As I turn the corner to St John’s Square I can see Mark Nuells' studio building, perched with some big windows over the square. I found Mark’s work recently on instagram and was immediately mesmerized by his beautiful zircons and rose cut sapphires set in beautiful bold rings that would stack perfectly. The more I saw of his work, the more I wanted to meet the creative mind behind those gorgeous pieces. Lucky for me, Mark couldn’t be more friendly and accommodating and we set up a date for a visit on a very short notice.
As Mark leads the way to his studio entrance I was delighted to be greeted by Betty, the sweetest and gentlest Stafforshire bull terrier. When I opened my bag on the floor to take the cameras Betty placed her head inside and Mark explained that she once did the same with a client and found an apple. On the next visit to his studio, the same client brought an apple especially for Betty and it became a habit of sorts. I bet Mark’s clients come here for the jewelry and for Betty as well.
Mark tells me that he was probably destined to be working in the jewelry world. Born in England he moved as kid to the Outback in Australia. His dad was a gem miner so he spent his teenage years around rocks and sapphires and quickly started cutting gemstones. He moved to Sydney for college to enroll in jewelry school. Shortly after his studies he decided to move back to London and try to work as a jeweler there. When he first arrived in the UK he decided to take some metalsmith classes to see if he could get the hang of the jewelry network of suppliers and figure out how to navigate it. His teacher at the time, now an old friend, told him that he should be teaching the class instead of taking it, and so this was the beginning of Mark’s career.
The business grew organically, with gallery representations and clients coming by word of mouth. Mark’s work has also evolved over the years but one thing has stayed the same, he keeps using beautiful Australian gemstones. He brings the rough back each time he goes back to visit his family that still lives there. These gemstones are not enhanced and the color is just beautiful. A lapidary in London cuts the rough for his designs, but Mark says that if he weren’t so busy he would like to go back to cutting his own stones. We both laughed because I think I offered a little bit too quickly to become his apprentice.
As I’m looking around I’m immediately attracted by the pieces he is finishing at the bench. There are these alluring rose cut sapphires set in a gold bezel to become a set of stacking rings (that can also be worn separately). The ring shanks are made in silver and then Mark hammers a thin gold sheet over the silver shanks and creates these appealing bicolor shanks, a laborious and skilled task. It’s a little bit like Mokume Gane technique, an arduous task made by Mark’s skilled hands. He shows me some of the rings he just finished and they are beautiful. The harmonious blend of gold, silver and gorgeous rose cut sapphires is stunning. Mark tells me that Betty sometimes jumps to his lap while he’s working at the bench (which by the way, she just did and is lying there pretending to be sleeping but with her ears high up to catch up on the conversation).
Even though I’m really distracted with all the stunning jewelry, gemstones and the adorable Betty, I can’t help but notice all the beautifully arranged tools on a side table. Mark is really excited cause he just bought a swage block the day I visited and it stands there all shiny and ready to be used. I got that he liked the hammering part, but seeing his collection of hammers, blocks and swages just makes it more evident. Plus they are all neatly organized and I don’t think it was because I was visiting. It’s just the way he works.
Above his bench there’s an interesting display of different objects and frames with photos and pieces that Mark made in the beginning of his career. Collected pieces and old and experimental jewelry is carefully arranged in a beautifully old wood tray. Each piece has a story behind it and represents a phase in Mark's jewelry path. Some of these pieces are rocks that he found at the beach and have an attractive shape, or even a military button he has found by the river while walking Betty. Some of his old rings lie along with objects that look beautiful arranged as in a museum. They are all a source of inspiration and a reminder of his work and his path.
In the middle of the studio is Mark’s desk, or maybe I should say his office. It’s a high level table with bar chairs that when you sit down you can see the square below. Mark tells me that he loves to be there in the end of the day when people start to meet friends for a drink and the place comes to live. It’s a great environment to work and feel creative. On the side of his desk is Betty’s bed, a place where she can lie down and see the room from every angle.
Unfortunately I was on a studio visit marathon and my time with Mark and Betty was cut because I had to run to my next visit. I’m so pleased that I had a chance to meet him and so impressed with his stunning work. I might have offered to take Betty with me while Mark traveled to Australia in a couple of weeks, but I think it would have been wrong, these two are the Mark Nuell jewelry team and I think none of them would be happy apart.
Thanks Mark, it was absolutely delightful!
MARK NUELL JEWELLERY
How did you become a jewelry designer?
“I grew up on a gemstone mine in Australia where my dad mined sapphires. After cutting gemstones for 10 years I moved to Sydney and studied jewellery in college.”
What’s the first thing you do when you get to the studio?
“Take Betty to the park”
What do you like the most about your space?
“The afternoon light streaming in on a spring day, hopefully!”
Pick 3 objects in your studio that make your space yours:
“Betty in her bed. My furniture from “Unto this last” and my jewellery bench made for me out of Marine Ply.”
What’s your favorite spot in the studio?
“Sitting at my desk looking out over St John’s Square”
Any studio rituals?
“When I get in I open my safe and open the box of pieces I’m working on, lay them out on my bench and start making decisions.”
What do you love and hate doing at the bench?
“I love sawing and filling!”
What makes you procrastinate?
“The pile of paperwork.”
Any pets in the space?
“Betty! My Staffordshire Bull terrier”
What is currently inspiring you?
What piece of jewelry do you always wear?
“My civil partnership ring made by Catherine Mannheim”
Currently obsessed with which gemstone/metal?
“Natural Australian zircons which I have had cut from rough gems sourced in Australia. Champagne pinky browns having the fire of diamonds!”
Piece of jewelry you’re most proud of?
“The set of zircon I just finished…”
What’s your dream jewelry piece?
“A diamond collar for betty”
Worst piece of jewelry you had to design/create?
“It’s the ones I have forgotten about! When you first start out you say yes to pieces you really do not want to make.”
What’s the longest period of time you’ve spent at the studio and why?
“I think I was here until 8pm one night!”
What’s the best thing a client ever told you?
“Not so much told, but a couple recently sent me a picture of their wedding rings on their hands the day of their wedding”.
The funniest thing a client ever told you?
“Can you make me another earring, the cleaner has hoovered one of them up!”
What’s on your desk right now?
“Lots of new rose cut sapphires and zircons gleaming away waiting for settings”
What’s your favorite tool?
“I bought a swage block today!"
if you weren’t a jewelry designer/jeweler?
“Probably a gardener/designer or in my dreams an Olympic Athlete!