Article taken from INFLIGHT magazine January 2018

Katharina Barth’s Cape Town studio is a treasure trove of plants and dainty watercolours, different metals and beautiful pieces of jewellery in all stages of production. The finished ones – buffed to a shiny sheen – are displayed in a glass case, and are a feast for anyone with a penchant for quirky and cool design. Katharina, the owner of Katmeleon Jewellery, makes beautiful rings, pendants and bracelets in a variety of motifs, from cacti and delicious monsters to flamingos. InFlight caught up with her recently to find out more about her and her creative process.

InFlight (IF): Where did your interest in jewellery design begin?

Kat Barth (KB): It began when I was 17 years old. I decided to switch from Art to Jewellery as one of my main subjects at the Constantia Waldorf School. I was immediately in love with the art form and have never regretted choosing that subject.

IF: What else inspires your designs?

KB: I am constantly searching for something different that hasn’t been done before. I draw inspiration from my watercolour drawings and try to bring these to life in a metal form. I also have a great love for miniature versions of day-to- day objects and it is a fun challenge to see if I can manufacture those in a jewellery form.

IF: You have become increasingly known for the cacti, flamingo and delicious monster motifs in your jewellery. Do you derive a lot of inspiration from nature?

KB: The whole Cactus Range started through my mother’s love for gardening.We had a vast range of cacti in our garden and it will always be a good memory. I also grew to love the artist Frida Kahlo, who had a whole theme of bright and bold colours and of course being Mexican, the cactus featured prominently in her life. I think once I started with the Cactus Range, the other ranges just owed from there.

IF: Where did you go to gain experience in the industry?

KB: After finishing my four-year degree in Jewellery Design and Manufacture at CPUT [Cape Peninsula University of Technology], I landed a holiday job at Scarab Jewellery in Claremont. There I was assigned the job of making custom pieces and also did some of the design sketches for customers. It was my first time working with gold and I soon learnt what a fast-paced industry it was.

IF: Katmeleon Jewellery is a clever play on your name, but does the idea of the chameleon itself resonate at all with your work or represent who you are as a designer?

KB: Katmeleon came from my childhood fascination for chameleons. They are so delicate and colourful and I would say that that reflects in my designs. I am planning on making some sort of a chameleon range in the near future. I just nd chameleons captivating and it is such an experience to hold one.

IF: Do you have any ideas of what you will focus on next?

KB: I have been playing around with Perspex and metal. My one idea was a 1960s-inspired design after I had come across the model Twiggy. I have a great passion for the 1960s. I grew up listening to Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. So that might be a new avenue I will explore. My other range, the Fan Range, was inspired by one of my favourite art movements, Art Deco.

IF: Delicious monsters seem to be everywhere at the moment. Do you think you were ahead of the trend? Is being a part of a trend something you want as a designer, when you have to weigh up profitability against creative individuality?

KB: I found it quite funny how I was browsing through Pinterest and decided to come up with a Delicious Monster Range. Next thing I knew they were all over the show. I know many other jewellers have done it before, but I stood in front of my delicious monster plant and observed how the leaf twisted and curved. This then gave my design a sense of flow and movement. I am not sure that being on trend is the best thing as it opens up the opportunity for others to follow and ride that wave. I am now working on something that will be distinctly Katmeleon and not necessarily part of a trend.

IF: What kind of woman do you see wearing Katmeleon jewellery?

KB: My jewellery is aimed at a variety of women. Some of my pieces I would say are safer and understated, whereas others are bolder and brighter. So my aim is to target a range of tastes. I have customers of all age groups and all nationalities. It makes me smile when I hear my pieces are off to Hong Kong, Germany, or even just locally. It must mean that I am reaching a whole spectrum of styles, which is what I am aiming to do. I myself do not stick to a certain style every day, much like a chameleon changes its colours.

IF: Do you have a personal favourite metal to work with and would you consider adding other metals – or even stones – to your range?

KB: I think sterling silver will always be my favourite. It is so shiny and versatile and it is what I was trained to use. I made pieces at CPUT with various stones, but I got bored of that and ended up researching and coming up with my Pencil Range. I used normal colouring in pencils, cut them up and inlayed them into silver, thus creating colour by not using stones. My aim as a designer is to explore materials never used before and turn them into wearable pieces of art.

IF: Do you currently make all of your pieces by hand?

KB: I do make most of my pieces by hand.The only range that is about 50% cast is the Delicious Monster Range. I have a great passion for using my hands to create. It does take a lot longer, but my customers can see the difference and can appreciate the artisan skills that I have to offer. I would not be able to just sell jewellery. I like being the one standing there feeling proud that that piece someone just bought I designed and made with my own two hands.

IF: Do you take custom commissions?

KB: In the two years that I have been running Katmeleon Jewellery, I have made quite a few commissioned pieces – from a lotus ower in sterling silver to a gorgeous copper cuff for a bride. I really enjoy bringing a customer’s imagination to life. It is a great challenge and allows me to explore my creative boundaries.

IF: Do you have a favourite piece of jewellery that you have made and would hate to part with?

KB: I think I will always have a soft spot for my 4th year’s work, which was the original Pencil Range. It holds so many memories and it got me a Cum Laude and top student award. I will always be proud of that.

IF: Creating your own jewellery business is not just about having the artistic freedom to follow your creative vision, you also have to be an entrepreneur. What business lessons have you learnt along the way?

KB: I started out with just my Pencil Range but I soon learnt that although I was passionate about it, customers didn’t quite catch onto the idea. So I have learnt that you cannot always make what you like – to some degree you need to find and a balance and please your customers. I also found that doing lots of markets helped me realise which designs people preferred.

My jewellery is aimed at a variety of women.

Katharina Barth - designer