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The shapes are stunning. The angles intriguing. The designs deceivingly simple.
Jewellery maker Sophia Emmett sees wonder in coal where others see something negative. She finds coal so beautiful, she uses it to design and hand make earrings, necklaces, studs and cufflinks as part of her eponymous label.
“Coal isn’t an ordinary object,” she explains. “It’s a finite and precious mineral and I love its raw and natural beauty.”
Sophia’s story is as intriguing as the pieces of jewellery she creates. She originally started as a glass maker and completed an artist in residency program at the Canberra School of Art. When it was time to make a sea change, Sophia found herself in Newcastle, where coal mining began in the 1790s.
When walking the long stretches of beaches in the area, Sophia found lumps of coal that wash up on the shore. She’s always had an affinity with creating out of ‘found material’ and began turning the coal into wearable works of miniature art.
Even though the designs look simple, the process isn’t and creating coal jewellery takes dedication and a willingness to get down and dirty, says Sophia. Indeed, it takes plenty of time to get cleaned up after dealing with each batch.
Sophia, a full-time artist, works out of Workshop 85, the studio she opened in 2012. She sorts the coal and then studies the pieces to visualise what they could be. Next, she uses diamond tools to shape each lump, working carefully so as not to fracture the coal pieces. Then she polishes them with tender loving care. Throughout the process, Sophia wears a respirator and uses a lot of water to control the dust.
The aesthetics of Sophia’s work attracted Karen Lee, a fashion designer who owns Assemblage Project in Braddon. Karen decided to stock the coal jewellery, admiring how each piece is a small sculptural form.
“I have a pair of earrings and they’re my favourite. I wear them all the time,” says Karen. “I love how Sophia takes a product not considered by many to be very nice to the environment and turns it on its head to make something beautiful. The earrings have a slight industrial feel, which suits the aesthetics of my shop, and I appreciate how Sophia uses reclaimed silver.”
If anyone is aware of the negative vibe around coal, it’s Sophia.
“Making coal jewellery is a good way to start a conversation about coal without it being threatening,” she says.”‘I don’t believe in mining coal. It’s a material that takes millions of years to form and we’re selling it for a ridiculously cheap amount of money. But I’ve also learned a great deal about miners and their culture. There are many aspects to the coal story and I want people to consider the value of it.”
Sophia completed a traineeship at The Jam Factory, Craft and Design Centre in Adelaide and studied Visual Arts at Monash University. She also sells her work out of The Curatoreum at the National Portrait Gallery.