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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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