Soar with Glide Omarama Pre­cious Trea­sures: NZ Jew­ellery

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There is a long and rich history in New Zealand of craft­ing jew­ellery from nat­u­ral re­sources; from when Maori first har­vested pounamu (green­stone) from the riverbeds of the South Is­land to the gold rush of the 1860’s and in more re­cent times, we have seen the suc­cess­ful com­mer­cial pro­duc­tion of blue pearls from paua (abalone).


Maori leg­end tells us of the ori­gins of pounamu ... A tani­wha (mytho­log­i­cal aquatic crea­ture) be­came en­am­oured with a beau­ti­ful woman, Waitaki, the wife of a chief. Want­ing her for him­self the tani­wha ab­ducted Waitaki and took her south, only to be re­lent­lessly pur­sued by the chief. Ul­ti­mately, in a bid to keep Waitaki with him for­ever, the tani­wha trans­formed her into pounamu and laid her down in a riverbed, where she was later found cold and life­less by her hus­band. It is said that you can still hear the chief’s tangi (song of grief) echo­ing through the moun­tains to this day.

Pounamu is a type of Neph­rite (green­stone) found only in the South Is­land and is con­sid­ered to be a taonga or trea­sure by Maori. In its nat­u­ral state, pounamu be­longs to the Ngai Tahu, who are con­sid­ered the Kaitaki (guardians) of this highly val­ued stone. De­pend­ing on the area where it comes from and upon the in­di­vid­ual stone it­self, a va­ri­ety of colours, com­bi­na­tions of colour and tex­tures are found, giv­ing New Zealand green­stone it’s unique and ap­peal­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics where within a sin­gle piece dif­fer­ent colours merge.

Us­ing in­ge­nu­ity and skill Maori crafted weapons and tools from pounamu, which were not only hard-wear­ing and per­fectly de­signed for their pur­pose, but also beau­ti­ful works of art. Items for adorn­ment were also cre­ated such as neck­laces, ear­rings and rings. The most recog­nis­able neck pen­dant is called the Tiki – shaped like a hu­man fig­ure sit­ting cross-legged with head tilted to one side. Pounamu holds a sig­nif­i­cant role in Maori cul­ture and arte­facts crafted from this stone are re­garded as in­creas­ing in mana or pres­tige as they are passed on from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion.


Gold was the making of the econ­omy in colo­nial New Zealand - from the 1860’s; gold rush fol­lowed upon gold rush with thou­sands flock­ing to the fields in the hope of find­ing their for­tune. An in­crease in in­vest­ments and ship­ping in New Zealand soon fol­lowed.

Gold has been used through the ages world­wide as a form of cur­rency and a gift of gold has long been the sym­bol of last­ing love and devo­tion. Gold does not cor­rode or tar­nish like other met­als; it is vir­tu­ally eter­nal. Prized by ar­ti­sans for its dura­bil­ity and mal­leabil­ity gold can be made into a vast ar­ray of jew­ellery items from the most del­i­cate bracelet to a seem­ingly end­less ar­ray of forms and shapes. Adding to the de­sir­abil­ity of gold is its rar­ity – it can take the ex­trac­tion of sev­eral tonnes of ore to yield just one ounce of gold.

Jew­ellery pop­u­lar dur­ing the Vic­to­rian and Ed­war­dian pe­ri­ods in NZ in­cluded hand-crafted pieces in gold and pounamu such as lockets, pen­dants and brooches. To­day – let your imag­i­na­tion run free and what­ever your heart’s de­sire, a skilled jew­eller will be able to bring it to life.


Found in the cool, clear wa­ters that sur­round the coast­line of New Zealand, paua is the name given to abalone by Maori, who gath­ered the shell­fish both for food and its shell which was highly val­ued both for dec­o­ra­tion and jew­ellery.

Maori leg­end tells the story of the cre­ation of the paua shell: Tan­garoa, the god of the sea, saw that Paua had great dif­fi­cul­ties with­out a shell and re­solved to make a unique one for him. Tak­ing the blues of the ocean and the greens of the for­est and bor­row­ing the vi­o­let of the dawn and the light­est pink of the sun­set and blend­ing it all to­gether un­der a shim­mer of mother-of-pearl. Fi­nally, he added a drab grey coat to en­able Paua to blend in with his rocky habi­tat.

Nat­u­rally formed pearls are a rar­ity and over time tech­niques have been per­fected for cre­at­ing “cul­tured” pearls. Nu­clei im­plant­ing or “seed­ing” in­volves a nu­cleus be­ing in­serted, (along with a piece of man­tle tis­sue to gen­er­ate nacre de­po­si­tion) into an area near the apex or whorl of the shell. Nacre or mother-of-pearl is a strong, re­silient and iri­des­cent or­ganic-in­or­ganic ma­te­rial that forms the outer coat­ing of the pearl. It takes sev­eral years for a pearl to be ready for har­vest­ing and each one is unique; the ideal cen­tre­piece for be­spoke eye-catching and vi­brant jew­ellery that re­flects the in­di­vid­u­al­ity of the wearer.

So, join us now and read on as we hear from some of the cre­ators of jew­ellery crafted from this land’s pre­cious nat­u­ral re­sources and re­flect­ing the beau­ti­ful, unique na­ture of the land­scape and spirit of Aotearoa.

IM­AGE: Arahura Green­stone Tours

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