Meet Pippa Small, the Notting Hill based anthropologist jeweller who discovered her love for jewels and precious metals while doing fieldwork in Borneo. For her, jewellery should be empowering for all, not an exploitative First World luxury
Adorned in jewels, precious metals and with uncountable necklaces hanging from her neck, Pippa Small is a woman who knows it’s a small world out there – having travelled from a young age, she knows just how simple it can be to bring people together despite geography.
An anthropologist jeweller who started her career doing medical-anthropology fieldwork for her Masters thesis in Borneo, now back in Notting Hill for the most part, there is something striking about Small with her untamed hair, exotic jewellery and passion for adventure.
Since launching the jewellery brand some 20 years ago, Small has worked with collaborators and the Turquoise Mountain Foundation in Bolivia, Kabul and Myanmar, while in the same breath working with Tom Ford at Gucci and supplying pieces for the Duchess of Cambridge.
As Small told The Telegraph in a recent interview: ‘I had this epiphany: that these threads of reality we live with are all just as valid,’ she says. ‘They’re just very different.’
A lot of her early childhood was spent collecting pebbles on mountain walks and exploring the outdoors in Northern Quebec where Small was born.
She got involved with local grassroots NGOs in Borneo that were working on land rights, grass rights and indigenous knowledge – things like medicinal plants and how to protect the knowledge.
Through this, jewellery was always a constant for her. ‘Anything I found that had a meaning to it I would gather and string up – buttons, key rings, and shells,’ she says.
‘It might be a stone found on a particular beach on a happy family day that would hold symbols for me and that was the start of my love of jewellery. It’s the stories within and the meanings that you put to them that is very special.’
So how did Small come to be in Notting Hill in the midst of all this travelling? ‘It was quite by chance that I ended up in Notting Hill as I started in a mews just off Westbourne Grove that my friends were moving out of. It was a good way of testing the waters with the idea of a grown up shop and it all just seemed to make sense,’ she says.
‘It felt fateful and it also felt like the right area because it has an authentic community feel as well as a great mix of temporary and permanent people and spaces. It’s a very dynamic area.’
Although jewellery is often seen as a luxury, Small points out to me that it is universal and dates back over 20,000 years. She has a wonderful way of telling stories of her pieces and tells me how she believes the prime reason for jewellery is primal and instinctive and based upon an emotional connection. It is this that sets her apart.
‘I am fascinated by stones, their individual personalities and the magical stories they behold,’ she says. ‘Enchanted by these portable works of art and the tales they had to tell, I strived to find a way to allow them to speak. I love making jewellery and believe that if held close to the body, objects have the power to comfort, protect and delight.’
I am fascinated by stones, their individual personalities and the magical stories they behold. I’m enchanted by these portable works of art and the tales they had to tell
Small continues explaining that although jewellery is often a thing of the elite and has been about status, as well as having been quite environmentally exploitative and savage, today fair-trade has helped make a huge advancement.
‘I want to make it empowering as opposed to exploiting. It’s so good to see people take pride in what they do and for it to make them happy, and sometimes I think that’s the bottom line of it – if it makes commercial success too, then great,’ she explains.
‘If it leaves Islam and ends up on Bond Street then that’s a world they don’t know and a world the person buying it can’t imagine, but that object has created the chance for some kind of a relationship in a weird way and I love that. It’s important to me that the creators of the jewellery are present within it.’
So what’s next for Small? ‘With Turquoise Mountain,’ she says, ‘we are starting to work with Syrian refugees in Jordan soon, which I’m really excited about.’ Something tells me this will be a collection to speak volumes.
201 Westbourne Grove W11 2SB; 020 7792 1292; pippasmall.com