Dreaming of the stars

Little Constellation jewellery designer Maria Brett works on a pair of handcrafted earrings in...
Little Constellation jewellery designer Maria Brett works on a pair of handcrafted earrings in her home studio.PHOTOS: POPPY JENSEN
Brittany Pooley speaks to Dunedin jewellery designer Maria Brett about motherhood and being an entrepreneur in Dunedin.

Dreaming of jewellery designs as she nursed her new baby, Maria Brett soon made those dreams a reality.

The Dunedin mother of two recently ventured into small business start-up with her emerging label, Little Constellation.

"Little Constellation is a solo project and creative outlet whenever I get a pinch of time,'' Brett says.

"After my son was born in 2017, I found myself alone with my thoughts through long wakeful nights and I kept being visited by these cool jewellery designs.

Vision and daydream rings.
Vision and daydream rings.
"Those early baby times can be exhausting but boring, so dreaming up these creations gave me some much-needed mental stimulation''.

Out of that came Little Constellation - a handcrafted jewellery start-up named from the song Italian Plastic, by Crowded House, and is a partial reference to the southern cross.

"I wanted something that hinted at New Zealand. I'm such a proud Kiwi and love supporting local.''

Brett's rings, earrings and studs are all hand-made in small batches in a studio in her Dunedin home.

"I hand-sculpt my pieces from modelling clay and create my own silicone moulds. I usually tweak designs quite a bit, so it's a time-consuming effort before I can get to the point where I can pour the resin. Then it's a few days of curing, then sanding and polishing.

"Depending on the pieces, they'll take two to three weeks to complete, providing my toddler naps!''.

Due to this process, each piece comes with a slight variation in shape and colour.

As well as designing and handcrafting all her pieces, Brett manages all the marketing for her brand. But despite being a one-woman show, Brett attributes the success of the launch of her new label to her family.

Jewellery designer Maria Brett wearing her figment earings.
Jewellery designer Maria Brett wearing her figment earings.
"My husband is a software developer. He's kind and supportive and he's the real reason I've been able to follow this endeavour. I have a beautiful stepdaughter, Stella, aged 10, who I've helped to raise for nine years, and a gorgeous bouncing boy, Ferdinand, aged 2.

"Without them, I'd get nothing done!''

Despite a busy schedule, Brett has found a balance between being a mum and designer, fitting her work around her family life.

"I squeeze work in where I can. There's always bits of jewellery scattered on the kitchen bench.

"I used to depend entirely on Ferdinand's naps to get Little Constellation work done. Now that he's older and often skips his nap, I've enrolled him in daycare a couple of mornings a week.''

Brett's love of jewellery started at the local art and design schools.

She received a bachelor of fine arts degree from the Dunedin School of Art in 2012, followed by a graduate diploma in fashion from Otago Polytechnic, a course known for its close-knit, boutique learning environment.

Moonlight Liquid Drops.
Moonlight Liquid Drops.
"I first dabbled during art school and loved it, especially working with resin, but I didn't make it my main focus because I didn't think it was a sensible or lucrative pathway.

"I wish I had followed my heart back then, but there's no time like the present. Having nothing to do but change nappies and breastfeed for months on end allowed me to realise what I want to do with my life.''.

Brett attributes her work-life balance to setting her own pace.

She has gained a steady following of admirers and customers on Instagram.

The majority of Brett's sales are processed online and she credits her in-store sales to the influence on social media.

"I've made almost entirely all of my sales online, and even ones in-store seem to be influenced by social media posts. I've been approached by retailers, top magazines and agencies all because of Instagram''.

Brett's Instagram posts give a snapshot of her summer-inspired pieces backed by Dunedin's picturesque beaches.

"Dunedin has some amazing beaches; Warrington and Doctor's Point are my favourites ...I dream about swimming in crystal clear water. Liquid Drops are a realisation of those dreams''.

Brett's primary focus is with resin, a material traditionally used to preserve perishable items.

"I like to celebrate the resin itself, the way it can bend and manipulate light like water does, the way it reflects and glistens, or the relationship between the resin and the embedded object.

"It looks just like glass but it's so much lighter, which is great for big earrings''.

Brett's latest collection, Mirage, features gold-plated and silver chain embedded in resin.

Liquid Drops in Crystal.
Liquid Drops in Crystal.
"I wanted to emphasise the relationship between the chain and the resin, how the chain can be manipulated into certain shapes through being embedded in clear resin. I've also used a type of chain which is normally far too fragile and delicate to be worn, but suspended in resin it's reinforced and wearable.''

Born in Tauranga, Brett moved to Dunedin at age 12.

Having lived in the North and South Islands, she has a deep love of all things New Zealand. This is reflected across her label through her values, aesthetics and branding.

Brett designs her pieces for longevity and envisions her pieces to be kept as someone's treasure.

"I think it's important to value your possessions, to cherish them for as long as possible. I wanted to create something new and exciting while aiming to avoid being a throwaway trend.

"It's slow fashion at it's finest, each pair can take up to three weeks to finish. Little Constellation pieces are my little artworks''.

Brett continues to dream up new ideas to expand the possibilities of the brand.

"My head is bursting! I just let my mind wander and it's constantly bubbling up with ideas, it's hard to keep up! Which is something every artist needs, so I'm grateful for that.''

Little Constellation

  • You can follow her journey on Instagram  @littleconstellation—nz

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