Ara the altar
Updated: Oct 5, 2020
Ara the altar comprises of jewellery created from responsibly sourced silver and gold.
Founded by Lauren King, her pieces are created from inspiration in astronomy, nature, and the ancient world's fascinating relationship with both.
Tell us a bit about how you began making jewellery.
The first time I played with silversmithing I was still working in the fashion industry as a shoot producer. I'd found myself in a pretty logistical role and was craving a bit of a creative outlet and more of a work/life balance. At the time I loved silver jewellery but never managed to find exactly what I had dreamt up in my mind. On a bit of whim I booked onto a one day silversmithing course.
On the day I remember drinking up as much information as I could - I was fixated with the process and creating something I never before thought possible. I came away really excited and over the years I built up a collection of tools to develop my practice from home.
Many moons later, after taking more steps to lessen my own environmental impact, I was repeatedly frustrated with retailers' limited assurances concerning where and how their products were made. Ara the altar began as a project for me to support the slow fashion movement and provide others who, like me, were looking for genuine assurances about responsible practice. In search of a brand name, I landed on Ara, a small constellation meaning 'the altar'. I was drawn to the idea of a figurative altar upon which to offer responsibly sourced and created objects.
Did you find there were many barriers to developing your own jewellery brand? If so, how did you overcome them?
I've faced -and still do face- many barriers in the development of Ara. Fundamentally, from a logistical point of view, launching a business alongside a full time job, whilst being completely self funded, naturally put a strain on both time and finances. These challenges have always been exacerbated by the additional limitations I face in staying committed to my values concerning ethics and sustainability. #
I work with only recycled solid silver and gold. For me, this means not just the pendants or rings that I make, but also the chains and findings the accompany each piece. Sourcing for genuine assurances and learning the skills to create what I cannot source demands research, time and money. I then continue to make considerations to ensure low environmental impact throughout the entire journey of an Ara product. This includes the processes and tools I use within the workshop, the paper I choose for my accompanying cards, where and by whom they are printed, the vegetable ink they are printed with, the list goes on and on. To minimise carbon footprint and ensure transparency, the bags that accompany Ara products were designed and made in house, using European linen and GOTS certified organic cotton woven in Lancashire.
The values I have chosen to commit to regularly require me to think creatively when designing and delivering Ara's offerings. I sometimes think how easy it would be to develop a brand without all of these considerations but of course that would completely defeat the purpose of Ara. Taking the shortcuts offered to us by the linear economy in which we live keeps us on the same destructive path. Instead, I've become comfortable with the fact that compromises will be made, opportunities that do not align with Ara's values will be turned down, and new collections and offerings will take longer to launch and cost more to develop but ultimately this is what makes Ara the credible brand I feel proud to be building.
Tell us a bit more about why you are so passionate about making jewellery.
I think I enjoy returning to the bench again and again because quite simply it provides me with a creative outlet and at times (when things go to plan) it can be quite a mindful thing to do. I honestly think if I'd ended up taking a pottery class or another creative workshop many years ago, I'd likely have pursued that instead.
From my experience, certainly here in the UK, we go through school exposed to many creative disciplines like art, textiles, music. Then all of a sudden we begin to narrow our focus into one particular subject with a career path in mind. Once that focus shifts, our connection with these creative practices fades into the background. There is so much evidence to support that taking time to do something creative can be really beneficial for our mental health. And that's definitely the case for me.
As a subject, I really enjoy the balance of science and art that my chosen practice demands. I like developing an understanding of the science behind a process, there is always so much to learn. I think when working with recycled solid silver and gold, there's also a real satisfaction upon re-purposing the metal and creating something for longevity, that ultimately can be melted down and repurposed again.
I actually think I enjoy the whole process of managing a brand as much as I enjoy the making itself. I adopt quite a slow, mindful approach to designing and making and this also extends to the other aspects of my business including the imagery I create. I like that I still have a link to my shoot production days, but now I can take control and work with responsibly sourced props and backgrounds and ensure minimal waste on set.
What advice would you offer to makers who are thinking of taking up jewellery-making, particularly with silver and gold?
A few things spring to mind from my own experience:
i) Don't worry about not having a degree or any formal training. There are so many incredible resources accessible today. A few books I've found most useful are 'Complete Metalsmith' by Tim McCreight and 'Creative Wax Casting: A Modern Approach to an Ancient Craft' by Emilie Shapiro. Even more insightful are online and in person courses for general or specialist skill development. I have hyper-mobile joints which makes some things tricky for me - so last year I spent a day with Kim Thompson in Bristol to revisit my approach to basic workshop skills to find safer ways for me to work long term. Also I'd say don't be disheartened if something you're working on doesn't go to plan - silversmithing is essentially problem solving. Understand the science, adapt tools to your needs and take your time.
ii) Allow yourself time to play and explore. Try not to feel too overwhelmed with how much there is to learn. Start with something you're excited about making and learn those skills. You'll naturally develop your skills as you progress. Allowing time to play and explore the practice is healthy and can organically direct design. This is one thing I'm not great at and something I'm trying to prioritise. I have so many ideas in my head but am guilty of not allowing myself dedicated time to just sit down and play.
iii) Develop a small community of fellow makers. As I don't have a background in jewellery design, for years I didn't really know anyone else who was dabbling in silversmithing. Only recently have I become much better acquainted with a group of fellow jewellery makers through Instagram - all at different development stages in their business. It's so invaluable to have a little community to check in with, to share knowledge with, help and encourage one another. I find the jewellery industry to be so supportive - definitely community over competition.
I'm soon planning to launch 'Objects of Ritual' - a three piece collection drawing inspiration from some of the objects that featured in my recycled gold Phase Fine shoot.