Debra Fallowfield's contemporary designer jewellery has
adorned the likes of actress Tilda Swinton and rocker Jon Bon
Jovi's wife. Now based back in Otago, she talks to business
reporter Sally Rae.
When jeweller Debra Fallowfield says she can get inspiration
from cracks in the ground, she is not kidding.
In fact, Ms Fallowfield has even managed to create an
earthquake series, featuring subtle cracks in the middle of
The Christchurch earthquakes were to have a major effect on
her, as they caused the loss of her studio-gallery in
Lichfield St, in the heart of the city's red zone.
But she has bounced back and is relishing being back in
Otago, her home province - she grew up on the Taieri. She
creates her contemporary designer jewellery from a Port
Art has always been a passion for Ms Fallowfield, although
she has no formal art qualifications.
Now in her 40s, she recalled being very shy at school and all
she wanted to do was art, despite being questioned why she
was not taking ''serious subjects'' like typing.
She was in the top three for School Certificate art in New
Zealand. After leaving school, she worked for Hughes
Lithographics in Dunedin before heading to Sydney - ''with
200 bucks in my back pocket'' - and continued to work in
After a night-class in jewellery she became hooked on the
When she became pregnant with her now 16-year-old son, she
returned to New Zealand and ended up settling in
Ms Fallowfield had only had her Lichfield St studio for about
18 months when the big earthquake hit on February 22, 2011.
It was at the height of production for her, during ''wedding
ring season'', with about 10 customers due that day to pick
She admitted she was very lucky she had left the studio 30
minutes earlier, to return to home following a call from
animal control about her two dogs who were ''going mental''.
Her car had been parked in a building across the road that
later ''pancaked'' when the earthquake hit.
After dealing with the animal control officer, she had just
walked out the door when ''bang - all hell broke loose'', she
She ran back into town and tried to get to her studio, but
was unable to, so she ''trudged home'' through liquefaction.
Her husband Dean, whom she described as her ''rock'', managed
to talk to some police officers just before the cordon was
established and recovered her finished work and gems.
Following the earthquake, Ms Fallowfield came down to Otago
for a few weeks and found the support ''amazing''.
She then bought a new set of very basic tools - ''like going
back to student days'' - and started working from home.
About a year ago, she started contemplating moving to Dunedin
and, after looking at three properties, fell in love with the
third, a big villa on the top of the hill at Port Chalmers,
and shifted south in December.
Much had changed in the years since she left Otago as a young
woman, she said.
''The Dunedin I left in the mid-80s was quite depressing, to
be honest. There was nothing happening. It's such a creative
''[Port Chalmers] it's not that grotty little town it kind of
was when I grew up. Things are happening down there,'' she
Ms Fallowfield hopes to establish a concept store and retail
outlet at some stage but she was fortunate she was not
reliant on retail space, she said.
She had a ''huge customer base'', as far afield as Sweden,
Finland, the United States and Australia.
She did a lot of custom work, particularly engagement and
wedding rings, and said she enjoyed working with clients from
design through to completion. She also did a lot of restyling
She tended to attract clients who wanted something ''away
from the mainstream'' and something ''with a little bit of
`them' in there as well''.
Known for her honesty and directness, Ms Fallowfield said she
would not take on work unless it fitted with her design
People could visit her at her home studio, which was casual
and ''nice and personal''.
When living in Christchurch, she once had a knock on the door
from Academy Award-winning actress Tilda Swinton.
Swinton, who was filming The Lion, The Witch and the
Wardrobe in New Zealand, was ''just cruising'' through
the Arts Centre market one day, where Ms Fallowfield had a
She visited the stall with the film's director, Andrew
Adamson, ''and some other people I should have known, but I
didn't know who they were''.
Swinton, whose hair was bleached white to play the White
Witch, was lovely and down-to-earth.
She had to go back on set but asked if she could visit.
''She came to my house and sat at my kitchen table and bought
jewellery to take back to Scotland,'' Ms Fallowfield
Her jewellery also adorns the wife of rocker Jon Bon Jovi and
some Australian soap opera stars, while she has made wedding
rings for several All Blacks.
''I haven't got anything on Lorde yet. I have to get
something on Lorde,'' she laughed.
Ms Fallowfield particularly enjoys working with coloured
diamonds, such as cognac diamonds. She loves warm and vibrant
gemstones, and she also loved working with gold, particularly
Her inspiration came from '' anywhere and everywhere'' and,
at the moment, she was getting inspired by a cemetery at Port
Chalmers and Dunedin's architecture and buildings.
She was thrilled to be part of such a creative community and
where there were some ''world class'' jewellers.
She was hoping to collaborate with a Dunedin fashion label
and to do some exhibition work which was ''a little bit more