Jodi Pen­fold talks about the nat­u­ral abun­dance of pre­cious Aus­tralian jew­els

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Jodi Pen­fold re­mem­bers the first piece of jew­ellery she de­signed, a pen­dant for her best friend’s birthday. “I didn’t have much money back then, so I made it from ti­ta­nium and sil­ver,” she re­calls. “It was sim­ple and mod­ern. Geo­met­ric lines. She still wears it now.”

It’s a fond mem­ory, even if that pen­dant is now one piece in the thou­sands Jodi has cre­ated as de­signer, cre­ator and di­rec­tor of her Broome­based busi­ness, Jew­els of the Kimberley.

It’s a fit­ting name. When asked what in­spires her most, Jodi replies in­stantly, “My sur­round­ings. The Kimberley re­gion, with its vast land­scapes, in­tense colours and tex­tures, is an end­less source of in­spi­ra­tion… We are so lucky to have the world’s rarest and high­est qual­ity di­a­monds, the world’s best pearls and a soil rich in gold right on our doorstep. It takes ‘lo­cally made’ to an en­tirely new level.”

Hands-on ex­per­tise Jodi took a prac­ti­cal route into jew­ellery de­sign. As a third-year ap­pren­tice, she started her own busi­ness, sign­ing a “hand­shake con­tract” with an el­derly trav­el­ling sales­man of Cook Is­land black pearls and Aus­tralian sap­phires. In those pre-YouTube days, she re­searched skills in books in or­der to cre­ate the de­signs, fu­elling a de­sire to learn as much about the craft and its tech­niques as pos­si­ble.

This mo­ti­va­tion saw her jump­ing on a flight to Broome to take her ex­pe­ri­ence from the page to real life, grading pearls. “I have fond mem­o­ries of just how raw pearl farm­ing can be,” she says, go­ing on to re­count the in­con­gruity of “wad­ing waist-deep in a croc­o­dile-in­fested creek” while hold­ing three mil­lion dollars’ worth of pearls in her hands.

Fol­low­ing her pearl ad­ven­tures, Jodi went on to study gem­mol­ogy, which she says has been in­stru­men­tal in learn­ing about care of gem­stones and “be­ing able to con­fi­dently push them to their limit in both de­sign and man­u­fac­ture”.

Di­a­mond doyenne Over the years, Jodi has de­vel­oped a par­tic­u­lar fond­ness for Aus­tralian di­a­monds, although she ad­mits to think­ing that white di­a­monds were “a bit bor­ing” be­fore the Kimberley showed her the “rain­bow of hues di­a­monds have to of­fer … from the rarest pinks to fiery or­anges and rich, deep greens”.

“I love the hard­ness of di­a­monds,” she ex­plains. “As a di­a­mond-set­ter, I can lit­er­ally hit them with a ham­mer; as a jeweller I can heat them un­til they glow red-hot to fuse met­als to­gether to form de­signs. I would never dream of us­ing these tech­niques on any other gem.”

Her pas­sion for the gem­stone led her to an ex­clu­sive di­a­mond-set­ting school in An­twerp, un­der the tu­ition of a fas­tid­i­ous, un­smil­ing Rus­sian.

“Over 200 stu­dents au­di­tion each year and only 10 are cho­sen to at­tend… I en­joyed the fact that near enough is not good enough.”

The late nights and week­end prac­tice was all worth it in the end, she con­firms: “I com­pleted my course at the top of my class, and even man­aged to make my teacher smile!”

As her skillset ex­pands, there is one thing that is un­chang­ing: “To me, jew­ellery must be time­less, a piece that can be passed from old to young and still be in style.“

That doesn’t mean she’s im­per­vi­ous to trends, though. She ex­presses a fas­ci­na­tion for rustic or Earth di­a­monds, par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar with mod­ern brides. “Each one is so unique with dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter­is­tics, some with translu­cency, oth­ers more opaque,” she ex­plains. “Most fea­ture a dis­tinc­tive salt-and­pep­per ma­trix … rem­i­nis­cent of star­ing into a starry night sky.” She also points out that you can get them for a “frac­tion of the cost” of their re­fined coun­ter­parts.

Jodi’s pas­sion for hon­ing her skills has now come full cir­cle as she trains her own ap­pren­tice. It hasn’t al­ways been easy to find a men­tor, but 20 years into her ca­reer, she can hon­estly say that it was worth “stick­ing out the hard times” to be able to work so closely with the inim­itable Aus­tralian jew­els of the re­mote re­gion she calls home. jew­el­soft­hekim­ber­

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