A sustainable jewellery business that sparkles
Published on 14 July 2023
Tara Mansell graduated from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design (DJCAD) in 2020 with a degree in Jewellery & Metal Design amidst the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
We caught up with Tara on a wet and damp morning in Scotland from her sunny conservatory in Gozo, Malta, where she lives and runs her contemporary jewellery design business Tara Lois Jewellery.
Since launching her business in 2020, Tara has enjoyed enormous success; featured in Vogue and Vanity Fair magazines, winning two first prizes in the Maltese Smart and Sustainable Business Awards and recognised as Malta’s Emerging Maker.
Tara’s foray in the world of jewellery began long before she arrived in Dundee. Originally from the UK, Tara moved to France when she was four years old, and at the age of 14 she had the opportunity to undertake work experience with an artisan jeweller in Toulouse.
Following her A levels, Tara embarked on a pre-apprenticeship course at The Goldsmiths’ Centre in London. Taught by leading experts, she gained City & Guilds qualifications in Jewellery Manufacturing. Tara also won a Goldsmiths’ Craft & Design Council Award and an Excellence in Craftmanship Award.
Despite this early success, Tara still had a thirst for learning and applied to DJCAD. Her dissertation focused on whether you can put emotions into jewellery, which she finds important in storytelling when designing.
After graduating, Tara returned to Malta where her family are based and began to think of her next steps. With help from her mother, who had previously set up a business, and her brother who was a University of Dundee Computing graduate, she kickstarted her own jewellery start-up.
“My favourite thing is learning about people, hearing their stories and designing pieces based on that. I am also very inspired by where I live in Malta and want to use bold colours with a Maltese influence. It is amazing to be able to represent it in this way.”
The first piece of bespoke jewellery Tara created was for a woman of Sri Lankan heritage who had been excommunicated from her family after eloping with the man she loved. As a result, she didn’t get to wear her traditional family Hindu wedding jewellery. “For their wedding anniversary I designed a swirl brooch which took the shape of garlands in 3D using filigree, taking the original colours and putting them in an enamelled circle in the centre. She absolutely loved it!”
Following this, Tara made several connections through Instagram and her website and attended various fairs. She then began receiving commissions from all over the world including New York, Hawaii and Australia.
This ring uses a celebrity client's great-grandmother's diamonds, which had already been reset by her mother, and an antique amethyst pendant.
Sustainability and the University of Dundee
- The University is working to respond to UN Sustainable Development Goals, through our learning and teaching, our impactful research and our engagement and enterprise.
- DJCAD has an ethical making pledge with the Scottish Goldsmiths Trust, continually improving working practices to become more sustainable.
- Our ethical student ambassadors promote sustainable ways of working amongst students.
- DJCAD students recycle and reuse precious metals such as copper and silver and are working to transform precious metals recovered from electronic waste into art.
As well as creating stunning bespoke designs and incorporating people’s stories and emotions into jewellery, sustainability is also an important part of her craftsmanship, a practice which was reinforced during her studies at DJCAD.
“While at DJCAD, I learned about sustainability, as well as talking to other people about how they promote sustainability in their workshops and businesses. That is when I started getting interested in ensuring sustainability is at the heart of what I do and try to continue to make my work as sustainable as possible.”
A growing area of her work is recycling her clients’ own jewellery, which keeps the sentimental value while creating new jewellery that they want to wear. A fantastic example of this is a diamond, amethyst and gold filigree ring which is being entered into Malta’s People’s Choice Award.
“This ring uses a celebrity client's great-grandmother's diamonds, which had already been reset by her mother, and an antique amethyst pendant. She asked me to keep the original diamond ring intact because of the strong memories she has of her mother wearing it. Otherwise, she gave me carte blanche. Since she has lived in Malta such a long time, I designed a broad ring shank in a Maltese filigree style, which I hand made from her gold after melting it down. She has allowed me to keep the ring until the People's Choice Awards exhibition is over, and then I'm sure she will be seen at her public appearances wearing it.”
Establishing a successful jewellery business from scratch and working with intricate materials and gemstones to create stunning jewellery, you would be forgiven for thinking Tara has incredible fine motor skills.
“I have dyspraxia. The doctors who diagnosed me when I was young said my fine motor skills were non-existent. My hand-eye coordination is terrible! If you put me in any sort of ball and racquet sport, I will get hit in the face more times than you can count!”
This clearly hasn’t stopped her and doesn’t look as if it will anytime soon. Tara’s future continues to sparkle.
“I’m looking forward to featuring in my first jewellery exhibition at the Line Gallery in Linlithgow, Scotland this year, as well as participating at Malta Fashion Week. I hope that I will get to exhibit at Paris Fashion Week next year. I’m also excited to be working with the new international contemporary art museum opening in Malta, which will be displaying and selling my work.
“I’ve never wanted to be a huge jewellery designer like Cartier: I’m really enjoying being a niche luxury jeweller and recognised for my sustainability credentials.”