Most of us aspire to a four-day workweek, but jeweller Seb Brown has actually found a way to do it. The Melbourne-based maker works out of a studio in a Brunswick warehouse. He’s in there for five hours at a time, then straight out – no more late nights like at the beginning of his career.
“When I first got the studio, I was like ‘I have to spend as much time here as I can’,” Brown says. “We’re taught that working heaps is the best thing to do, but I think the time off is equally important for coming up with ideas.”
Visitors to Brown’s studio will find it doesn’t take much space to make his simple yet elegant pieces. Up close, his delicate hoops, gold and silver bands and jewelled rings feature organic textures and forms – no one is the same. His precious-stone rings, set with rubies and diamonds, look like they were forged in another century and dug up as artefacts years later.
In his small studio he has a table for clients, a smaller table for product photography, and in the corner, his work desk, which houses a soldering iron, rice cooker (to keep citric acid at a constant temperature) and assorted tools. The walls are covered in his illustrations. It’s a homey, cosy space, but in such a solitary job, you can also imagine feeling cooped up here.
“There’s no OH&S,” Brown jokes. He’s referring to the sometimes physically demanding nature of making jewellery. “I’m hunched over a lot,” he says. “I do a lot of yoga to unclench my jewellery stance.”
His constant reference points are museum jewellery pieces (coincidentally, his pieces are now stocked at museums and art galleries around Australia) and historic gold objects from the Mediterranean – water pitchers, bowls, and other pieces whose patina tell a story of its use.
“Jewellery casting now is a process that’s been used for thousands of years,” Brown says. “Engraving, polishing, stone setting – effectively, they’re still the same processes, and I’m doing it now. That’s what I love.”
Brown first started making jewellery in 2010 while he was studying communication design. It began out of boredom – he had no formal training or experience, just a fledgling interest aided by YouTube tutorials and artist friends who would give their works in return for his creations.
Eventually his sculptural one-off designs found many wearers – first friends, then friends of friends, then strangers, and eventually retail stores. He recalls an early point in his career where a woman stopped him at his cafe job to place an order.
“I was wearing some bronze rings I had made, and she told me she wanted to buy some. It was such a nice thing that she noticed and ordered them. I thought, ‘maybe I can sell these’.”
As Brown’s interest in working as a graphic designer waned, his jewellery gained momentum. But it wasn’t until 2014 that he committed himself to the job full-time. Before that, he held three jobs at a pub, a cafe and a gallery to support his jewellery making.
That’s a different story now. Each day he’s designing, making and packing orders. The bulk of his work remains custom commissions with a small amount going to stockists including Melbourne’s Kuwaii, Monk House Design, Pieces of Eight Gallery, and at other locations around Australia in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Tasmania.
“I always thought I’d be a graphic designer or architect,” he says. “Until a couple of years ago, I never thought it would be my job.”
Brown finds his best ideas arrive when he’s “bumming around doing nothing”. That usually means his life outside the studio, such as reading biographies at the library (currently a Vivienne Westwood book), travelling, or having a drink with friends – “cliché inner-north things,” he says with a laugh.