The Ouroboros is an ancient Egyptian mythical creature, a serpent or a dragon curved around to eat its own tail, representing infinity and the circular nature of life. This philosophy encapsulates Ouroboros founder Olivia’s personal beliefs and experiences; for creativity there must be destruction, what goes up must go down, what is down will go up. It is inspiring and consoling to appreciate that nothing is static, everything both good and bad is in constant motion around the circle. As she researched the mythology she fell increasingly in love with serpents and circles, for her circles are the purest and most beautiful form.
During a trip to Italy she rediscovered the exquisite art-form Pietra Dura. This incredibly intricate technique uses delicate slices of gemstones to paint pictures and is almost unused in contemporary jewellery. Having worked with gems and fine jewellery for many years it felt a natural progression to bring all these elements together in a new concept. She decided to create modern pieces of Pietra Dura jewellery, celebrating the wonderful patterns of the stones within circles interwoven with serpents.
She arrived in India to make the collection and was seduced by the beauty of the jewellery and luminous gemstones in age-old Kundan settings. During a ten-day silent meditation retreat, pieces came to her as if in a dream, incorporating these traditional Indian techniques. These pieces captured the two sides of her character, a Western formal side and an extravagant, wilder Indian element – traditional, yet feminine and modern. She is not alone in this duality and each piece rotates to reflect our alternate moods.
This first Ouroboros collection is inspired by cycles and naturally progressed to the celestial bodies. The sun, the moon and stars represent the cycle of the day and the cycle and circular nature of life.
The two main techniques Ouroboros use are Florentine (Pietra Dura) and Indian (kundan setting).
Pietra Dura is like painting in stone, the patterns and colours in different stones are used to form a picture made like an intricate jigsaw. It is an artform which first appeared in Rome in the 16th century, reaching full maturity in Florence. These artisans travelled the Silk Route and their skills were taught to the Moghuls – the most famous exampleof their craft being the Taj Mahal.
Technically Pietra Dura is defined as inlaying gemstones into stone, to do this proficiently is painstaking and incredibly difficult. Matching the colours and patterns requires patience, diligence and an enormous library of gemstones. The results are exquisite - but mostly not to Olivia's taste. Most of the workshops in Florence have closed and the remainder only repeat classic designs, Ouroboros wants to give this incredible, disappearing art form a new lease of life and stop it disappearing. In India beautiful Mogul motifs are recreated and repeated but nearly all as objets. Ouroboros wants this intricate technique to be employed in something you want to look at, something you want to wear.
Kundan (Hindi for pure gold) setting is a centuries old Moghul technique using 24 karat gold to set gems. Glowing gems of uneven shapes grouped together and edged in gold, in one beautiful constant surface.
It is an elaborate process where a framework for a piece of jewellery is filled with shellac and antimony – the adhesive. The piece is then secured onto a rod for handling. The foiled polki (rough cut slices) diamonds are delicately placed into the spaces and gently pressed and heated into place using charcoal. Excess adhesive is removed with the finest chisel. Small squares of gold foil, kundan, are applied to the gold walls of the setting and worked, using the fine chisel to gently serrate the edge, creating a strong bond. This process is repeated, continually folding the gold foil squares, until a thick wall has been created slightly overlapping the edge of the gem. The gold wall is then smoothed and shaped and the jewel is removed from the rod and cleaned.
The collection is solely set in 18 to 24 karat gold.
The gemstones are a mix of traditional precious gems such as diamonds and ‘semi-precious’ gems. The semi-precious gems such as agates, moonstone, laboradite and rhodocrosite are, in fact, often rarer than commonly considered ‘precious’ gemstones. All gemstones are precious and finding really beautiful specimens of the more ‘common’ stones is often much more challenging. Ouroboros believes that anything extracted from the earth should be enormously valued.
On that note, Ouroboros tries to source as responsibly as possible but there is a myriad of diculties in the jewellery and gemstone industry. Where it is possible to have more control, for example which artisans are used, Ouroboros ensures that their conditions and treatment are of a high standard.