Meet The Ouze, founded by Toby Vernon, a self-taught jewellery maker handcrafting molten looking jewels made from lab-generated gemstones.
Since graduating from Westminster with a BA in Fashion design, Toby decided to pursue a different direction, teaching himself the craft of jewellery making. This allowed him to experiment using traditional practices in a non-conventional way, which helped form his own unique style.
The development of his individual style was inspired by the eroding pieces of silver Toby found when visiting vintage jewellery markets in Brighton. These weathered-down pieces he stumbled across reveal the true history of the material, presenting its own special mystique. This encouraged Toby to embrace the imperfections designed in his own work, exhibiting the trace of human touch that enables the wearer to feel more connected to the item - with no two pieces crafted the same.
Solly Warner caught up with Toby to discuss his earliest memories creating jewellery, how he discovered the process of lab-created gemstones, and why promoting sustainability is important to him.
How long have you been making things and how has your creative journey developed?
I have just graduated from the fashion design course at Westminster University where I spent the last four years designing and making clothing and accessories. Before I graduated I made my ‘final collection’ during the lockdown, this was the most serious and intense period of making I have ever done. But before university, I had been making things for years, throughout my education I was always drawn to practical, hands-on and creative subjects. Originally I wanted to study graphic design, but during my art foundation at MET in Brighton, I found the fashion pathway incredibly inspiring and fulfilling.
When did you land on creating jewellery and what made you want to pursue this specific avenue?
There are so many great markets and shops selling vintage jewellery in and around Brighton where I Grew up. I have always loved the weathered and worn pieces of silver that revealed their history and had their own unique patina. I had no idea where to begin with regards to making my own jewellery however in the back of my mind it was always something I wanted to pursue. When I commissioned a jeweller to make a ring of my own design I asked about the process involved and then I ordered all the equipment necessary to try making one myself. The first Lockdown was when I first started to experiment and ever since the brand has developed and grown into what it is today. Not being from a traditional jewellery background has allowed me to experiment with the process and work it out as I go which has been beneficial in developing an individual and distinctive style.
Can you remember the first piece of jewellery you ever made? Did it look anything like what you make now? Do you still have it?
The first three rings I made and cast are on instagram. Two of them were presents and the other one I sold on depop which I did not expect. Looking back- it definitely gave me the confidence that other people might like what I was making. I still sell one of the styles from the original cast, the finish on those first three rings wasn't as great as the jewelry I make now, however they had the same hand crafted aesthetic.
There’s something very elemental about your jewellery. It reminds me of Mercury or Osmium because of its particularly shiny yet textured surface. Can you explain your creation process and how you achieve this molten look?
I don't have a specific mold or even set process that I use to create my pieces, everything is hand carved and made individually which means no two pieces will ever be exactly the same. Using raw gemstones which also have their own uniqueness in their form and texture helps to shape the look of the finished piece.
You also use lab created gemstones in your jewellery. When did you discover this process and why do you choose to use it?
Lab created gems are an incredible alternative to naturally mined stones. They have less impact on the environment and often are stronger and more vibrant in colour which in turn makes them more beautiful to use in a piece of jewelry.
As someone who makes unique, handcrafted products, how do you know when a piece is finished? Is it sometimes a struggle to leave things alone?
After having struggled with this initially I now can sense when something is finished, however occasionally I will still slip up and create things that lose their character through overworking.
Each of your jewellery descriptions carefully outline what materials are used. Why do you think it’s important that more brands are transparent about how their products are made?
Consumers are much more aware of the impact their purchases may have on the environment and as a consumer myself I know that being made aware of the story behind my purchases helps to ensure that I am making ethical and environmentally conscious decisions. I think offering information such as who has made something and where it has been made as well as, where the materials are from is the kind of transparency that brings the artisan and the wearer together. It begs the question if brands are not being open about their materials or workers what are they hiding?
You have a product on Aspect Online that is made to order. Why is reducing waste and promoting sustainability important to you?
Having studied fashion and worked within the industry during the last couple of years I saw first-hand the vast amounts of waste created during production. There is a lot of work to be done within the fashion industry. However, sustainability is becoming expected of brands now, and that is very powerful. All artisans, makers and brands need to rise to that challenge and pursue a more environmentally conscious practice.
Are there any new materials or techniques that you’re excited to bring into your jewellery in the near future?
There are so many new materials I want to experiment with and I hope to develop my own techniques to help create truly unique and contemporary pieces. Whether they are worn, or as objects, I am so excited for the future of the brand. This is only the beginning.
Why should people support smaller, independent brands?
Independent brands offer variety, they are often run by individual people and the product you buy is a reflection of that individual. By buying their product you are affecting someone's life directly, respecting them and appreciating the risks involved with starting out doing your own thing. When you buy from an independent brand you are purchasing much more than just a product, you are entering a close-knit community of people and you are receiving something made with love, time, care and precision.
WORDS BY SOLLY WARNER