Jewellery a timeless art for goldsmith

16:00, Dec 09 2011
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COMPASSIONATE: Dorthe Kristensen enjoys recreating jewellery that had sentimental value.

A skull and crossbones is not the kind of motif goldsmith Dorthe Kristensen usually chooses to work with. The Danish-born artisan jeweller, who set up her workshop in Aro St 12 years ago on arrival in New Zealand with Cook Islands Maori partner Koa Williams and infant daughter Moana, prefers simple settings and sherbert coloured gemstones  nothing strident.

"I do like making pretty things," she says. "I'm not trying to be political in my work."

However, when she decided to create a trio of pendants and brooches representing love, compassion and eternity, Kristensen knew the eternity symbol had to be a skull and crossbones.

The new designs are sold in sets of three brooches or three smaller discs on one chain, with $50 from each going to the Red Cross.

The genesis of the work began on a miserable Wellington day when not much was happening in the little gallery  opened in 2007  and the workshop behind, where Kristensen teaches classes three times a week while Moana, nearly 13, and son Manu, 7, are at school.

"I was sitting here feeling really cold and grumpy in the middle of winter in Aro St," she says. "I was feeling really sorry for myself." She made herself get out her sketch pad, and started to play with symbols  and as she drew she thought about giving something back to a charity.

The decision to contribute to the Red Cross came out of her acute awareness of the Christchurch quakes. "People who know me know I'm very scared of earthquakes. I wanted to go straight back to Denmark [after the February quake]  it took me quite a few weeks to settle down. Then I thought there's no need to feel sorry for yourself on cold wet days in Wellington  life is good, even if I don't always think so."

She had always liked the idea of faith, hope and charity but didn't want to make the motifs exclusively Christian so they became love, compassion and eternity.

The love motif, featuring an arrow within a heart, was inspired by one of Para Matchitt's poles on Wellington's City To Sea bridge. Compassion  a cross within a circle with a zigzag inner border  was prompted by a design in a Pasifika book Kristensen brought with her to New Zealand. And as for the eternity symbol  well, she began to really like the idea of the skull and crossbones.

The first pieces Kristensen cuts are masters from which a cast is made for copying subsequent pieces; they're then smoothed off by hand. There are two finishes: White and oxidised silver  similar to silver that's tarnished but exaggerated with a "very permanent" chemical process involving sulphur.

Goldsmiths are defined not by the material they use but the type of work they do. "A goldsmith makes jewellery; a silversmith makes pots and pans and spoons, that sort of thing," says the blacksmith's daughter who left Denmark at 17 to study in London before returning home to an apprenticeship and the making of her masterpiece.

That piece was a ring which she lost and has since remade  a loss that brought home to her just how keenly people can miss such sentimental objects. Now she truly sympathises when customers ask her to remake items that have been lost or stolen.

With the price of gold still climbing, Kristensen especially likes to recycle old gold and gemstones, such as the ring a customer collects during our visit, fashioned from a couple of old gold rings and a diamond earring.

When she set up her workshop, Kristensen included six workspaces  now eight  and her classes have filled ever since by word of mouth. Most of her students are just indulging their creative streak. Quite a few have one specific goal  to make their own wedding rings.

Kristensen has never applied for funding in New Zealand, preferring to be independent. "I don't answer to anyone," she says. "And also I think when there's a little bit of pain is when I get my best ideas."

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FINE WORK: Some of Dorthe's work.

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