Crafting your own rings and bracelets has never been easier now several jewellery studios offer classes for children and adults, discovers Nicky Pellegrino.

Contemporary jewellery has long been a thriving art form and now it's being celebrated with an exhibition at Auckland Art Gallery. First shown in Munich last year, Wunderruma opened here last month and is on until November 1. It brings together more than 200 pieces by 75 contemporary New Zealand jewellers and artists, plus Maori taonga and historical Pacific and European jewellery.

But if you're interested in making your own jewellery unleashing your creativity is easier than you may think. Classes taught by skilled craftspeople are affordable and fun - and within a few hours you may have your own first creation to wear.

Workshop 6

Tucked behind Kingsland's Royal Jewellery Studio, these classes have been going for 21 years and are ideal for anyone wanting to learn the basics, then develop their own style. Four jewellery designers run this studio - Mia Straka, Anna Wallis, Jasmine Watson and Cheryl Sills - and they offer night classes as well as weekend workshops catering to a variety of skill levels from the total beginner up.

"We get a broad mix of people," says Straka, "from students to the retired but also lots of working people who may be in jobs where they don't feel they get a great creative outlet. They enjoy learning techniques and working with their hands in a practical way. It becomes quite a social thing - lots of people have been coming for years."

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Beginners learn the basic skills of metal working by making a copper ring. "That involves cutting out, forming, soldering, sanding and polishing and we can show different techniques for texturising the metal. Then they can make a silver ring and have more input into the design."

Once further advanced there's a chance to work with acrylics or fabrics. "All jewellers focus on contemporary jewellery," explains Straka, "but we try not to push people in any particular direction. So if someone has a more fashion jewellery aesthetic they can come to us. Some of our students have gone on to tertiary study."

Weekend workshops cost $280 and an eight-week course of night classes is $380. Groups of up to eight are taught by two tutors. All equipment is supplied, as are base metals. For precious metals there is an extra cost.

Workshop 6, 486 New North Rd, Kingsland, Auckland. Phone (09) 815 8961 or email workshopsix@gmail.com

Whau Studios

A group of former students and their tutor from Unitec's now defunct contemporary jewellery course have banded together to create this vibrant studio that is helping turn the Pt Chev strip into a creative community (there's a bead shop and a ceramic artist further up the road). Whau Studios offers a workspace for established jewellers and graduates and holds night classes to all levels. Taught by Ilse-Marie Erl, Dorothy de Lautour and Mandy Flood, these are hands-on, give-it-a-go affairs.

Beginners can learn wax carving, using specialist jeweller's wax to scrape, file, drill, sand and shape their designs, which is then sent to be cast at their expense. It results in a true one-off as the wax is melted down afterwards. Or you can learn the basic techniques of metal working and try out the tools in the workshop as you produce a small series of rings.

"You can make something that's very wearable - in fact, I'm still wearing the first ring I ever made," says Flood. "That gives you the bug. Afterwards, you can go on to our eight-week course to develop those techniques and extend to maybe making a brooch. We aim to give people the skills to do what they want."

Whau is very much about being a part of the community. It holds off-the-bench sales and is open every Saturday from 10am-2pm for people to pop in. Behind-the-scenes tours of a gallery and a jewellery manufacturer can also be arranged. Whau has an extensive collection of books on contemporary jewellery to provide inspiration.

Contemporary jewellery is very distinct from fine jewellery - you can use non-precious metals and all sorts of other materials, or even transfer processes from a different medium, such as photo etching.

"We're disregarding the traditional understanding of what jewellery is supposed to be and often we take pride in challenging those boundaries," says Erl. "But you need to know the rules before you break them so for the classes we're traditional and we take care to give people proper training."

Anyone who wants to take things further can pursue their own project and tutors will be on hand to support when they need it. One night-class student has now started taking commissions and is selling what she makes to friends.

Passing on the skills they've learned is one of the main reasons Whau Studios was set up. "People come and meet like-minded people and that first night they walk away with something they've made," says de Lautour.

Beginners' three-week classes cost $140, with tools, non-precious metals and cups of tea provided. The eight-week Rings, Brooches and More course is $380. Groups of up to eight or nine can be accommodated.

Whau Studios, 161 Pt Chevalier Rd, Pt Chevalier. Email: whaustudios@gmail.com

Nancy Fong-Anae, left with tutor Dorothy de Lautour, right, working on jewellery at Whau Studios. Photo / Getty Images
Nancy Fong-Anae, left with tutor Dorothy de Lautour, right, working on jewellery at Whau Studios. Photo / Getty Images

Peter Minturn Jewellery School

Thirteen years ago, renowned jeweller Peter Minturn set up his school aiming to provide training to bring young people into the trade. As well as full-time courses, night classes are offered for hobbyists who want to have fun learning the skills of making fine jewellery.

"Even though it's recreational it's still made to professional standards," says Peter's son Chris, who runs the school. "Some people have found a niche and gone from night classes to the fulltime course then into the industry."

For most it's the pleasure of making things that draws them to the school. "We tend to get two types of student," explains Minturn.

"The ones who want to make lots of stuff and wear it and others who are more concerned with the technical aspect. But we've also had couples who make their own wedding bands."

Beginners make three compulsory pieces: a ring from a bar of metal to teach them the basics, a pendant to learn about design and finally a simple rub-over setting for a stone.

"As their skill level goes up they can tackle more complex pieces," says Minturn. "One man comes every year to make Christmas charms for his family and staff."

To create your own designs, it helps if you can draw and Minturn encourages students to work at their own pace as their confidence is building. "We have people from all walks of life," he says. "One core group has never missed a class in 13 years."

A 10-week course is $360, plus the cost of precious metals. The school also runs one-week summer schools and a course in computer-aided design. It's a big space so groups of up to 20 can be taken.

Peter Minturn Jewellery School, 353 New North Rd, Kingsland, Auckland. Phone: (09) 377 2468 or email info@jewel.school.co.nz

Bush Jewellery Studio

Classes for children are a specialty of Titirangi's Bush Jewellery School. Taught by Brian Adam, one of the stalwarts of contemporary jewellery, they're an ideal holiday activity for kids aged 7 to 17.

"Children's eyes widen when they come into the studio," says Adam. "I have them hammering designs on to copper or silver and making it into a ring. They can do that in a couple of hours."

Although his studio is equipped with all the tools necessary for a professional jeweller Adam takes a more low-tech approach with his students. "I show people how to do things by hand so they can continue at home without needing a big machine. I take a lateral approach to tools - for instance, to burnish metal you can use a stainless-steel teaspoon."

Six-hour Saturday workshops and school holiday programmes are on the menu here rather than night classes. Adam is flexible and wherever possible will tailor content and the timetable to what people want.

Adult classes include Stone Metal Finger, where students set a gemstone or found object in metal. In Hot And Cold Jewellery he teaches the joining techniques of soldering and riveting.

"People think it's going to be hard and then find out it's not as hard as all that," he says.

Adam also goes on the road with Street Jewellery classes, showing tourists how to make a ring in an hour. "I've done it in the Dowse Gallery, in the foyer of the Dunedin Gallery and the Auckland Museum."

Adult workshops are $150, which includes use of tools and a small amount of metal. Children's workshops for a maximum of six are $50.

Bush Jewellery Studio, 518 South Titirangi Rd, Titirangi, Auckland. Phone: (09) 817 6816 or email studio@adam.co.nz

Precious gems

By Penny Lewis

If making your own jewellery is not your thing - and money is no object - you may want to check out these spectacular pieces of fine jewellery.

The exquisite rings, earrings and pendants in jeweller Brent Sutcliffe's Parnell store are made by hand.

• Green/blue tourmaline (20.63 carats) ring in 18ct white gold with fine white diamonds, $65,000.
• Ceylon sapphire (8.9 carats) ring in 18ct white gold with fine white diamonds, POA.
• Rubelite (12.23 carats) ring in 18ct white gold with black onyx and 18ct white gold diamond-set flowers, $33,075.
• Solitaire 3.7 carat diamond ring in hand-carved platinum, POA.
• Pendant with 29 carat kunzite, 18ct white gold, set with white diamonds and seed pearls, $22,650.

Designed by Sir Michael Hill, Michael Hill Jeweller's designer bridal collection features spectacularly intricate micropave diamond settings and a signature pink sapphire. Arpeggio 14ct white gold engagement rings: left, with a total diamond carat weight of 2.45 carats, $23, 499; right, 1.69 carats, $11,999. Matching wedding rings, $1800.