Menzona Lackey talks to LIN about her love for the ocean and how she became a jeweler with her own label, Azura Jewelers.

“I was homeschooled from Grade 1 to Grade 8 while my parents, my twin brothers, and I sailed around in the Caribbean. “What I remember fondly about this time is doing my schoolwork as fast as I could, so that when we arrived at an island, I had the freedom to dive, collect seashells, and make crafts. With homeschooling comes a lot of freedom. If you self-study, you face your weaknesses and strengths, and your education is up to you.  Sailing gave me exposure to different cultures and countries and made me independent and a free spirit. “It is priceless.” 

“I’ve always had a fascination with jewelry – I used to sit with my great-grandmother and play with her jewelry, which she kept in a box. I would put the rings on and play with the diamonds. “I imagined that each piece of jewelry had a story behind it. Like when you inherit a ring that was passed down from your great-grandmother to your mother, and then to you. There are many untold stories about each person who wore the ring. And stories you will never know, as only the ring ‘knows’ the story.

“It’s like a box that has secrets locked up inside it, and you will never know the truth. That has always fascinated me, not just the making of the jewelry, but the stories behind it. It is fascinating to hear people tell the stories about how or why they received a specific piece of jewelry. “In that way, if you buy vintage jewelry from a shop, I believe that there are omens that accompany the ring. I don’t believe it’s a good idea to buy a second-hand engagement ring, as you don’t know what omens will come with it, like a divorce or a trauma that might pass on to you.

“While we were sailing, I used to make bracelets which I would sell once we anchored off the islands. And I loved making them. I sold them for U$20 each and made a fortune! “I guess it sparked the idea that I could earn money one day by making jewelry, but it was my grandmother who actually suggested that I go and study jewelry design. “At first, I said that I was not creative enough, but she convinced me, so I thought well, let me try it out. I got work and a three-month apprenticeship at a local jeweler. She taught me the basics, like how to make a ring out of copper, how to solder with a flame, how to clean, etc. And that experience gave me the inspiration to want to study it formally. “I sent a portfolio to Cape University of Technology and was accepted to do a diploma in Jewelry Design. “The first term was NOT easy. They ask you to forge an olive spoon out of brass. You start hammering away, and you think to yourself, ‘WHAT did I get myself into!’ I had tears and deadlines and no sleep and wondered how I would get this done as the brass breaks. I said to my mom over the phone, ‘Mom, I cannot do this.’ “And she just said, ‘You wanted to do this, you will finish it.’

“So after many beers and tequilas, I would go back to college at 1 am and say to myself, ‘You can do this!’ “I pushed through the first project, and that’s when I felt ‘I can do this, I can make this!’ I felt so proud that I had made something, my own thing. By the second term, I started easing into it, and from there, it was hard work, but it was fun and I made it work. In the 3rd year, you get to make your own range, which was fantastic. You can decide who you are, and because I was always inspired by the ocean and loved sailing, I chose that as my theme. “I had to make 30 pieces for my 3rd year. I graduated cum laude, and I was the best in my class. “An interesting aspect of jewelry design is that I need to talk to and understand the needs of my client. If a client, for instance, comes in with only a photo of his wife and asks me to design a birthday present pendant for her, I need to ask questions like what is your wife’s hobby or how big are her hands? Does she work with her hands or do an office job? Does she have long or short hair? All this information builds a personality for me and helps me to design a piece for her. Engagement rings, in this regard, are intense. I need to dig deep so that I create something special.

“Sometimes you get requests. Recently I had a client who said she loves the stars and the moon and could I design something for her, with that in mind? Well, you do not just cut out a moon and plonk two stars on it! That would be too kitsch, so you have to dip into a different layer of creative thought and look at symbolism or irony, etc. Although some clients are more literal, and they want something basic and straightforward. “When a client comes in, I first talk to them, find out if they want a pendant, ring, or earrings. “I never start with the budget! I first listen to them, I want them to explain what they want, and then I can work out how to make it for them within their budget. After they decide the metal, I want to know what type of stone they are thinking of. After the stone, then the color of the stone. Say they like blue; I show and explain to them everything about different blue stones. Then I ask them about themselves, what do you like to do, etc., and then we speak about design. Sometimes they already have a design or an idea of a design, and sometimes they are open for me to design something. “At this point, I ask them to find at least three pictures they like; this gives me a starting point. Only then do I ask what they are willing to spend on their piece, and I make suggestions on how I can make that bespoke ring they want. I just love to see the wonder and happiness when I hand over that special piece of jewelry to my client. It’s a wonderful feeling. “I’ve been running Azura Jewelers for three years now, and it’s been great. I do everything myself, from the designing to the making, to the sales. And I think it shows when you put love and effort into something. “Eventually, I would love to do my Masters in Jewelry Design. Maybe one day when I have the time and money, I will go overseas and study at one of the great schools. But for now, I’m enjoying my little shop here in Swakopmund.” ©LIN

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