I have never been much of a jewellery person.
Landmark birthdays, engagements, anniversaries: all have passed me buy without ever once making me want to own diamonds. I just don’t see the point.
I mention this to Harriet Vine, one half of hipster jewellery makers Tatty Devine, and she scrunches up her nose. ‘I feel like that too. We get loads of people buying a Tatty Devine ring as a stop-gap before they choose a ‘proper’ engagement ring. And then they end up keeping it, or having it cast in gold. It takes on meaning and they want to keep it.’
Tatty Devine, you see, are masters reassuringly expensive plastic. Their name has become synonymous with a certain style of jewellery, which is on-trend, witty and made of laser-cut perspex – so much so that people on Etsy are tagging their own creations with ‘Tatty Devine’ to attract customers (although sometimes this is hilariously misguided).
On more than one occasion, their deceptively simple style has meant that their designs have been ‘pastiched’ (that’s the polite way of putting it) by big retailers, and sold for a fraction of the price (see what you think).
So why, as a consumer, should you buy from small indie businesses like Tatty Devine, rather than scooping up the cheap rip-offs from the high street?
‘We don’t just stick random things together; everything we make is part of a wider cultural field,’ says Harriet. ‘All I do is spend all day questioning aesthetics: Why do I want to do this now? How do I know this is good? I’ve spent years developing my instincts, collecting things, getting obsessed. It means that we often find we’ve predicted trends without consciously knowing anything about them.’
What you’re paying for, she says, is artistry: someone taking their time to make a piece of jewellery that’s exactly right. But she also challenges the idea that plastic is cheap: ‘When we started, you could only get perspex in one shade of pink. Well, I’m completely exacting. If I use a heart shape, I’ll work through a hundred heart shapes until I find the right one. I know exactly what colour I want for all my designs, so I have to get the colours custom-made. That isn’t cheap.’
‘We want our products to last forever, and to sit properly when you wear them. They’re not going to fall apart after a couple of wears. They’re not disposable. We use the best of everything. They’re made by hand in London and Kent, and they’re supported by a whole team of great people. We could price our products cheaper, but we’d go out of business in six months. This is the real cost.’
The message is that, if you want to be able to buy truly beautiful, original things, you have to be willing to support the grass-roots designers who dream them into existence. And in this sense, hand-made, creatively-designed plastic jewellery should be valued more than mass-produced gold and diamonds from a high street chain.
‘Buy the most expensive thing you can afford, and enjoy it until you’re 90,’ says Harriet. ‘Love it properly.’