Uncut, raw and real, Meri’s dainty gemstone & diamond jewellery is a constant reminder that you don’t have to be perfect to be absolutely beautiful.
How did life lead you to designing jewellery from Bali?
I was born in the Netherlands. My father is of Indonesian descent, and since primary school I have had a strong desire to go to Indonesia. After a brief family holiday to Sri Lanka I decided I wanted to study tropical forestry so I could go to Indonesia or any other tropical country with a purpose. I first went to Indonesia in 2006 for an internship with a local NGO. I was hooked! I have spent the last decade trying to make oil palm plantations in Indonesia more sustainable. I started making jewellery in 2013 after a short course in silversmithing and have been growing as a designer ever since. My design studio is located on the beautiful island of Bali in Indonesia. You can also find Gardens of the Sun in a selection of boutiques in Bali, California and Australia.
Why have you chosen a different path in jewellery production? What difference would you like to make?
I had been working as a sustainability consultant for the past six years. Bringing these values into anything new I venture into is only logical. However, jewellery and the gemstone and mining business is a new area for me that I’m exploring as a self-taught designer, and sustainable practices aren’t really a thing in Indonesia. I don’t know everything and I make mistakes. I wish there was more information available for jewellery designers that grades the sustainability of major gemstones and regions. This June Global Witness published a report announcing Lapis Lazuli and to some extent Tourmaline from a certain province in Afghanistan a conflict mineral. I spread the word as much as I could, and I am setting up a Facebook group with fellow jewellery designers to share information and create a platform to source more sustainably.
Please tell us about the philosophy that drives your work?
I want people to think before they buy. Is it really a piece they are going to treasure? Is it a jewel they genuinely connect to? Or is it just something they want because it’s trending? I hope that every piece creates or symbolizes a memory.
Gold and silver-plated pieces, fake glass gems, flimsy bling… That’s not what I do. I want to create “keepers”. Pieces to be worn every single day for many years or even generations ahead. Organic designs made of quality materials and with real craftsmanship.
We’d love to hear how you source your ethical gems?
In December 2014 I went to Sri Lanka to source gems from community mines, and purchased some sapphires that were cut there too. I stayed for a few days and my husband went down in the mines. We had our baby girl with us, so one of us had to stay above ground. And me going down in a dark shaft with a bunch of strange men wasn’t an option. In 2015 a friend gave me some small sapphires that a man from the inlands of Indonesian Borneo found as a by product of gold mining. I hope to go there later this year to source diamonds.
It’s not only gems that I try to source ethically. My packaging is handmade from banana fiber paper and real flowers and leaves. A lot of effort goes into the packaging with cassava tissue paper and handmade mulberry accents. It would be so much easier to just use foam and place the jewels in there. But foam is one of those things you will just throw away, and that’s not what I want to support. The next step is finding a replacement for those bubble envelopes and I am still looking for a local supplier.
I work together with local silversmiths to bring my designs to life. I want them to have not just a bare minimum wage, but also a living wage. I want them to feel pride in the art they make.
How can couples ensure their ring is ethically made?
Ultimately, only buyers can pressure the industry to change. So ask and demand, and consider not only price, but also the ethics behind your jewellery.
1. Ask where do your gems and diamonds come from?
Ask your jeweller about the origin of your diamond or gemstones. All diamonds should be Kimberley Process certified, which means that they do not support violent conflict. Unfortunately, there are estimates that as many as 25% of the KP certified diamonds are actually illegally traded and possibly blood diamonds. Few jewellers go beyond being KP compliant, just because it is incredibly hard to source it yourself, verifying certificates (which are easily forged) and sourcing from countries such as Canada or Australia requires a greater investment. You want to know which country they were sourced from – and not just where they were cut (usually India, where a lot of diamond laundering is) or where your jeweller bought them. Certain countries you just want to avoid.
2. Opt for Fairgold, Eco-Gold or recycled gold
To be absolutely open with you, there are no long-term sustainable gold mines when it comes to water resource issues and the gold mining sector is the largest mercury pollutant in the world. Human rights abuses and exploitation are still common. Eco-gold ensures that no hazardous chemicals such as mercury or cyanide are used during extraction (rather they use gravity). Fair gold means the gold is sourced from artisanal and small-scale mines, and that the miners are paid a fair living wage.
Then there is recycled gold, which also uses chemicals to purify the gold, and there is always a risk that “dirty gold” enters the supply chain.
One choice you may have that is very much in line with Less Stuff – More Meaning, is melting a family heirloom into a bespoke ring.
I am hoping to one day source Fairtrade Ecological Gold myself, but it’s complicated importing it to Indonesia in large quantities, and in smaller quantities I am not allowed to advertise it.
What are the things that make your heart sing?
Creating new memories with my family. I love going out Stand Up Paddling boarding, riding a few small waves with my daughter sitting in front of the board. When we paddle out towards the reef, we will look for colourful starfish. We cheer so loudly when the wave pushes us back towards the shore. I also find small pleasures in finding new gemstone combinations.
What was the most special ring you have ever made?
The boyfriend of one of my best friends asked me to make her engagement ring. He collected Killiecrankie diamonds at the beach in Flinders island, where he’s from, and asked me to pick the best one for a ring. At first we started with a very elaborate design and it took some time to convince him she would never wear it because it was too big and impractical. We ended up with a very simple and timeless design. She loves the ring because of the symbolism of the gemstone; the fact that it comes from his home island and that he found it himself. They decided to also use the ring as her wedding band.
If you’d like your own Gardens of the Sun piece, Meri is kindly offering our readers 10% off by using the discount code: LESSSTUFFMOREMEANING (available until the 31.7.16).