We’ve been itching for a chance to talk up our talented makers, and we couldn’t think of anyone better to start with than Suzanne. She helps run one of our workshops, which is based 20 minutes outside of Bangkok in Thailand. The work of our designers wouldn’t exist if we didn’t find the right makers to partner with. Many of their designs aren’t for the faint-hearted craftsman, and we’ve been turned away more than once because they can be hard to execute. We’ve turned a few away too, because they don’t meet our quality and ethics standards (more on those here).
Suzanne told us a little more about her plans for turning her parent’s business into one of Thailand’s first B-Corps, and gave an insight into daily life on the workshop floor.
When did your parents open the doors of your business and how did you get involved?
My parents started the business in 1986 - my dad is a Bangkok native, and he was passionate about building a really talented team of silversmiths and preserving that skill, which has a rich heritage in Thailand. We specialise in working with small business owners, artists and jewellery designers who have a clear vision and bring us unique designs to realise. We specialise in 925 Sterling Silver, because it’s a great, versatile precious metal to work with - our craftsmen have gained an incredible knowledge of it over the decades.
My background isn’t in Jewellery at all, I’m a trained architect and spent many years working in the field! Once I had four kids, the architect lifestyle became a bit of a drain and working on construction sites was quite stressful. I started getting more involved in the jewellery business my parents founded and became really passionate about it. My parents saw the business needed a fresh eye, someone to connect it to a new generation and new ways of thinking - I haven’t looked back since.
What makes Sterling Silver so great?
It’s really malleable, because of the ratio of hardness and softness within the metal. Unlike gold, you can realise almost any kind of design if you use Silver. Even though we work with 200 makers and craftsmen, the processes we rely on are very traditional and handmade. For instance, we use wax moulds to carve out shapes. It means we retain our employees and invest in them, and train them over a long period of time. It’s not 3D printing or low quality, shoddy construction, but rather a set of skills developed by individuals that take years to learn.
Is that part of your sustainability mission?
Definitely. To us, the craftsmen are what ethics and sustainability practices are all about. I recently interviewed a few women for International Women’s Day, and discovered that six of them have worked with us for 30 years. Two of them have been in our polishing department for the entirety of that time and I was intrigued by that. Polishing may seem like insignificant and dull work, but one of the women explained she has created her own totally unique techniques for polishing, which she uses to bring out the polish for specific types of design. She is a master and specialist in her own rite.
Ethics and sustainability are overused terms. But it’s the human story and people behind it that I always want to share. I was educated in the west, so I know that there is a lack of awareness in Western countries about how things are made. Through the individual story, people can appreciate the skill and dedication that goes into well-made things. Consumers don’t know the process, and so don’t know what sets this kind of process apart. We encourage all of the partners we work with to come see how we do things firsthand, and to ask lots of questions. We’re very open about what we do well and where we want to keep improving on things.
How can people discern low quality jewellery?
When it comes to fast fashion, the biggest problem is that at first glance you can’t even tell the difference. Price itself is also no longer a good indication of quality. Obviously, if you’re spending a few pounds on a six pack of studs, it’s not high quality and is likely to be made with zincs and unknown chemicals. The labour and supply chain is also likely to be questionable. But the problem is, sometimes the price can be quite high and marked up even though the quality is just as bad. If you’ve not learned about jewellery production it is confusing, which obviously benefits fast fashion retailers.
I’ve realised younger consumers don’t know what Sterling Silver or Gold Vermeil is. Gold just means Gold to most, but actually it can just reference the colour or flash plated copper pieces that won’t last long at all. One of the basic things to look out for is 925 Silver. Gold Vermeil is a thick layer of gold plating, and it’s the most accessible fine jewellery that you can buy.
Tell us about becoming a Certified B Corporation, what’s the process like?
B Corp Thailand is a small group of businesses - only three have completed the process, and 10 more are on the path to certification including us. Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. It’s quite an intense process, but B Corp values are ones we have always embodied. It’s a great exercise for a company like ours and will give us third party verification, so people can recognise our values more formally.
Why should people invest in quality?
We can’t assume why consumers buy - it’s so personal. But if consumers think in a more circular way, then I think it helps influence informed purchases. Ultimately, if you’re buying something because you love it and you will keep it, it’s worth investing a bit more in a lasting item. All the jewellery I wear belonged to my mum 30 years ago. It has sentiment and meaning, and if she had bought throwaway pieces, then I wouldn’t have them now. I’d say it’s worth considering how you want to build your jewellery box - are you building something you want to pass on someday, or something gratifying for the now?
Do you have a favourite Motley piece?
I love everything Estelle does. As a former architect, I really appreciate the structure and form of her collection. The L’Oiseau ring in particular is amazingly architectural, so it naturally connects with me.