Charlotte Penman: What it means to be a Wild Flower

It's nearly summer. The time where the air smells of local flora, there's the possibility of salt in your hair and there is most definitely sand in your car. We can't wait!

One woman who knows the essence of summer is local jewellery designer Charlotte Penman. This season Charlotte has focused her designs on what it means to be a 'Wild Flower'. We catch up with the lovely, and very beautiful Charlotte Penman, to chat about traveling to find her gems and stones, shared meals with her extended family over summer, and what's on her Christmas wish list...


- When did you start your jewellery line and what was the motivation for doing so?

I started making jewellery in 1999 after traveling through India where I first began collecting gemstones in Rajasthan in the north. The colours and cuts of the stones fascinated me. A few months later I was living in Japan and a friend who was a jeweler took me under her wing. She taught me some basic skills and traditional knotting techniques and I started using the gems I had collected. First stringing pearls with emeralds and 22k antique gold beads. I had worked with carving and weaving techniques before and did a lot of painting, drawing and sculpture. It wasn’t easy keeping up my art practice while on the road, so I took up photography and jewellery making as they were compact and I could do them from pretty much anywhere. It became a real obsession and I spent years collecting beads and stones in Asia and making jewellery before launching my line when I moved back to New Zealand.

I guess I did things back to front and it was on my return that I started university, first studying design at Unitec and then Fine Art at Elam. I also did some extra jewellery courses and picked up some new techniques. During this time friends started wearing my designs and it just grew, soon after Tessuti and some other boutiques took on my collections.

Also my father and his wife, and my uncle ran a jewellery company in the 1980’s and had sold throughout Australia, New Zealand and Germany. When I returned home they gifted me a lot of their tools and some materials, so I suddenly found that on top of my own collection I now had quite a bit to play with.

Motivation has always been about creative expression, working with my hands and making people happy, it really went from something I was passionate about and did because I loved it, to having people wear and request my designs, to then growing rather organically into a business.

- Tell us about your current collection that is in Tessuti right now. What were some of the inspirations for this collection?

My current collection is called Wild Flower, it was a collection I had been planning to do for a while and has some really personal elements. Many of the pieces reference aspects of the poppy, from anatomical to the more literal floral designs. I am fascinated by nature and man’s relationship to it and love to explore the contrast between natural textures and shapes and the more constructed form. The collection has tourmaline, amethyst, onyx and peridot gemstones, among others.

We also have a new collection that will be in store next month, which I am super exited about, called Myths and Legends. It takes inspiration from Grecian deities.

- Tell us about your love of working with stones. Which is your favorite?

Gemstones have always been a focal point, I love nature, colour, texture and shape, and working with gemstones encapsulates all these elements beautifully. There really is a magical quality to stones, they are like the earth’s gift that reminds us of how special life can be.

I could never choose just one gemstone, as I love so many. I enjoy working with semi-precious stones like chrysoprase, turquoise, amethyst, smoky quartz, ametrine and iolite; these pieces can be accessible to a wide range of people. I also love precious stones and would say alexandrite, emeralds, rubies and sapphires are among my favorite. We are looking at working with some beautiful Columbian emeralds and diamonds at the moment and launching a fine jewellery range in the New Year, so watch this space!

- The sourcing of these sounds fun too! Lots of traveling involved! Can you tell us a bit about that?

Yes it is, one of the best parts! Bangkok is a great place to buy stones, as is it is a hub for gemstones from all over the world and they have great stone-cutting machinery. In India a lot of the stones are still cut by hand, using very traditional techniques, there is a real charm to this and I work with Indian stones also, but for precision - Bangkok is best. I also get some stones from Brazil and Hong Kong too.

I used to travel annually and took my son to Thailand and Indonesia when he was a baby, but since having two kids there is less travel and more time with the babies, which I am really enjoying. I must say though, I do look forward to taking them on some adventures when they are a bit older!

- Who is the 'Charlotte Penman' jewellery wearer? What kind of girl/woman is she?

I like to design for the thinking woman. My customers have an appreciation of quality, handmade items that will add to some kind of value to their daily life. All the pieces have a lot of love and thought put into them and the jewellery is all designed and made with an effort to create something special - our wearers reflect this. They are girls and woman who want something a little different, slightly edgy, yet with a classic feel that allows them to express an understated sophistication.

We focus on personal and sentimental pieces that we hope transcend the latest trends and can be worn into the future.

- Our clients absolutely love your work in the store, what is your personal favorite piece?

Thank you! At the moment my favorite piece is the Empress Choker and I am looking forward to having the Aphrodite Earrings back next month too in our new collection.

- What are you excited about this summer? Any holiday traditions? Favorite destinations? 

Summer is lovely as it draws people home and it is wonderful to catch up with family and friends living overseas. This year we have my son’s godfather visiting, he will meet his god-sister who was born on the same day, a year after him.

We have a huge family, so we alternate each year between spending Christmas with my partner’s family in the far North and staying city side. This year we are in Auckland and will enjoy Christmas with my extended family, which entails a beautiful shared meal usually with a theme. We are all foodies and have in the past done Mediterranean, Lebanese and Indian meals. It’s always a total feast and often there are over 50 of us!

We also have a tradition in our house to make jam every summer, there are 2 plentiful plum trees in the garden that fruit after Christmas and it is such a lovely thing to do with the kids and share with friends. I also love how quiet Auckland gets in January, it's often like a ghost town on the city streets and it's such a pleasure on hot sunny days to walk down to the beach and hang out (where you find everyone is). Our local beaches are pretty bustling on a sunny day and I enjoy the festive atmosphere.

I love the west coast beaches and forests too, it’s a total pleasure to take day trips and walks out there. My favourite walk with my wee people is through Kauri forests at the cascades.

We usually have an annual holiday with friends too in Raglan or the North beaches, like Matai Bay, Taipa or Ahipara. They have children of a similar age to our little people and it's fantastic that they get to grow up together and have these memorable times shared.

- Favorite place to eat out in Auckland?

Hmm… A smoothie at Ponsonby Central and lunch at Little Bird.. Then maybe a shared meal at Hanoi or Cocoro, or if we where being really indulgent a trip to Waiheke to the Mudbrick café to watch the sunset! 

- Favorite dish to cook friends?

In summer I love to do rice paper rolls. You can set the table with an array of fresh herbs, vegetables, tofu and everyone makes their own, it’s a really fun and social way to eat.. And maybe a coconut curry with fresh fish and brown jasmine rice and finish off with an agar jelly desert…

- Favorite drink to enjoy in the summer evenings?

I love light and fruity homemade drinks with fresh mint or lemon grass, and occasionally enjoy a glass of bubbles or lemon chello on the rocks.

- One thing on your Christmas wish list?

A set of 3 prints by my partner, who is a cameraman. He shot some images in New York during a snowy winter a few years ago, so one of these - one of the ocean and the last of a forest. I already have the rather large frames and know the spot they will hang in our lounge too. If it happens by Christmas then that’s the only present(s) I need!  


Image above: Empress Choker with Fluorite gemstones.

Wild Flower collection by Charlotte Penman is available at Tessuti here.

Images by Calypso Paoli.

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