A break-up in her early twenties led Melburnian Olivia Cummings to Istanbul with a grand total of €200 to her name – and the makings of her jewellery label, Cleopatra’s Bling.

“I first went to Istanbul when I was 22 on a holiday and I was struck by how magical the city was. I was particularly captivated by the Grand Bazaar and all the local jewellery artisans,” Cummings tells Broadsheet.

She began travelling between Istanbul and Paris – where she lived at the time – sourcing vintage jewellery made by Afghan jewellers in Turkey and selling online, before making the fateful move over to Turkey.

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When Cummings eventually relocated, she says she visited the Grand Bazaar every day. “I learnt Turkish and studied the ancient art of lost wax, which is where you carve the wax and then it’s cast into metal. That’s the technique I still use for Cleopatra’s Bling.”

The label specialises in artisan jewellery rooted in antiquity – it’s modern, but with a distinct old-world feel. Collections of mostly gold necklaces, earrings, rings and bracelets are often adorned with colourful stones, beads and enamel ethically sourced from around the world. There’s a fine and demi-fine range, alongside a bespoke service that offers the chance to create heirloom pieces. Cummings says her designs are influenced by Eastern Turkish folklore and Anatolian mythology, learnt through working with artisans across Turkey.

“It sparked curiosity in me, so I would then research things, tell my team about it, and we would come up with really nice storytelling as a vehicle for the pieces,” Cummings says. “It’s been one big journey of curiosity and I’m still learning.”

Cummings designs all her pieces in her apartment, using a strip of jewellers’ wax and a small collection of tools. She cuts the wax, shapes and etches it, then uses a solder to heat the material if she’s joining pieces together. The final piece is then cast into metal as a prototype, and either individually made to order or turned into a mould to create a full collection.

Then the naming process begins. “I’ll usually have ideas floating around in my head, or photos I’ve snapped from my travels. I’ll send them over to the creative team and we come up with concepts. It’s all very researched.”

It’s a lengthy process from initial conception to getting the pieces into people’s hands, with design starting at least a year out. “We’re very big on creative direction, and that takes time.” The newest line, due for release in July, is a first-of-its-kind engagement collection, an extension of the Cleopatra’s Bling custom service model and a new market for the brand.

Cummings says she hopes to one day have a dedicated studio for design, but isn’t in a rush to make it happen. “It’s nice to do it at home because you’re in your own space and it’s a private process.”

Home is an art deco apartment in Kew. It’s filled with lively artwork collected on Cummings’s travels across Turkey and Italy, and plenty of lush greenery thriving in the sun that shines throughout the apartment, morning to afternoon. Cummings says she loves apartment living, likely because of her time in Europe. And with two bedrooms, it’s big enough for her and her partner, their dog, and their baby on the way.

Cleopatra’s Bling was a one-woman show for its first six years, with Cummings travelling back and forth between France and Turkey, doing trunk shows to sell her pieces. She moved to Bali, met more artisans specialising in recycled metals, then moved to Naples briefly before returning to Melbourne. Her travels across the globe led her to meet many of the suppliers she still works with to this day.

This process of sourcing has always been through meeting artisans in person, from her time spent in Turkey right through to connecting with the tight-knit jewellery community in Jaipur. “It would be easy for us to go to China and get everything done in one spot to make it quick,” Cummings says. “There’s definitely some amazing stuff going on in China in terms of sustainable jewellery, but I need the old-world techniques that you just can’t find in factories. They’re all in these little alleyways in Istanbul and Jaipur and Florence.

“The beauty of what we do is that we work with the same people always. We know the people personally, they Whatsapp me and it’s just a nice community of artisans. Because of that, it’s never going to be a mainstream offering.”

Her team has grown to 16 people in Melbourne, with a team in Turkey, a team in Italy, and a few people across Berlin and Amsterdam. There’s one flagship store in Collingwood alongside a range of stockists peppered across the globe.

Despite the brand’s growth, one thing Cummings has stayed true to is not being influenced by trends. “We want to create timeless pieces that resonate with people on a deeper level,” she explains. “We don’t really have a niche target audience – my friends wear it, my mum wears it, even my dad wears it. The brand doesn’t fluctuate according to what’s cool or trending on Tiktok.

“We’re creating timeless pieces that are in some way speaking to collective memory and that resonates with people a lot more.”

This article first appeared in Domain Review, in partnership with Broadsheet.

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