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Ethical Luxe Jewelry from Pippa Small

Pippa Small for Turquoise Mountain is a luxurious line of bijoux that you can feel good about buying, wearing and sharing. For those who dismiss fine jewelry as extravagant, frivolous or aimlessly consumerist, these jewels stand as elegant, ethical alternatives and profound proof that jewelry can help promote cultural survival and further cross cultural understanding.

Pippa has recently released the 10th limited edition collection made in collaboration with Turquoise Mountain, which is a charity with jewelry workshops in Kabul, Afghanistan. After designing the jewels in her London base of operations, Pippa flies to Kabul to select gem stones, which are mined in Afghanistan. She then confers closely with the Turquoise Mountain artisans regarding how to fabricate the bijoux. Once the pieces are finished, they are shipped to Small’s boutiques in Notting Hill, London and Brentwood Country Mart, Los Angeles, for retail sale.

The back story:  Turquoise Mountain was founded in 2006 by His Excellency the President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai, Prince Charles and British MP Rory Stewart, author of The Places in Between. Turquoise Mountain’s mission is to revive Afghanistan’s traditional crafts, and to regenerate Murad Khani, a historic area of Kabul’s Old City featuring superb architecture.

One of Turquoise Mountain's jewelers at work in the Kabul atelier. Since 2006, the charity has trained hundreds of women and men in jewelry making and stone cutting. Photo courtesy Pippa Small. 

One of Turquoise Mountain’s jewelers at work in the Kabul atelier. Since 2006, the charity has trained hundreds of women and men in jewelry making and stone cutting.

Photo courtesy Pippa Small.

 

Afghanistan once lay at the heart of the great trading routes known as the Silk Road. Absorbing and synthesizing artistic and architectural traditions of India, Persia and Central Asia, Afghanistan developed an intensely rich; unique culture. Beginning in the 1970s, decades of conflict eroded the country’s cultural heritage. Under Taliban dictatorship, many artisans fled Afghanistan or gave up their craft. Until just a few years ago, the Old City of Kabul festered under six feet of garbage and lacked running water, drainage and electricity. Its once-beautiful houses and historic buildings lay in ruins while facing threats from developers.

Turquoise Mountain cleaned up Murad Khani, however, and turned it into a vibrant cultural, educational and economic hub. Along with restoring historic buildings, carting away rubbish and installing utilities, the charity also established a primary school and health clinic.

Since its inception:  Turquoise Mountain has trained hundreds of men and women in stone cutting and jewelry making arts, all of which had been outlawed under Taliban rule. (Even the wearing of jewelry was criminalized under the Taliban.) It’s worth considering how the people who work for Turquoise Mountain are putting themselves at risk by working with foreigners. Should the Taliban return to power, they will certainly be vulnerable due to their daring behavior.

Turquoise Mountain’s sterling silver and 18-karat gold plated jewels succeed artistically because they are of noble, clean-lined design. They often reference traditional jewelry motifs from Afghan, Bactrian and other ancient cultures. These motifs appeal to the 21st century eye perhaps because they were created as cultural expressions, centuries before fashion industry imagery had colonized our subconscious. Turquoise Mountain jewels are superbly hand-crafted and set with luscious gemstones that have a river-tumbled look and feel.

The jewels succeed aesthetically and commercially because of their intrinsic beauty. Anyone who dons them immediately looks more womanly, worldly and hence wonderful.

The jewels succeed philosophically because of their ethical back story, which involves much bravery on the part of the artisans as well as from Pippa. The artisans live and work in Kabul’s war zone. Pippa (a single mother of twin toddlers) has spent the last eight years traveling to that Taliban-haunted city where suicide bombings and random assassinations are routine events.

Pippa, who has an M.A. in medical anthropology, has long combined her passion for jewelry with helping indigenous people retain their land rights; cultural heritage and jewelry making traditions. Toward that end, Small has established Fair Trade collaborations with the Kalahari bushmen, the Kuna of Panama, the Aymara in Bolivia and Turquoise Mountain to create collections that she sells in her stores. She has even produced special Turquoise Mountain collections in collaboration with U.K. high street retailer Monsoon. She also produces a super-deluxe line of pure 18-karat gold jewels and 22-karat gold pieces, available at www.pippasmall.com

 

Nothing says "royal tribal wristlet" better than this kunzite triple line geometric bracelet.. Photo courtesy Pippa Small..

Nothing says “royal tribal wristlet” better than this kunzite triple line geometric bracelet..

Photo courtesy Pippa Small.

 
Turquoise Mountain jewels are like no other in that they embody ancient ethnic jewelry motifs along with the alluring lines of organic luxury. The epic and ethical Turquoise Mountain story further intensifies the WOW factor of this brand. Angelina Jolie, supermodel Miranda Kerr, actresses Laura Dern and Alfre Woodard are just a few of the accomplished and stylish women who wear these jewels.

Another well-placed woman who’s hip to Turquoise Mountain is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom. In November 2013, the Queen made Pippa a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) and pinned her with a medal of honor (backed by a lovely red ribbon) for pioneering work in ethical jewelry production and charity.

“I am deeply honoured to receive this award and will endeavor to use my MBE to highlight the causes I believe in, continuing my support of ethical charities and local craftsmanship,” Small told Bijoux Review. “I am pleased that the issue of ethical jewellery has received such prestigious recognition.”

Oh, and Pippa reports it was great fun to pad around the halls of Buckingham Palace, scoping out the fine art and artifacts on the way to the ceremony to receive her medal of honor.

“The Canalettos and other great paintings, the suits of armor, and then the ceremony of it all,” she trails off, smiling in wonder. “I feel unworthy of the M.B.E., yet it encourages me to keep doing my work with Turquoise Mountain, as well as my work with Fair Trade gold mines in Bolivia and with indigenous artisans around the world.”

 

Elegantly set and randomly shaped stones in this pale morganite Zuhra collar conjure up an irresistible re-interpretation of ancient glamour. Photo courtesy Pippa Small. 

Elegantly set and randomly shaped stones in this pale morganite Zuhra collar conjure up an irresistible re-interpretation of ancient glamour.

Photo courtesy Pippa Small.

 
Pippa visited Los Angeles in the summer of 2014 to debut the latest Turquoise Mountain collection. Over lunch at FarmShop http://farmshopca.com in the Brentwood Country Mart, she spoke about her work with Turquoise Mountain. Here are the highlights:

Kyle Roderick:  You are an anthropologist, a graduate of Goldsmiths, University of London, as well as a jewelry designer. Please explain, in broad strokes, about how you approach making jewelry with people from different cultures.

Pippa Small:  When I do jewelry projects in different countries, it’s important that I understand as much as possible their technical capabilities, tools and jewelry materials, along with their other resources; their cultural history and contemporary conditions. Before I begin, I also do research into their jewelry and jewelry motifs, traditional architecture and so on.

 Apart from the artisans who I so enjoy working with, The Turquoise Mountain jewelry project is a pleasure to design because of the deep cultural wealth of Afghanistan.

In ancient times, Afghanistan was a crossroads, located at the heart of trade and oases routes, or what is called the Silk Road. The Silk Road passed through the ancient region of Bactria, which is now northern Afghanistan. People, goods, religions and ideas journeyed all the way from China, India, ancient Rome and Greece into Afghanistan. So ancient jewelry from Afghanistan contains elements influenced by these and many other cultures. For Turquoise Mountain I researched the ancient Bactrian civilization and their jewelry and design motifs. I also studied Uzbek jewelry, Islamic jewelry, jewelry from Turkmenistan and jewelry made by the ethnic minority the Hazzara, as well as Tunisian chain making.

Kyle Roderick:  Afghanistan is a gem-rich country but their gem industry isn’t really built up yet. Why is that and how does that affect your work? 

Pippa Small:  It’s true. There are 7,000-year-old lapis lazuli mines at Sar-e-Sang Badakshan…these are the same mines that supplied lapis to the Egyptian pharaohs. The Bamiyan area has beautiful chrysocolla…Afghanistan has emeralds, rubies, aquamarines, tourmalines, kunzites, spinels. There is great gem wealth but the miners work in clan systems and they are not taxed by the government as of yet. There is a lot of gem smuggling out of Afghanistan into Pakistan and the Mid-East.

The Afghan government is trying to get the miners to pay taxes so that with that money, the government can provide engineering support, and establish programs that will support the health and safety of the miners.

 

A morganite Rabia ring. In case you are wondering, morganite is pink beryl and is a "cousin" of such famous beryls as emerald and aquamarine. In 1911, gemologists decided that pink beryl should be renamed after the U.S. financier and impassioned gem collector J.P. Morgan. Photo courtesy Pippa Small.

A morganite Rabia ring. In case you are wondering, morganite is pink beryl and is a “cousin” of such famous beryls as emerald and aquamarine. In 1911, gemologists decided that pink beryl should be renamed after the U.S. financier and impassioned gem collector J.P. Morgan.

Photo courtesy Pippa Small.

 
Kyle Roderick:  You recently returned from Kabul where you worked on your tenth collection for Turquoise Mountain. What were the daily living and security conditions like in Kabul?

Pippa Small: The Turquoise Mountain charity used to rent an old Afghan fort for people who were working with them to stay in. They no longer have that fort. The security situation was tense in Kabul as there was a power vacuum, borders remain porous. Foreigners are targeted in Kabul and there were attacks that had happened recently in different parts of the country and in Kabul that were connected to the upcoming presidential election.

I stayed in the Serena Hotel, in Kabul. In the morning I’d wait inside the Serena for the car to come pick me up and take me to the Turquoise Mountain workshop. After the workday, I’d call for the car to come get me, wait inside the workshop and then jump in the car as soon as it pulled up, which took me straight back to the Serena.

Kyle Roderick:  Isn’t the Serena the hotel where teenage gunmen murdered nine civilians while they were dining and celebrating Afghan New Year in April 2014? They killed that Afghan journalist, Sardar Ahmad, who worked for Agence France Press…and his wife and children.

Pippa Small:  Yes that’s the place. (Smiles ruefully)

Kyle Roderick:  That happened shortly before you went to Kabul. Were you nervous about staying there?

Pippa Small:  Of course, but I’m there to work with the Turquoise Mountain people, who are very brave, kind and very skilled at what they do, and we draw strength from each other. We have come to know each other very well over the last seven years and our camaraderie is strong. When I showed up this last visit, the craftsmen said, “Thank God you are here.” I commissioned them to make four of each piece of jewelry so that they would have more work to do right away.

Kyle Roderick:  Turquoise Mountain jewelry pays more than the average wage in Kabul. It also employs women who cannot leave their homes due to religious restrictions and threat of Taliban punishment.  These women hand fabricate chains for the bracelets and necklaces.  The charity has also trained women to cut gemstones. This is daring, as stone cutting has traditionally been exclusively a man’s job in Afghanistan. Now there are women stone-cutters making Turquoise Mountain jewelry. Your training of women artisans and your employment of women artisans is yet another element that makes Turquoise Mountain jewelry so beautiful, important and valuable:  it is empowering Afghan women and allowing them to develop skills that earn good wages. They can support their families without having to leave the house: brilliant.

I’m curious, however, about your experience working with the Afghan male jewelry artisans…You must have developed a rapport with some of them after all these years. Is there a strong cultural divide?

Pippa Small: The men are gentlemen through and through. They have never hassled me with innuendo or said or done anything inappropriate. Some of them are emotionally open about what it’s like to have two wives. Others recite epic poems from memory or tell stories of how life was in the 1970s before the Russians invaded. I feel privileged to hear their poetry and to listen to stories about the past and their everyday lives.

These men are just struggling to support their families and maintain sources of income. They all work very hard. For example, there is Mohammed Ullah, who supervises Turquoise Mountain craftspeople, handles quality control, shipping and business development: he got married last year. I am happy for him. People are falling in love and life is going on amidst the chaos and violence.

 

The elegant and pure form of this kunzite triple bracelet makes it ideal for any woman seeking jewels that enhance her beauty while telling a luxurious and ethical story. Photo courtesy Pippa Small.

The elegant and pure form of this kunzite triple bracelet makes it ideal for any woman seeking jewels that enhance her beauty while telling a luxurious and ethical story.

Photo courtesy Pippa Small.

 
KR: You’ve been visiting Kabul two times a year for the past seven years. How have conditions in Kabul changed since you’ve been working there with the Turquoise Mountain charity and its artisans?

Pippa Small:  Pretty much every time I’ve been in Kabul, there’s been a suicide bomb blast. The situation has become progressively more unstable and dangerous with each visit. Seven years ago, I could take local taxis and could even walk alone in certain districts. Also in some areas, I didn’t need a head scarf. Now foreigners are on lockdown, but what is most striking to witness is the vulnerability and isolation of the civilians and the constant danger that they live with. On this most recent visit, military trucks were constantly patrolling the streets with mounted machine guns. I lost count of the large concrete barriers to stop suicide attacks that blocked off buildings and streets.

There is no international staff left at Turquoise Mountain except for Tommy Wilde, a charming; fascinating young man and U.K. national. He is a Harvard historian who also studied at UCLA and at Oxford.

KR: Tell me about the sterling and 18-karat gold plated “Love Poem” bracelet from Turquoise Mountain. In June, 2014, Angelina Jolie was photographed in London with a Love Poem bracelet while the world watched. Jolie, Special Envoy for the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, took a break from co-chairing the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in order to buy this piece of jewelry.

Pippa Small: Jewelry is more than adornment. It’s an expression of cultural identity. Many cultures, including Afghanistan, infuse meaning into every single piece they make. There are important cultural symbols, words and sometimes poems embodied in jewelry. Jewelry can express meaningful sentiments and tell beautiful stories. This influenced the genesis of the Turquoise Mountain Love Poem bracelet, which is inscribed with a love poem that the craftsmen chose. I am happy that the bracelet turned out so well and that Angelina Jolie found it appealing enough to buy one for herself.

 Anthropologist and jewelry designer Pippa Small combines her passion for jewelry fabrication and learning from indigenous peoples by collaborating on Fair Trade, luxurious jewelry collections with them that are based on their traditional motifs. Profits from the collections are used by the indigenous people to retain land rights and otherwise maintain cultural survival. Photo courtesy Pippa Small. Frame courtesy of EKDuncan.


Anthropologist and jewelry designer Pippa Small combines her passion for jewelry fabrication and learning from indigenous peoples by collaborating on Fair Trade, luxurious jewelry collections with them that are based on their traditional motifs. Profits from the collections are used by the indigenous people to retain land rights and otherwise maintain cultural survival.

Photo courtesy Pippa Small.

 

June, 2014, London: actress, writer; director Angelina Jolie takes a break from co-chairing the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict to purchase a Pippa Small for Turquoise Mountain Love Poem bracelet. Photo courtesy Pippa Small. Frame courtesy of EKDuncan.

June, 2014, London: actress, writer; director Angelina Jolie takes a break from co-chairing the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict to purchase a Pippa Small for Turquoise Mountain Love Poem bracelet.

Photo courtesy Pippa Small.

 

Three elemental, universal, timeless shapes embrace vibrantly colored stones pointing ever upward. A kunzite geometric ring for positivists who prefer a touch of elegance. Photo courtesy Pippa Small.

Three elemental, universal, timeless shapes embrace vibrantly colored stones pointing ever upward. A kunzite geometric ring for positivists who prefer a touch of elegance.

Photo courtesy Pippa Small.

 

These kunzite earrings embody primal beauty, contemporary luxe looks and eternal simplicity. Photo courtesy Pippa Small.

These kunzite earrings embody primal beauty, contemporary luxe looks and eternal simplicity.

Photo courtesy Pippa Small.

 

This kunzite and aquamarine necklace with a half moon charm at the "S" clasp looks charming on its own and will layer beautifully with gold chains or other necklaces. Photo courtesy Pippa Small. 

This kunzite and aquamarine necklace with a half moon charm at the “S” clasp looks charming on its own and will layer beautifully with gold chains or other necklaces.

Photo courtesy Pippa Small.

 

Exemplifying the very best in luxurious ethical jewelry, tripled chains of geometrically cut kunzite culminate in three large oval stones at the necklace's center. Photo courtesy Pippa Small.

Exemplifying the very best in luxurious ethical jewelry, tripled chains of geometrically cut kunzite culminate in three large oval stones at the necklace’s center.

Photo courtesy Pippa Small.

 

This morganite, quadruple-chained Soton choker makes a luxurious statement: wear it with an LBD or LWD for maximum glamour. Photo courtesy Pippa Small. 

This morganite, quadruple-chained Soton choker makes a luxurious statement: wear it with an LBD or LWD for maximum glamour.

Photo courtesy Pippa Small.

 
 

For services to ethical jewelry, Pippa Small was made a Member of the British Empire (M.B.E). by Queen Elizabeth in November, 2013. Wearing a marvelous mash-up of multiple necklaces and earrings that she designed, Pippa sports her beribboned medal of honor. Congratulations and more power to you, Pippa! Photo courtesy Pippa Small. 

For services to ethical jewelry, Pippa Small was made a Member of the British Empire (M.B.E). by Queen Elizabeth in November, 2013. Wearing a marvelous mash-up of multiple necklaces and earrings that she designed, Pippa sports her beribboned medal of honor. Congratulations and more power to you, Pippa!

Photo courtesy Pippa Small.

 

Bedecked with pendants of lapis, chrysocolla, turquoise and various high karat gold charms and necklaces, Pippa Small deeply loves ALL gem materials. She often incorporates gems that appear to have tumbled through a river for centuries in her luxe jewelry designs. Sporting at least four bracelets on each arm, Pippa's right wrist wears a giant shell bracelet from Africa that never comes off. Imagine the awe, wonder and drama her jewelry must inspire during airport security checks... Photo by Kyle Roderick. 

Bedecked with pendants of lapis, chrysocolla, turquoise and various high karat gold charms and necklaces, Pippa Small deeply loves ALL gem materials. She often incorporates gems that appear to have tumbled through a river for centuries in her luxe jewelry designs. Sporting at least four bracelets on each arm, Pippa’s right wrist wears a giant shell bracelet from Africa that never comes off. Imagine the awe, wonder and drama her jewelry must inspire during airport security checks…

Photo by Kyle Roderick.

 

Wearing jewels she designed, a Paul Smith watch and a groovy giant shell bracelet given to her by African artisans, Pippa Small prepares gilded window display materials during a summer 2014 visit to her Brentwood Country Mart boutique. Photo by Kyle Roderick. 

Wearing jewels she designed, a Paul Smith watch and a groovy giant shell bracelet given to her by African artisans, Pippa Small prepares gilded window display materials during a summer 2014 visit to her Brentwood Country Mart boutique.

Photo by Kyle Roderick.

 

Wearing a 22-karat gold and pink tourmaline Pippa Small charm, Faye is the bejeweled mascot at Pippa Small's Brentwood Country Mart boutique in Los Angeles. Photo by Kyle Roderick.

Wearing a 22-karat gold and pink tourmaline Pippa Small charm, Faye is the bejeweled mascot at Pippa Small’s Brentwood Country Mart boutique in Los Angeles.

Photo by Kyle Roderick.

9 comments for “Ethical Luxe Jewelry from Pippa Small

  1. Alexandra Small
    November 11, 2014 at 9:39 am

    Well done ! Pippa and her/their amazing work with Turquiose Mountain need a lot more publicity !

    • Editor-in-Chief, Kyle Roderick
      November 11, 2014 at 9:07 pm

      Thanks for your comments, Alexandra. Turquoise Mountain jewels are indeed beautifully designed by Pippa Small…the Turquoise Mountain artisans in Kabul do very fine work indeed. http://www.bijoux review.com will continue to report on Turquoise Mountain jewelry collections.

  2. John Hoffman
    November 15, 2014 at 4:16 pm

    Thanks for writing about this exquisitely beautiful jewelry and how it is made by artisans in Kabul.

  3. November 16, 2014 at 8:52 pm

    This is such an inspiring article Kyle. Both the jewelry and the stories behind it are beautiful and empowering. Here’s to jewelry enriching the lives of the women of Kabul and the women of the world who are lucky enough to wear Turquoise Mountain jewelry. yours in hope x

    • Editor-in-Chief, Kyle Roderick
      November 16, 2014 at 9:05 pm

      Wow, so great to hear from you in New Zealand! I’d love to bring some Turquoise Mountain jewelry to Auckland on my upcoming visit and see if I could sell it there in a trunk show-style setting…

  4. William
    November 17, 2014 at 3:02 am

    Amazing stuff–the pieces themselves, Pippa’s programme, and your writing!
    Awesome

  5. Brett
    November 22, 2014 at 4:47 am

    Now, this is jewelry I could see enviro- conscious guys buying for their mates without a hint of that wretched post-consuming guilt.

  6. john holmstrom
    November 25, 2014 at 2:30 am

    …this is an amazingly refreshing site here……. I went to otis mfa. program back in 1967-1971……and am well aware of the west coast artsy world since the late 60’s(and the world art scene also)……like your layout of site….and coverage of topics..authentic people….this sort of stuff is needed in the hyped up artsy world now…..thanks for manifesting this soulful project here,with authentic writing in every article……….THANK YOU!!!!!!

    • Editor-in-Chief, Kyle Roderick
      November 27, 2014 at 2:41 am

      Thanks for the vote of confidence in bijouxreview.com. So glad you enjoy the writing and images. Stay tuned for more stories and photo essays on precious jewels plus the ingenious artisans who design and fabricate them.

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