Good jewellery is an everyday reminder of the exceptional. Great jewellery is its own unique piece of artwork.

So says Raymond de Zwart, founder and master jeweller at Melbourne’s Black Finch. A jeweller for over 20 years, de Zwart – who co-owns Black Finch with creative partner Davina Adamson – says the Black Finch ethos centres on sustainable practices and custom handmade design.

“It’s a balance of form and colour, and wanting to be markedly different from the usual types of pieces that are made,” says de Zwart. “[At Black Finch] we think because things are made specifically for people and to mark special occasions, pieces should reflect that and be unique.”

Anyone who’s gone through the process of choosing jewellery knows it’s a rare mix of managing big emotions, forging an intimacy with the designer and, in some cases, making a real financial investment. We asked Adamson and de Zwart for their tips on choosing jewellery that will last a lifetime.

Before anything else, designing a piece of jewellery always begins with an honest conversation about what is going to make the piece special to you. Before you sit down with the jeweller, Adamson and de Zwart suggest thinking about something personal you want to incorporate into the design. The team uses both diamonds and sapphires, and in the past, they’ve worked on pieces using different stones to represent the client’s family members. Past examples include yellow sapphires resembling cat eyes to remember a pet, and colour-changing sapphires to evoke a storm over the sea. No idea is too abstract.

When it comes to colour, de Zwart says it’s a conversation. “We really love making these collections of stones that sort of have a conversation together,” he says. “It’s a conversation to reflect the conversation with the client.” That said, Adamson adds that the stone sometimes chooses the person: “We call it when the stone ‘winks’ at you.”

The metal used, whether it be yellow gold, white gold, or rose gold, can depend on your skin tone. Adamson says there should be a balance of warm and cool tones, and recommends precious metals due to their endurance and visual appeal. Choosing stones and a metal that match other pieces in your daily jewellery rotation is another good way to create a piece that will last. Ultimately though, each piece is created with the client’s needs at the front of mind. “The pieces we make play with colour and form to create beautiful and unexpected outcomes that are highly personalised,” says de Zwart.

When you’re designing a piece of high quality jewellery, it’s important that it works for long-term everyday wear, so durable materials are essential. At Black Finch the team primarily uses 18-carat gold, alongside diamonds and sapphires, but the design is what makes each piece timeless. “It makes something endure,” says de Zwart. “We get to [breathe] meaning into the piece. That’s something that takes years of experience – being able to draw from different experiences to embody details in the piece.”

De Zwart seeks inspiration in the minor differences in stones. “The sort of pieces we like to make are more asymmetrical,” he says. “The gems … are these small things that take millions of years to form, and they have lots of little peculiarities within them.” Although we might traditionally think of symmetrical designs as being timeless, Adamson and de Zwart say a good design should be timeless regardless of whether it’s symmetrical. “Don’t worry about being safe,” says Adamson. “There is no guarantee a ‘safe’ piece will be more enduring… a Combination of classical elements, asymmetry and a play of colour is very important.”

The meaning of a piece doesn’t stop with the design, but extends to the use of natural materials – and how they were sourced. Supply-chain transparency is key to ethical jewellery production: the materials must be traceable. This means sourcing directly from mines where possible. So ask about your jeweller’s sourcing practices. Black Finch specialises in Australian sapphires and has visited mines to inspect working conditions and environmental practices. Any piece you’re investing in should come with an independent valuation, as well as a hallmark confirming the purity and composition of the metal. “We try to get as close to the source as possible, so we understand the story or provenance of the materials that make up the piece,” says Adamson.

According to de Zwart, Black Finch was the first Australian jeweller to use post-consumer gold – that is, gold derived from old jewellery that’s been put through a refiner. The company’s Legacy of Love project contributes to coastal restoration at Point Nepean National Park by planting a tree for every piece of jewellery purchased. The business also only uses conflict-free diamonds as well as recycled packaging. It’s all part of making pieces that will last a lifetime from materials that reflect the brilliant anomalies in nature.

Adamson says it is her tertiary training as an artist that really enhances the Black Finch process. “I am not trained as a jeweller, so I start with lofty ideas that then the team helps me to land technically,” says Adamson. The sentiment is echoed by de Zwart. “There’s so many things now that are manufactured,” he says. “There’s this sort of magic with these pieces of nature. We feel a real responsibility in that, because the finished piece embodies so much meaning. The whole process has to be amazing.”

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Black Finch Jewellery.