Luxurious yet understated, Australian jewellery brand Sarah & Sebastian have cemented themselves as a name for innovative design both at home and abroad. Offering an assortment of simplified and statement pieces, each is handcrafted in their Sydney studio with unfailing attention to detail.
Sarah Gittoes and Robert Sebastian Grynkofki were brought together through their shared appreciation for innovative design and a drive to explore how far jewellery could be stripped back to its essential elements, while still maintaining a unique form.
The two met studying abroad, Sarah having completed a Bachelor of Design at UNSW, and Robert studying jewellery design in Germany before later moving into industrial design.
“I loved making jewellery but I really didn’t like my designs and I wanted to learn what actually defines a good form,” says Robert.
“When I moved to Australia I worked for a design consultancy and as Sarah had started on jewellery projects and had such a great sense of design, we began making some jewellery at home just for fun. We made a lot of pieces for friends and colleagues and that’s how the whole thing really started, around that circle.”
“I actually majored in jewellery and furniture design. I just love design and making things with my hands, that’s the biggest thing,” adds Sarah.
After introducing a selection of signature Sarah & Sebastian pieces to our stores last year, we recently spoke to the two founders about the inspiration behind their collections and how the brand’s sense of design has grown and developed over time.
Who have been some of your influences when designing pieces?
S: There are so many fine artists that have inspired our collections including Sol Lewitt, whose Cubist works inspired our Sol collection, Olafur Eliasson’s colourful geometric work inspired our Prism Collection and conceptual based sculptor Fred Sandback, whose yarn drawings and sculptures inform our general minimalist aesthetic.
We’ve heard you source a lot of inspiration for jewellery design on your deep diving trips. Can you tell us about this?
S: I’m finding more and more that this has become a huge part of influencing an initial concept. I started scuba diving in 2016 and it’s become something I do every week now. My passion for it and learning so much about the ocean, it’s this whole realm of inspiration that is just too difficult to ignore.
A lot of where we have started for the last three collections and even the one we’re designing now has had its seed of inspiration stem from the ocean. I’d wondered if it was getting a bit repetitive but there is always something new. I actually took Robert diving for the first time last weekend.
How was that?
R: It was amazing going along with Sarah and her partner and checking out their favourite spots.
S: He always has to listen to me talking about diving and because we work so closely together and I’m constantly showing him photos and telling him stories. It came to the point where I said, “You’re just going to have to come with me and experience this now!”
R: In addition to Sarah’s diving, living in Sydney and always being so close to the beach has always been something that’s influenced us. The first time we wanted to have a maritime-based collection was about five years ago, but it was just terrible. We couldn’t figure out how to interpret it in a way that wasn’t too literal. But because it was something we always felt quite attached to, we kept experimenting with it. We’ve since found a way of just taking elements and textures and looking at what the ocean does to objects that are thrown in it, and exploring that deterioration and impact of the forces - it’s an endless source of inspiration.
S: I feel like a lot of the problems happening with the ocean right now can be so out of sight, out of mind and people don’t really understand the impact that we’re having on our oceans. If we can design a piece that can start the dialogue and have people start to think about the ocean, for me that’s a huge accomplishment in what we’re doing creatively to make people aware and consider the impact on the environment.
R: At some point, this also led us to say we cannot use plastic anymore when we ship items as it’s just unacceptable. We really took the time to review what materials we use and our environmental impact because it’s easy to use a plastic satchel and think it’s totally fine but then so much of it just ends up in the ocean.
Where do you source your jewellery materials?
R: Being a conscious and sustainable company is really important for us. We only source high-quality metals from trusted local suppliers which are responsibly recycled. Our semi-precious stones and diamonds are also conflict-free and sourced globally from certified suppliers who support United Nations Resolutions.
What do you typically look for in the artisans that create Sarah & Sebastian jewellery?
S: Eye for detail is probably the biggest thing. It’s not necessarily about the skills when they come in because everyone has such a wide variety. We always have a bench trial for artisans and at the end of the day even if they haven’t managed to achieve what we have set for them, if they can say “I’ve actually melted this” or “I can see that this has happened”, I’m like great, you’re in. People who can’t see the detail can’t do it because we’re so detailed orientated.
R: Most of our jewellers say they actually have to forget what they’ve learned and begin learning again because it’s such a different approach to making jewellery. We have a training program in house and it takes at least half a year for a fully qualified jeweller to become someone that can make our jewellery end-to-end. We have a really good test program now where we can tell fairly quickly if someone has what it takes to work with us, and we’ve been lucky to have really fantastic people applying for roles here, which definitely helps.
Can you give us a snapshot of your creative process from start to end?
S: To be honest, we’re always working on one thing and thinking about the next. Together, we’re at our most collaborative at the start of each collection working on the initial concepts for each story, and the materiality and technical processes involved. Then, as the collection becomes more resolved, Robert works more on the production side and I turn to the branding and marketing.
Since its inception, the brand has grown from a strong, pared-back aesthetic to include pieces featuring coloured jewels and bold, unique shapes. How has your personal taste and journey of design influenced this?
R: I think it’s always the balance between both of us. Sarah has always had an incredibly creative output and I’m quite technical and minimalist. I think the trend with all the colours we’ve put in store has been something that Sarah was always really passionate about and that I’m slowly coming around to.
S: For me, I think we’ve come to this point where we’ve grown so much since we began. With the coloured story, we’ve learned so much in the last four years and so we’ve just really been exploring everywhere we can go. Especially with our jewellers in-house, they’ve all got their own skills. Before, we were limited to not use coloured stones and all these explorative design features because we just didn’t know how, but now we’ve learned so much, and now we’re actually in the process of reigning it back again.
R: I think it’s an ongoing journey because when we started we were always questioning what jewellery actually is. And for us, it doesn’t have to be big, it doesn’t have to be loud and have all of those extra details. How much can you actually take away without making it boring? That’s why with the Line Earrings, it was a minimal story that naturally evolved and was about questioning how fine can we actually be? How much do we need for it be aesthetically pleasing?
S: We’ve really looked at how our brand language has changed. We always keep that core which is so important to us. Every time we design something, we’ll have the really clean lines but then at the same time, it’s really fun when you’re going through the design process to go a little bit crazy and really develop a concept and work something technically.
There’s also two customers and two ways of wearing jewellery. It could be that you want something a bit more statement or complex for a different occasion but then you’ve got your everyday pieces, so it’s finding that balance of pushing the fold in every direction aesthetically, technically and conceptually.
What are some of your favourite pieces and why?
R: For me, the Line Earrings because this was one of the first pieces that we made and is still such a strong piece. It’s so timeless and really speaks to the essence of what we wanted to do as a brand. Also, the Chamfer rings that I wear every day, which are part of our very small men’s collection.
I find it really hard designing jewellery for men because I don’t want it to be too loud and it’s easy to be immediately categorised. For example, “Oh yeah, he’s a skater, he’s a biker…” You immediately get a stamp and I didn’t want that. I wanted something that’s kind of there, but not there, similar to the Line Earrings. With the split, you don’t really notice them at first, they sort of blend in and so it’s about incorporating your body more than a regular ring does.
S: I actually taught my boyfriend how to make jewellery and he made this for me, it’s a take on our Liberty Ring but a little thicker and we both wear one on our pinkies. That’s my favourite and I haven’t taken it off in three years. If it were a collection piece, it would have to be the Lucid Diamond Choker as this was the first time we’d introduced something quite complex. 65 pearls and 110 diamonds, it was super detailed and intricate and just reminded me of all the coral in the Great Barrier Reef.
The shark tooth might make its way into the next collection. My partner Russ found it while we were diving.
Did you make this one?
S: Yes, I had it cast and had one made for Russ too.
What do you hope those who wear Sarah & Sebastian feel and experience when wearing their pieces, be it daily or on special occasions?
S: I always want women and men to feel special. I know that for me when I wear a piece I appreciate how personal it is and the connection that I have with that piece.
R: My favourite thing that Sarah always said, especially in the days when we made everything ourselves, is that she will never make a piece if she’s in a bad mood because she doesn’t want to create something with bad energy. The purpose of jewellery is always something really intimate and sentimental, it isn’t made to have a practical use. So for us, it’s very important that it has a really good starting point. This is why we make everything in our studio, we use recycled materials and try to stay local with our selections.
How do you like to spend your free time?
S: Taking my weekly diving trips. There are so many amazing places around Sydney so it’s really easy. I also love photography, so marrying these two loves was inevitable and underwater photography is now a big passion for me.
R: My passion lies in cars and motorbikes and the escapism that comes with them. Long drives or spending hours tinkering with an engine feels so distant to jewellery and helps to clear my mind.
Where are some of your favourite travel destinations?
S: Recently I’ve found my favourite travel destinations are around Australia; my partner and I have been enjoying discovering beautiful and exotic places without having to jump on a long-haul flight. Internationally though, it is hard to beat Japan as a holiday destination, the food, culture and landscape are all incredible and I’ll be visiting again in May.
R: I’m originally from Germany so being able to travel around Australia is amazing but going back home to see my family is always really special, especially as it doesn’t happen all that often. I’ve lived in Australia for 10 years now, so I see everything afresh when I go back to my homeland and appreciate it so much more.
Photography and video by Karina Illovska.
Shop a selection of signature Sarah & Sebastian pieces in stores including the Petite Letter Necklace and Drop Ring, pictured.