Meet the artisan – Marisa Arna, jeweller
PUBLISHED: 16:37 21 November 2016 | UPDATED: 09:31 29 November 2016
Tessa Allingham watches jewellery designer and maker Marisa Arna at work. Images: Sarah Lucy Brown
I’ve only known Marisa Arna for a matter of minutes before she slips a ring on my finger. This is fine by me because the ring is beautiful. It’s chunky, contemporary, square cut (the shape is surprisingly comfortable) and made from luxurious 18ct white and yellow gold. The slightly textured metal of the band offsets a pear-shaped, rose-cut, occluded grey diamond that shimmers unobtrusively.
“It works with your colouring and the shape of your fingers,” she says, speaking quickly in her slightly Greek-accented English. She’s ever so slightly wired on caffeine after a busy few days at a trade fair, and some late nights working on Christmas commissions. When she draws her assistant Ella Shepherd over with the words, “Now, you see, with long slim fingers like Ella’s, another style works.” I get where she’s going – in the nicest possible way – with my workaday digits. She smiles luminously and gets away with it, especially when she lets me try on a stunning grey moonstone set in silver.
Marisa makes her bold, interesting jewellery at the back of her shop and gallery on Thorpe le Soken high street on the Suffolk-Essex border. She generally works in gold and sterling silver and sets her own gems, bought from reputable Hatton Garden merchants. These she keeps in tiny zip-lock plastic bags which overflow from a taped-up old Fortnum and Mason truffle box. Rubies, diamonds and sapphires, glimmer alongside pieces of smoky quartz, blue topaz, and mesmerizing Tsavorite garnet. As Marisa rummages through the box in search of a particular diamond, she shows me fragments of deep-indigo and flighty pink spinel, ovals of tourmaline in shades ranging, transfixingly sweet-like, from Fox’s Glacier Mint-clear to rich Wine Gum-red.
The gems are the last element of a ring to be put in place. Marisa builds the idea for a piece using Blu-Tack, wire and scraps of metal, checking the proportions work and that the piece is comfortable to wear. She’ll then work from a bench littered with tools to create the real thing.
“I’m a tool nut,” she says. “Other women buy handbags, I buy tools!”
You don’t say. Her workstation is scattered with implements many of which wouldn’t be out of place in a mechanic’s workshop – hammers, pliers, rollers and saws, not to mention blowtorches and chemicals to melt metal. Scattered among the bigger gadgets are impossibly fine dentist-like drill bits used to work on minuscule detail. For the most detailed work she uses a microscope, working with a surgeon-like precision that she demonstrates on her current commission, an 18ct gold ring to be set with a golden-yellow citrine. She shows me how she will carefully drop the gem into its setting using tweezers, then press a rim of metal round the gem to hold it in place.
“It’s not easy. It’s got to sit absolutely level, have no movement at all. Still, citrine is not as difficult as emerald – you just sneeze at an emerald and you damage it.”
The finished rings, bracelets, necklaces or cufflinks will either be delivered straight to the customer if commissioned, or sold from the cabinets at the front of her shop, which at this time of year are packed with temptations. Giant photographs of her work fill wall space and cabinets, lit with sparkling strands of fairy lights, display pieces arranged simply on tracing paper alongside pencilled descriptions. She likes the ‘workshop’ look, keen to impress on customers that she makes every single piece by hand from the benches visible to all.
“People love to meet the maker, they like to have a bit of a story behind the gift, see where it was actually made. It makes it much more personal.”
Her items range from affordable sterling silver daisy earrings and gold heart pendants, to rings studded with several expensive brilliant-cut diamonds.
“The hearts and daisies aren’t really a Greek thing, but I’ve learnt to love them and they sell really well.” Her fun ‘seed pod’ range with its tiny laser-cut gold bead or pearl free-moving inside a silver ‘pod’ is original (and given that Marisa is wearing it, is clearly a personal favourite). Cufflinks are perennially popular, as are her intriguing puzzle necklaces, a sequence of interlocking rings and pendant leaves that can be looped and worn in different ways. She will also happily fashion an entirely new piece from a customer’s old gold, silver and gems.
“It’s not necessarily the cheapest option but it can be a wonderful way for people to keep the heritage and memory of a piece but have an item that fits and is perhaps more in fashion or to their taste.” Greek-born Marisa started her artistic life as a ceramicist.
“I bought my own wheel and kiln aged 20 and opened a gallery on the island of Lesbos, which my husband, Tim Farrington, and I ran successfully for five years. He’s from Colchester and we met in Greece, but moved to England in 1997, and we opened up here with my ceramics. I stopped in 2006, when I was selling pieces to galleries and stores all over the UK. I was getting a bit bored making the same mugs and bowls and pots over and over because they were so popular. I’m a workaholic, but I need fresh challenges too.”
The couple and their two boys, Lucian (13) and Emilios (22), currently studying industrial design at Brunel University, live next door to the gallery that since 2007 – after she had learnt goldsmithing skills and “practised and practised” – has been dedicated to jewellery.
“I love the engineering side of jewellery, the precision. My father was an aircraft engineer – maybe that’s where it comes from. I love also that every piece is unique and that my work makes people happy.”
As for that square ring, the one made from white and yellow gold with the occluded diamond set in it, the one that goes really well with my colouring – hands off! w
See Marisa’s work at www.marisaarna.co.uk and on Facebook, or call 01255 862355