Wander through the gothic halls of Melbourne’s iconic Manchester Unity Building to visit Camilla Gough, a master jeweller who turns stories into tiny, exquisite works of art.
For more than 25 years, Camilla has created uniquely personal, 100 per cent handcrafted jewellery for customers seeking a memento of love or loss, or simply a beautiful piece to treasure.
With formal training in fine art and sculpture, Camilla moved into ethical jewellery-making almost by chance, painstakingly teaching herself the skills of the trade.
‘I’m so lucky to do what I do. I approach each piece like an artist and – while I make a huge variety of work – I have a very strong style. It’s not wacky, but it’s unusual,’ Camilla said.
‘I only make something once, so it’s got to suit, fit and be comfortable for that person to wear all the time. Most of my pieces are rings, and anything worn on the hand must be wearable as well as elegant.’
Camilla works with gold, diamonds and precious gems, with a particular focus on rare and coloured diamonds.
Her commissions evoke landscapes, flowers, architecture, ocean shorelines and even rockpools, designed in response to customer stories. It’s meticulous work and full of detail.
‘I love hearing people’s stories, which are sometimes deeply personal. After these conversations, I write and draw to develop a design,’ Camilla said.
‘I love the Australian environment passionately (I’m a big hiker), so I work a lot with landscapes – like the view from the house where someone grew up. Or an echo of another country where someone comes from.
‘To come and get a piece of jewellery commissioned takes a sense of courage. Sitting opposite a craftsperson having to express yourself isn’t for everyone. But there’s a magical vibe around it.’
Before 2020, Camilla was mostly making wedding jewellery, but COVID-19 saw this work disappear overnight. Fortunately – after a nerve-wracking time – Camilla’s business bounced back strongly.
Many of her customers remained employed during the pandemic and – after saving money on overseas trips – sought out special gifts for loved ones.
‘Women and men were coming to me wanting to give their partner a piece of jewellery to thank them for everything they were doing, like home-schooling and working from home. Just out of love,’ Camilla said.
‘It took a while, but eventually my market really opened up. It feels almost immoral to say it while so many businesses are struggling, but I’ve now got more work than I’ve ever had. It’s extraordinary.
‘As an artist you’re always fearful that you won’t have enough work but, for the first time in a while, I feel genuinely buoyant.’
Never caring to imitate the commercial market, Camilla’s work has always stood out, which helped her carve out a niche for herself even as other high-end jewellery stores cropped up across Melbourne.
As technology began to transform the retail sector, Camilla embraced social media to remain visible. Hard work, determination, fluidity and routine have been key to her success.
Looking to the future, Camilla hopes that Melbourne’s creative sector will recover and evolve with support from all levels of government.
‘I have so many friends who are artists, and my husband is a musician, and it breaks my heart to see them suffering. The cultural impact the arts has on Melbourne is profound, so it has to be valued,’ Camilla said.
‘We need to rethink how to run festivals safely and find ways to support artists to stay in Melbourne, like creating studios in vacant office buildings.
‘Otherwise, artists won’t be able to afford to keep creating here and Melbourne will lose that unique visual landscape of people that makes it such an interesting place to be.’
The City of Melbourne has recognised Camilla in this year’s Lord Mayor’s Commendations, a program that celebrates the vast contributions small businesses make to our city.
‘I love working in this city, so I am very proud to receive a commendation.’
‘My studio is above Swanston Street – I’m seven floors up with tall windows overlooking Melbourne Town Hall.
‘The sunlight in the studio is beautiful in the morning, it’s very romantic and the perfect setting to create jewellery to celebrate love. Customers are always “wowed” by the space. I’m very lucky.’
For more information, visit Lord Mayor’s Commendations.