new zealand jewellery label meadowlark reflect on ten years of unintentionally creating worldwide trends

Meet the designers whose creations have been chosen by Rihanna, Lorde and a universe of grateful fans.

by Beatrice Hazlehurst
04 November 2016, 1:49am

This month cult New Zealand jewellery brand Meadowlark, who's signature pieces have made their way onto famous fingers, necks and noses around the globe, is celebrating its tenth anniversary. Originally run out of the lounge room of the founders - husband and wife Claire Hammon and Greg Fromont - Meadowlark has evolved into a well oiled empire, with a dedicated office and workshop, full staff of in-house jewellers and a devoted international client base.

The fact that Meadowlark has done all this from Auckland is especially remarkable. It's a testament to their talent and imagination that Meadowlark's signature dark and dramatic designs are now stocked around the world. In addition the label has also enjoyed a succession of celebrity endorsements. In fact, Rihanna's choice of a Meadowlark septum ring for the cover of W in 2014 helped fan the flames of the septum-piercing revolution of the last few years. 

We sat down with the minds behind the jewels to discuss the merits and pitfalls of running a business from from New Zealand and the modern conundrum of creating products so popular they're copied by the whole world.

Guys, ten years, congratulations! What has it been like navigating the industry for the past decade? 
Greg: It has really changed. Manufacturing in New Zealand has been on the demise for decades now, when we came into it there were still quite a few manufacturing jewellers left, but most of that has disappeared now. Chain stores are importing from India and China and locals can't keep up. That said, they can't compete with our design aspects. You need a specific mindset to create...

...Something other than your stock-standard diamond pendant?
Greg: Yes, something genuinely cool, exactly. We exist in a niche. The traditional market could swing our way, though we're more likely to create a next "thing" inadvertently.
Claire: When you have an instance where every second person is wearing the same necklace, that's something we don't want. That's when people are buying a piece just because everyone else has it. 

I know a lot of designers who try to disassociate themselves from the one piece they created that blew up because they don't want to be defined by it.
Claire: It's true, often our best sellers aren't our favourite pieces either, but you have to put that to the side, know that it's happening and focus on the new work.

Have you been surprised by any of your very successful pieces? 
Claire: Totally! We brought out these daggers that took off, that was a shock. We thought people were scared of the darker stuff. At other times, pieces I've considered cutting from a range have gone through and been really successful.
Greg: I often wonder what it says about popular culture.
Claire: Jewellery's a slow burn though, we've often found something take off a year after we've made it.

Meadowlark's gained massive exposure after being worn by the likes of Rihanna and Lorde. How has that helped propel the brand?
Claire: That definitely boosted us. Especially when Rihanna wore a septum ring on the cover of W, that definitely put us on the map internationally. We also got ripped off a lot after that.
Greg: We understand that's what you have to expect when you start getting that kind of profile.
Claire: It was really crazy though, the woman who borrowed the piece picked it up and was like "I'm going to make this a trend". Then Rihanna asked to keep it and wouldn't take it off and it was international news that Rihanna had a septum piercing. 

How have you found growing from a very local label to one with international recognition, working from somewhere as geographically isolated as New Zealand?
Claire: It's really, really hard. Being from New Zealand you already have massive roadblocks in your way. It's partially a result of the general attitude in New Zealand.

Which is?
Claire: Tall poppy syndrome. It's fairly common that no one wants to see you succeed, everyone wants to see you fail. All these brands are jealous of each other and competitive, even if they're not in the same market.
Greg: That's all true but it isn't just the distance and other people's attitudes, it's also our own. New Zealander's don't really like putting themselves out there, so you've got to overcome your own psychological issues to go into a different market, particularly other markets where everyone is like "hey look at me."

I feel like the it must be reassuring to see people who have no idea who you are wearing your designs.
Claire: Oh yeah I've definitely been like, "cool ring, where'd you get it?" It's really quite hard to be proud when you've brought up not be proud though. It's actually really sad. There are so many people who are doing really well that aren't celebrated.
Greg: They're not even willing to celebrate themselves.
Claire: Also, weirdlyenough, jewellery isn't as image-making as clothes. That's the only thing that annoys me, the industry treats it as an afterthought.

That's so strange because I feel like jewellery is a lot more intimate. 
Claire: Exactly, it's on your body all the time.

Your brand is so well respected in New Zealand, there aren't many brands at Meadowlark's level. Is that why you've stayed?
Claire: We're really proud of being New Zealand made and it's important to us to keep our manufacturing here and offer jobs locally.
Greg: The idea of moving into an international market is a little daunting, just managing that growth.
Claire:  Turning ten has made us reflect on the past. We almost feel like we're in exactly the same position as when we began and we don't see that as necessarily a bad thing.

It means you've stayed humble throughout your success.
Claire: Maybe if we had gotten cocky, we'd be the biggest jewellery brand in the world.

The Kanye-effect?
Claire: Ha, imagine being Kanye. 
Greg: We get a high from just producing a great range, it's like "fuck yeah!" That's why we will hopefully be doing what we do for another ten years.


Text Beatrice Hazelhurst
Images courtesy of Meadowlark