ZM Jewellery: Inspired by nature

Zoe Morton shares her journey and inspiration to a maker's process based around being present and acknowledging the environment she loves so much.

Zoe Morton jewellery designer carving an earring in her studio

Jewellery designer Zoe Morton at work in her home studio in East London. Photo: Dunja Opalko for The Kind Guide.

Portraying a direct contrast to a busy life in London, jewellery designer Zoe Morton is drawn to the art of handmade and slow living. Taking inspiration from the English country and seaside, Zoe is often found adventuring outside of London and further afield to gain inspiration for her beautifully intricate collections. Her organic, simplistic and emotionally responsive process is intriguing and admirable to witness—always considerate of her impact on the environment of which she loves so much. We met with Zoe whilst she visited Australia in 2016 to hear a little more about her journey, and upon returning to London sent lovely local photographer Dunja Opalko to capture Zoe’s home studio.

How did the idea for ZM Jewellery come into fruition? Tell us what inspired you and how it all began.

I was working in the busy photography industry in London for 4 years. Having previously made a silver ring when I was 14 years old, I started taking evening courses of jewellery making and rediscovered my love for it. I just enjoyed doing it, it was kind of a way to relax in the evenings!

I was making bits and bobs for family and friends, before I decided to start putting together a few pieces for a gallery in the seaside town of Deal. It was a little pop up with my friends at Tidal Traveller. This went really well so I saved for a year, packed up the day job and booked a full time course in Florence, Italy.

I was basically fed up with the standard 9-5 commuter lifestyle in London. It just wasn’t for me. There’s this funny thing in the UK—you go to school, you go to uni and then you move to London and get a ‘good job’. It just lacked life for me… I didn’t want that to be my life. I was inspired to pursue jewellery and wanted to get away from London at the time.

I looked at a couple of schools, and found a cool one in San Francisco. I have friends out that way so was super keen to get out there and just spend some time with them. I then found the one in Italy, which had a more contemporary feel and aligned more with what I wanted. I thought I may as well make a little adventure out of it, so I drove my trusty car from London to Italy and that was it!

It was probably the best thing I have ever done. It’s made me far more confident and a far better driver after having to navigate roads with the Italians!!

Zoe Morton of ZM Jewellery

Zoe Morton in her home studio. Photo: Dunja Opalko for The Kind Guide.

Homely details and a glimpse of the ZM Jewellery business card. Photo: Dunja Opalko for The Kind Guide.

Jewellery designer Zoe Morton at work in her home studio

Zoe soldering a new piece. Photo: Dunja Opalko for The Kind Guide.

How did your time in Florence inspire your creative direction?

Florence is such a beautiful place and is full of inspiration, the obvious being the art and architecture, but also the way of life. Being away from busy London really gave me the space to grow creatively and spend time on my own.

I was in Florence for 4 months, with a bit of time either side driving through Europe. My school has some incredible teachers who are so so talented, and taught me everything I now know about jewellery. My time there broadened my knowledge on the technical aspects of creating jewellery, which is essential when you are designing.

I experimented a lot while I was there, using different materials and trying different techniques. I guess my style just came naturally to me, as I am always happiest out in the wilderness—whether it’s by a lake, by the sea, or up a mountain—and this is what I look to for my direction. Nature is so incredible and always changing, so it just keeps giving in terms of inspiration!

I was also lucky enough to meet some incredible and inspiring people while I was in Florence. We took some amazing trips together, finding secret coastal spots and marble minds. We used to look up a little space of water on Google Maps in the mountains and just drive there. These trips were always super inspiring, just being with a couple of friends exploring, often being the only people around, and going for a little dip in the lakes!

Collected sea shells

Collected pieces from seaside adventures. Photo: Dunja Opalko for The Kind Guide.

Sitting for a cup of tea

Zoe wearing some of her own ring designs. Photo: Dunja Opalko for The Kind Guide.

What is the basic process behind designing your pieces?

It can be months from idea to finished product. You have to have the idea in the first place, that’s the hard bit!

It’s when I’m on the move discovering new places, meeting new people and having new experiences I feel most inspired—from the woodland where I grew up, to my favourite swimming cove in Devon. Once I get an idea, I do a load of tests and samples until I find the designs that work the best, before producing the final products and getting it out there every way I can. I only really experiment and make tests if I think it’s a good idea, and tend to always have a chat to friends to see what they think.

The longest I’ve spent on a piece was when I was in Florence. I made this bracelet with a million hinges and a handmade closure. It took forever because I’d made it super small and fiddly. In Florence we literally did every aspect by hand, from pulling the wire to the correct size to rolling the sheet metal ourselves. It was intense.

Sorting through stock for online orders. Photo: Dunja Opalko for The Kind Guide.

Preparing packages. Photo: Dunja Opalko for The Kind Guide.

Zoe uses recycled silver, 18k gold and rose gold sourced in London. Photo: Dunja Opalko for The Kind Guide.

How did you decide what materials you would use and where you would source them from?

It was pretty simple for me—when I was studying in Florence we only used recycled silver. We would collect odd pieces, melt down the silver dust and then make it into bars to reuse. I guess this was ingrained into me from an early stage.

To me it just makes sense to use recycled rather than create more of something that is already there waiting to be used, so I use recycled silver and chose the casters I use for their quality. It’s important to research your suppliers, get all the information you can, and ask plenty of questions.

How are you finding the response to recycled and ‘eco’ materials?

It’s good. We are now in a time where the pressure we are putting on the environment is becoming a serious matter. I wanted to make sure I was doing the best I could to run smoothly alongside the natural world that inspires me, rather than destroy it. I basically try my best to do this. I get a lot of my inspiration from our environment so I always want to make sure I am running with it rather than against it. This means we can continue to be inspired and enjoy it.

Zoe wears the Wave Earrings from her latest collection. Photo: Dunja Opalko for The Kind Guide.

What is your hope for the future of eco-friendly products and the growing response to sustainability?

That it overtakes the crazy world of consuming!

I’m a big believer in buying quality, not quantity. There’s always people doing cool things and making awesome products. Finisterre in the UK make some great cold water surf gear, and Reformation in California are also doing some cool stuff. I guess you just need to watch Leonardo DiCaprio’s new documentary Before The Flood. We ain’t got long to sort out our environmental situation!

What’s next for ZM Jewellery?

Well that would be telling! There’s a new collection in the pipeline, hopefully to be launched Spring 17.

I’ve also got some really exciting collaborations and new projects too. There’s an amazingly supportive startup network here in East London and that always leads to meeting awesome people. Watch this space!

The lovely Zoe Morton of ZM Jewellery. Photo: Dunja Opalko for The Kind Guide.

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Samee Lapham

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Dunja Opalko

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