How It's Made: This Cult Jewellery Designer Shares Her Creative Process

Welcome to How It’s Made. Where we go behind-the-scenes with your favourite brands to find out how their most popular products are produced. For our next instalment, we nipped over to Holly Ryan’s jewellery headquarters in Queensland to find out exactly how the jeweller's beautiful designs come to fruition.

We’ve documented in the past how much we love Holly Ryan and her minimalist designs. Since the label launched in 2011, it has firmly established itself as a strong force in the Australian fashion industry. The handcrafted label cleverly takes classic shapes and gives them a contemporary twist.

Keep scrolling to read all about the Holly Ryan creative process and a step-by-step on how the Squiggle Hoops are created.


Amy Wren

Who What Wear Australia: Tell us about how your jewellery label launched?

Holly Ryan: I launched the label straight out of university in 2011. I studied Fine Arts, majoring in Fashion at QUT in Brisbane. I started the brand because I felt like there was a gap in the market for high end fashion jewellery that is carefully considered and beautifully handcrafted. I felt like fashion specific jewellery lacked quality or wasn’t creatively experimental enough for my taste, so I set out to create unique, timeless pieces for people interested in making an ethical fashion statement.

WWW: Your Minimalist Hoops and Squiggle Hoops have been worn by everyone (me included!) in the past year—what do you think it is about the design that resonated with so many people?

HR: Thank you! That means a lot to me! I think my appreciation for simplicity, timeless design and quality construction resonates with people who are looking for pieces which last, are handmade and will give a chic, instant update to any outfit. They are statement earrings without unnecessary embellishment—and they won’t harm your ears.


Amy Wren

WWW: Where is your studio? Are your pieces designed and made in-house?

HR: My studio is on the side of Mt Coolum, at Coolum Beach on the Sunshine Coast in QLD. It’s a five minute walk to the beach and has ocean views. All of my jewellery is currently made in-house by myself and my team of five. It is a much smaller operation than people realise.

WWW: What’s your best-selling piece of jewellery?

HR: The Magnetic Field Hooks, Pearl Hooks, Minimalist Hoops and Squiggle Hoops are currently the front runners.


Amy Wren

WWW: Do you plan on working with other materials?

HR: Yes, this year I will begin working with 18ct gold, white gold and diamonds. I am stepping things up because I felt like I am finally ready. I have always designed with the limited skills I have in mind, but it’s time to branch out and try something new.

WWW: What do you think will be the next big trend in jewellery?

HR: Heirloom style jewels, investment pieces to wear every day and to pass on to loved ones.


Amy Wren

WWW: Where do you source your materials and metals?

HR: All of my metals are sourced within Australia and they are all recycled. We try to keep things as ethical and sustainable as possible.

WWW: Where do you search for inspiration?

HR: Mostly in art and photography, lately. It changes. I was very inspired by architecture for the past couple of years, and now I am more interested in sculpture, paintings, line drawings and photography. Right now, I am loving line drawings by contemporary artist Christiane Spangsberg as well as Picasso and Matisse. And I am also loving classic black and white photography by photographers, such as Helmut Newton, Peter Lindbergh, Robert Mapplethorpe and Irving Penn.


Amy Wren

WWW: How important is Instagram and social media for your label? Does it help direct designs/re-makes?

HR: It is very important, but I have learnt to distance myself. I don’t run the account myself anymore, my digital content coordinator Amy (my cousin), manages all of the social media. We have a meeting each Monday to discuss what kind of posts will be relevant for the week and ideas for layouts. She does the photography and the creative so that I can get back to my workbench. She lets me know how designs have been received and I use this information to inform new designs, based on which styles are most popular with fans of the brand. Usually what is most popular on Instagram is what sells best online but this isn’t always the case.


Amy Wren

WWW: Talk us through the process from start to finish of creating a pair of earrings.

HR: To make a pair of Squiggle Hoops, here’s how it’s done:

Step One: Cut the length of wire used to create the squiggle then using a guide, bend the wire with half round pliers into the squiggle shape. As this is done individually by hand every time, each squiggle is unique, however I am fairly pedantic about the end shape and like for a pair to look as similar as possible.

Step Two: Use the motor tool with sanding discs to clean up each end of the wire. Each end needs to be perfectly flat so that when you solder the ends together, the join is seamless.

Step Three: File and sand out any imperfections. You need to use flat and round files for this as well as three grades of sandpaper to get a beautiful finish.

Step Four: Cut the sterling silver tube. Clean up each end with the motor tool and then sand smooth with sand paper. Make a mark at the end of each tube and drill a hole. Use a few different sized drills to widen the hole and then clean it up with a round file. Sand the tubes the whole way around until beautifully finished.

Step Five: Have a cup of tea. Any excuse will do.


Amy Wren

Step Six: Enter the soldering room. Solder the squiggle wires through the tubes using hard solder. Quench the pieces in cool water and then place them in a pickle solution to remove oxidisation.

Step Seven: Clean up the soldering join with files and sand paper.

Step Eight: Solder on the ear posts with easy solder, quench them and place them in the pickle, wash in clean water and then clean up the solder join with sandpaper. Twist the ear posts with pliers to harden them. Stamp the inner squiggle with the H/R logo and 925 stamp. Put the finished earrings in the tumbler for an hour.

Step Nine: Polish the pieces on the polishing wheel to give them a superior high polished finish. Wash and dry the pieces thoroughly. You can then use a polishing cloth or gloves to handle the pieces and put them into a white leatherette box with branded ribbon tied around it. If the earrings are to be gold plated they need to be packaged separately into small snap-lock bags and sent to our plating company in Brisbane for plating in 18ct gold. Once we receive them back, they get packaged and sent onto the customer.

Step Ten: Pat on the back! It’s a huge process and a labour of love, but we feel lucky to do what we love every day.

Do you love to learn about the creative process behind cult designs? Let us know in the comments below who you'd like to see next!

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