"Totem" - twigs of white gold, bound by rose gold sinews, with brilliant-cut natural coloured diamonds at the interstices. Winner of Jewellers Assocation of Australia 2008 Eternity Diamonds Design Award.

Totemic Design

Originally published in Crème de la Crème, January 2009

Nic Boyde

Designer Alison Page Breaks through into Jewellery Design rooted strongly in Aboriginal culture by winning design award.

Michael Neuman had been thinking about a collection of contemporary Aboriginal jewellery for five years before contacting designer Alison Page following a broadcast of The New Inventors, on which Alison is a regular panelist.

Two years later Mondial Neuman and Alison Page have launched the fruits of their collaboration, a collection called Diamond Dreaming, or, in the Eora language, local to the Sydney region, garungarung.

Although a designer for 10 years, Alison had never turned her hand to jewellery design before.  Since graduating from the University of Technology in Sydney in 1997 with a degree in Interior Design, Alison had spent much of her time working on building and public art projects within or for Aboriginal communities.  But the conceptual switch wasn't hard.  She says, "Good training lets you ask the right questions as to how things are made".

How fundamental those questions are and how successful a close collaboration between jeweller and designer can be, is underscored by 'Totem', the design that took first prize in the 2008 Eternity Diamonds Diamond Design Award held by the Jewellers Association of Australia.

'Totem' is made of 'twigs' of white gold in an extended lattice, bound as in the traditional way by rose gold 'sinews', incorporating brilliant cut, natural coloured diamonds at the intersections.  The upper lattice is slightly smaller than the lower two to better enable a fit with the natural contours of the wearer.

Alison was able to draw upon her own story in designing the Diamond Dreaming Range.  Her years of interior and architectural design work up to then had been "Interpreting someone else's story: their totems and their communities".  With Diamond Dreaming: "For the first time, I could ask myself what my story was", and use elements of that story that go back to her ancestral La Perouse, overlooking Botany Bay.

Those elements include totems representing the Whale and the Lyre Bird, both of which are symbolic parts of her heritage.

While the design of 'Totem' is based on clear connections with these elements of Alison's cultural background, she was concerned to make the design abstract enough for people to see their own totemic connections with the work.  Deliberately incorporating the sacred geometry that underlies the world's oldest buildings, the result is neither sea-creature nor bird, yet retains the soul of both.

Other pieces in the Diamond Dreaming range represent aspects of Aboriginal life: to sing, to dream, to fly, to sit around the fire and to love.  Boomerangs of course represent flight, the soaring flight of the spirit.  The Clapsticks, a musical instrument, represent rhythm and song and the shallow curved-oval Coolamon holds dreams, much as an original might hold a child.  The concentric semi-circles around a central fire and family and friends sharing stories while the symbol representing at once a head and an encircling spirit means love. 

Totemic Design as published in PDF form