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Bringing joy Jewellery designer Jade Muirhead and one of her creations, the Facet Forest ring

Darkblack’s irreverent edge

Jade Muirhead creates jewellery under her eponymous label and as Darkblack, both of which have a characterful, irreverent and glamorous feeling to it. Jack Yan talks to the designer and learns about the personality driving the designs
photographed by the author; jewellery photographs from Darkblack and Quadrant Gallery

While Lucire has always been very supportive of New Zealand’s most Scottish city, Dunedin, and its designers, nothing can substitute a personal visit to discover, on home turf, the designers and what drives them.

Darkblack, founded by Jade Muirhead, is one of those designers whose work is characterized by its authenticity. Muirhead’s approach is to use high-quality materials and to ensure a genuinely personal touch: a Darkblack piece is an item hand-made with love, where the wearer knows she is not getting something mass-produced or outsourced. Muirhead’s art, design and metalsmith skills have all contributed directly to it.

The Darkblack designs have a sense of personality: her silver tile brooches, earrings and rings have heart, X and O shapes, for instance, and are particularly expressive. Her Heart on the Hand ring, with chunky sterling silver, has a similarly expressive style. You can’t help but smile at the work.

She also releases jewellery under her own name, and there is even greater irreverence here: the Up Shit Creek with Paddles necklace duo, is a favourite of ours, showing Muirhead has a slightly subversive sense of humour.

The two brands each have a different approach, and both have earned themselves a fan base nationally.

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Above left The Up Shit Creek with Paddles duo. Above right Jade Muirhead Symbol ring. Both available from Quadrant Gallery.

She describes Darkblack more as ‘glamorous with an edge, glamorously grunge [while being] easily wearable and comfortable.’ Looking at the items, she has kept well within her brief.
Her eponymous brand has also been responsible for one-off pieces such as engagement rings.
The irreverence behind pieces such as the Up Shit Creek with Paddles duo can be traced back to the designer herself. She shares a workspace, dubbed the Shed, which had been created by the late Blair Smith and David Mcleod (Mcleod owns Quadrant Gallery, where both Jade Muirhead and Darkblack jewellery can be found), from where she has worked for two years. The Shed, walking distance from Quadrant Gallery, has small working areas for Mcleod and Muirhead. It has every sign of constant use—tools are left out by each of the designers, ready to be immediately used on a future item. ‘We have been tidying up,’ she says in a quiet fashion. ‘You can now walk through here.’

It’s a subtlety to her humour, in person, that is found in the jewellery. Muirhead is not given to showing off. She is very witty, and even has a well hidden talent with accents.

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Above Working in the Shed.

She is also principled. Muirhead appears to be a designer who knows just why people buy her creations: her personal touch. She had earlier attended a seminar on China, and there was a sense from the presenters to encourage her to manufacture abroad. The idea is that she could design, a Chinese artisan could re-create the work for a fraction of the cost, and she could reap the profit. But, as Muirhead explains, ‘I could not outsource my production because of my conscience. People talk to others,’ she explains, and that she had a duty to honour what her brands were all about. If it has Darkblack or Jade Muirhead on the label, then buyers expect her hand in the work.

As we continued our interview at a local café, a colleague who had just parked her car spotted her. The colleague did not have change for the parking meter—and Muirhead, without a thought, gave it to her. Perhaps on the one hand it’s the friendliness of Dunedinites. On the other hand, this generosity distinguishes just what sort of a person she is.

Her journey began at high school. There, ‘you learn photography and painting. I went to art school to be a painter. I didn’t like the way they taught painting. I enjoyed jewellery—the first year was multidisciplinary—and in the second year, I specialized. I chose jewellery and ceramics by my third year.’

She had been through the Pace Artist Development Agency, which gave her the skills to run her own business, and was a resident at the Dunedin Fashion Incubator, which she described as being a helpful mentoring period for her.

Darkblack itself was set up in mid-2010.

While Muirhead says she loves hearing historical stories from family members, including those dating back to World War II, they do not serve as inspiration for her jewellery. What does inspire her are textures and serendipity during the production process. ‘Through melting too much, you can come up with a new texture, or you could leave a hammer mark on jewellery.’

She also notes that gold and silver are not too hard to get, but diamonds present a problem. Her non-conflict diamonds require certifications and that one ‘overnight’ order took two weeks to arrive due to Customs requiring duty to be paid. This was duly organized, with New Zealand Post faxing the documentation to Customs—on the day that Customs’ fax machine was out of order.

Despite the occasional bureaucratic hurdle, collections from both Darkblack and Jade Muirhead retain a sense of joy, which is evidently finding favour with an ever-growing base. In addition to Quadrant Gallery, Salisbury Boutique on Bond Street stocks Darkblack, as do Carlson (Auckland and Dunedin), Moko Artspace (Coromandel), Struth (Martinborough) and online at Discover Me. (Check out for the latest, as well as a full list of stockists.)

We can’t wait to see what else Muirhead comes up with, and it’s not hard to imagine her designs finding even more supporters beyond New Zealand shores. •




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Jack Yan is publisher of Lucire.