Karen Harries at work in her studio.

Enamel leaves and a sterling silversmith: Karen Harries’ jewellery reflects beauty of Great Southern

Main Image: Karen Harries at work in her studio. Credit: Laurie Benson

Josiah McMeekinAlbany Advertiser

From inspiration to style to sustainable practices, WA’s Great Southern region is woven through Albany jeweller Karen Harries’ work and style.

Harries grew up around Busselton and Dunsborough and moved to Denmark in 2012 with her husband Roger before relocating to Albany four-and-a-half years ago.

Always the creative type, Harries started her journey to becoming the jeweller she is today in 2012.

Steve Pease, a Margaret River jeweller she admired, was running classes in Bunbury one day per week.

The tools of the trade.
Camera IconThe tools of the trade. Credit: Laurie Benson

“I couldn’t resist, it had to happen. I had to shift my work around but I did it,” she said.

“And I didn’t want to do anything else but jewellery from then on.”

But taking the plunge into working as a jeweller full-time wouldn’t happen until later.

“I used to call myself a frustrated creative because I was too afraid to leave my day job, too afraid to leave that regular pay,” she said.

Karen Harries’ Wild Forest Jewellery.
Camera IconKaren Harries’ Wild Forest Jewellery. Credit: Laurie Benson

It was a 2017 road trip that gave her the push she needed.

“We went travelling around Australia, just for a few months, not a big trip,” she said.

“But when we came back, it was like ‘right, I have to do this, I have to do it for me’.”

Working at Wild Forest Studio, it’s no surprise Harries’ jewellery style and aesthetic takes inspiration from the natural world around her.

Works in progress.
Camera IconWorks in progress. Credit: Laurie Benson

“The whole Great Southern coastline is so magnificent,” she said.

“Just to walk through the karri trees, a forest, and I’ll come out with a dozen ideas.”

Some of the early work she became known for was enamel leaf work, which she showed off at the first art trail she took part in in 2015.

To make one of these, Harries would select a leaf from the forest floor, model it in copper and then apply layer after layer of enamels and build up colour.

“They took a lot of work and it threw me in the deep end,” she said.

But the hard work paid off.

“People loved them and for a long time I was called the leaf lady,” Harries said.

Karen Harries at work in her studio.
Camera IconKaren Harries at work in her studio. Credit: Laurie Benson

Since those early lessons, Harries has been entirely self-taught.

“I actually don’t know much about a traditional jeweller, the way they work,” she said.

“I don’t know what’s right or wrong, I just know what works for me.”

While she still does plenty of work with copper, she also works with sterling silver, making rings, necklaces, earrings and more.

“It took me actually a long time to get the courage to do proper pieces in sterling silver because it costs so much more,” she said.

She’s particular about the silver she uses, making sure to buy from reputable sellers to ensure its quality.

Sustainability is a key part of her practice.

Karen Harries’ Wild Forest Jewellery.
Camera IconKaren Harries’ Wild Forest Jewellery. Credit: Laurie Benson

“Things like sterling silver I purchase is recycled,” she explained.

“They do that from old silver pieces, scrap electronics, medical equipment even, and refine it.

“You don’t have to dig in the ground for more, there’s plenty above earth.”

After finding someone in Melbourne who cuts Australian gemstones such as variscite and black jade, she has started incorporating them into her works.

“I’d like to add a little touch of gold in the future but the price has shot up,” she said.

Some of her recent work she’s exceptionally proud of are some sterling silver necklaces made by heating the metal, cleaning it, rubbing it with a brass brush and repeating the process multiple times.

The silver and the copper in sterling silver cool at different temperatures, creating a unique, textured appearance.

“The little molecules of metal will clash and create that texture when they cool,” Harries said.

Some of these necklaces have been slightly customised for their buyers.

“One went to a friend, whose husband contacted me and put it together for her 40th birthday,” she said.

A sterling silver necklace made by Karen Harries.
Camera IconA sterling silver necklace made by Karen Harries. Credit: Facebook

She is always looking to add more skills to her repertoire and hopes to one day learn wax casting.

“Instead of actually working directly with the silver or the gold, actually using wax to shape and form,” she said.

“You can get in some really fine detail then.”

The technique would also enable her to make multiples of the same design by using the same cast.

Outside of her work, Harries and her husband enjoy spending time outdoors, hiking and going on bike rides.

“We’ve got some beautiful bikes these days, so love packing a picnic and taking off on a really long bike ride; they’re the best now the cooler days are here,” she said.

Harries’ work can be found at her website or at local vendors such as Designer Dirt, Wholly Local, Artistree and at the Albany Town Hall.