Relocated jeweller awaits Arts Centre return

Last updated 05:00 11/12/2012
Rowena Watson

EXPERIENCED EYE: Owner of Beadz Unlimited Rowena Watson prides herself on sourcing unique vintage jewellery and precious stones for her own designs.

Kath McLeod and Cat Westwood
FRIENDLY AND KNOWLEDGEABLE: Beadz Unlimited employees Kath McLeod, left, and Cat Westwood are passionate about jewellery making.

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Beadz Unlimited owner, Rowena Watson, appreciates fine jewellery and encourages Cantabrians to embrace their arts heritage.

Rowena Watson, owner of Beadz Unlimited began her jewellery-making career in the early 1980s by pulling apart antique necklaces and selling them firstly at the New Brighton Market and then in the newly-opened Arts Centre Market.

She then travelled the world selling her jewellery.

Watson was a "workaway" on a Norwegian container ship to Europe. During the day she worked in the mess, but at night she focused on selling her jewellery.

"I sold jewellery to lots of the sailors. Most of them bought something for one of their many girls in every port. It was good business," Watson says with a laugh.

Funded by selling her jewellery from her portable jewellery board, Watson travelled through Europe for the next few years.

"I would just put my board out and sell from anywhere. I sold in all sorts of tourist spots, in London, Amsterdam, Norway and Denmark."

When Watson returned to Christchurch, she began a psychology course at the University of Canterbury. At the end of the second year, she had a dream she owned a bead store.

After a trip to Australia, the dream started to become Watson's reality.

"Designing, making and selling jewellery quickly became the love of my life," she says.

With financial help from her mother, Watson opened her first Beadz Unlimited shop on Colombo St in 1993, near Thyme Cottage. She still fondly remembers the makeshift shop counter made from old, family wardrobe doors.

Within a few months, Watson was headhunted by the Arts Centre and asked to move her shop there.

"I started with a small shop at the Arts Centre and we just kept knocking out walls to expand," she says.

As Beadz Unlimited grew in popularity, Watson was able to expand her collection by designing and manufacturing her own beads and jewellery in exotic locations such as Venice, the Czech Republic and Bali.

"The Arts Centre location was perfect for us," Watson says.

"We were really popular with both cruise ship passengers, local and overseas tourists and backpackers who wanted to make souvenirs."

Watson misses the thriving and artsy environment at the Arts Centre and cannot wait for the opportunity to return there.

"We loved the overall energy of the place," she says.

The new, post-earthquake location has however been a saving grace for Beadz Unlimited. The company was able to relocate seven weeks after the February 2011 earthquake.

"Beadz Unlimited's manager Katherine McLeod lost her home in the February 2011 earthquake and most staff members have been affected in one way or another. We've become very close since," Watson says.

"It has been great that we were all able to stay together and reopen for our customers so quickly."

Watson is proud of the staff at Beadz Unlimited. She encourages their passion for making jewellery and antique and contemporary jewellery by providing great resources and as much information as possible.

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"Regulars come in to see the staff as well as the new jewellery we have in store," she says.

Beadz Unlimited consistently has new jewellery and beads arriving each week. Most of the vintage jewellery and Watson's own designs are one-off pieces.

Watson is aware many people love to visit the store to appreciate the new items and says everyone was thrilled the store reopened so quickly. She believes it offers people a pleasant reminder of the Arts Centre.

Services available at Beadz Unlimited include rethreading, repair, resizing, jewellery workshops and children's parties and holiday programmes. It has further developed many of these services since the earthquakes.

"We now provide comprehensive workshops and the children's party side of the business has expanded rapidly. The children love the party room," Watson says.

"To keep ourselves relevant, we chose to completely redevelop our business model."

Beadz Unlimited has recently become the exclusive stockist in New Zealand of some jewellery lines. One of these is the Turkish Kurtulan collection, which showcases pieces created with 24 and 18 carat gold and sterling silver. Watson describes the range as stunning, affordable and unique.

Beadz Unlimited has a high level of quality control, and customer service.

"We understand the difference between inferior and superior products," Watson says.

Beadz Unlimited has an extensive range of jewellery. It is well-known for its exquisite collections of antique and vintage jewellery as well as Watson's own ever-changing contemporary range. It also has many on-trend pieces, including smoky quartz, coral coloured jade, modern art deco styles and genuine art deco ranges.

"I pride myself on having a great eye and going directly to the source. I travel the world to find the latest stones for jewellery and the best beads and findings," Watson says.

Vision Statement:

Beadz Unlimited strives to provide excellent customer service, high quality jewellery, unique beads and exquisite one-off findings.

Past Success:

When Lenny Henry was touring NZ, Dawn French and their daughter spent afternoons creating jewellery in the store.

Future Hope:

To be back home in the Arts Centre.

Greatest Moment:

Finding the Cranford St site and transforming it into Beadz Unlimited seven weeks after the February 2011 earthquake.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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