the underlying theme of history and ancient treasure.

“I like that I’m harking back to the ancient tradition of jewellery-making - making as those in this industry have been for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. As a history nerd, I like that connection to the forebearers of the craft. I love the idea of being skilled in something so old and ancient.”

For Trove, Katherine also experimented with the traditional Japanese wax carving technique of Misturo Hikime, which helps create the subtle, undulating textures in some of her pieces.

“Misturo Hikime involves moulding the wax with your hands and stretching it, which creates these beautiful striations, a gorgeous natural-looking texture. A few of my pieces will feature that wax working technique. The wax components involved in the technique are quite hard to find and no-one has a definitive recipe, so that required a lot of development.”

The outcome of these myriad interweaving themes and techniques is a collection that has depth and meaning, both for the maker herself and for any client interested in owning one of Katherine’s unique, painstakingly hand-crafted pieces. Trove is an assortment of jewellery that is successful not only in terms of its technical elements, but also in its ability to evoke the sense of excitement, adventure and intrigue associated with treasure that has held many of us rapt since childhood.

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