Putting a new shine on jewellery designers

After nearly 10 years, it was time for a fresh look for e.g.etal's Flinders Lane space, writes Stephen Crafti.

After nearly 10 years, it was time for a fresh look for e.g.etal's Flinders Lane space, writes Stephen Crafti.

Referring to owner and jewellery designer Emma Goodsir and others, e.g.etal has been showcasing some of Melbourne's finest contemporary jewellers since the late 1990s.

In 2004, Goodsir opened a gallery-like space in the basement of a boom-time Victorian building in Flinders Lane (directly below Zambesi). The 100-square-metre shell was converted into a pristine white space, with simple display cases. But getting on to 10 years later, it was time for a change.

"I've always loved the space, as well as the history of the place," says Goodsir, who discovered thousands of pins on the timber floors when she took over the space. "This place was central to the rag trade."

With a slither of windows to the north (allowing for only legs walking along the pavement to be seen from within the gallery), creating a new fitout for e.g.etal would challenge most architects. For Zwei, changing the 2004 interior was met with some trepidation: interior architect Hanna Richardson, a co-director of Zwei, once worked as a contemporary jeweller and supplied e.g.etal, and her fellow director, architect Katherine Kemp, bought her wedding ring from e.g.etal. "As a former jeweller, it was important the artists' work remains the focus, rather than overshadowing the space with interior architecture," Richardson says.

Goodsir, although fond of the previous mahogany floors and white walls, was looking for a fresh look for e.g.etal. "I was after a feeling of warmth, away from the minimal and a more graphic feel," says Goodsir, who was also keen to connect with the city buildings and the urban environment.

"The idea evolved of creating the feel of a studio, where you might imagine jewellers to beaver away, not literally, but in one of the city's many studios above street level," Kemp says.

Zwei completely clad the space with limed oak timber in a zigzag pattern. The oak extends up the walls, creating in parts a cityscape below the pavement windows.

While northern light provides soft light into the space, artificial light, both within the cabinets and zigzagging across the ceiling, intensifies the wattage, essential when showing precious work by some of Melbourne's leading jewellers such as Julia deVille, Anna Davern, Katherine Bowman, Sean O'Connell and Cass Partington.

As well as the right quality of light, there had to be room for exhibitions. DeVille's installation of work, titled Can the Voices of the Living be Heard by the Dead?, is given the "breathing space" this award-winning artist deserves. The simply designed space, with a central steel-shelving unit, used for displaying jewellery, as well as containing plants, is designed to steer people around to various parts of the gallery.

A communal oak and steel table is well attended on weekends, when couples come in to select a wedding or engagement ring. But a considerable amount of time went into creating spaces that aren't readily seen, such as the multitude of drawers and nooks to display rings, pendants, earrings and bracelets that form part of an artist's portfolio of work. And like a gallery, each display case represents only one artist.

"We wanted this space to connect to the laneways that surround it, but we also felt it was important to create a sense of the handmade," says Kemp, who included removable strips of fluorescent powder-coated aluminium to allow the space to continually change.

"These strips are also used as signposts, alerting people who pass by," Kemp says.

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