A graphic designer. An interior architect. And then – by accident – a jewellery designer. There are many layers to Erika Thompson. But it was her stint in New York that shaped her … hustling to survive, she worked at a ticketing office, as a VIP hostess, did pet-sitting and sold ice cream. Crazy, but kind of brave and cool, right?
Erika Thompson is not your run-of-the-mill jewellery designer. Massively versatile, she can create the most awe-inspiring pieces with found objects … with any stone or metal you can think of. Her work has been featured in the Italian Vogue’s Young Talents, on national and international catwalks, on covers of magazines like Grazia, Visi, Unlabelled and Elle. Erika often collaborates with fashion designer Chu Suwannapha for his independent label, Chulaap, designing and manufacturing most of the fashion accessories for his clothing lines. Erika chats about her journey of how she stumbled into jewellery making, starting her own business and being a mom to very busy twins.
The very beginning ‘As part of an introductory course to graphic design and interior architecture, I had to design a building inside and out. It had to be a retail business and I had to design some of the items that would be sold in the shop. As a massive jewellery lover, I, of course, designed a jewellery store. After I completed the project, one of my lecturers pulled me aside and said that the items I’d designed were some of the most exquisite jewellery he had ever seen. He put me in contact with a lecturer at TUT’s jewellery design and manufacture department, and although submissions for the next year had already closed, I was granted a practical test and interview. And … surprise … I was approved for the course the very same day! This was a sign. Loud and clear. I decided to leave my prospective career path and jumped straight into the jewellery world.’
Jet-setting to the city that never sleeps ‘Directly after completing my degree in jewellery design and manufacture, I decided to run away to the USA to clear my head. I think this was mainly because of the passing of my dad. I ended up getting on a plane to New York City with no job, no accommodation, no money and no idea of how I would even survive. But, I hustled. I started off with selling jewellery, then worked at a ticketing office where international partygoers would collect tickets that they bought online – mainly for massive New Year’s parties. After that, I upgraded to being a VIP hostess at one of Sean Combs’ (the guy who keeps changing his name, but at that time it was P-Diddy) venues. When this gig ended, believe it or not, I started working in an ice cream store. I also did some pet-sitting over the Christmas holidays.’
Back to sunny South Africa ‘I realised that I had to return to real life and started my career as a part-time lecturer at a jewellery school. Because I couldn’t cover my expenses, I approached a recruitment company and got a job as a fashion buyer at a company that supplied YDE with fashion jewellery. I had to be on top of current and future fashion trends, but I had an eye for what would work, so I came up with ranges for the next seasons, and liaised with overseas suppliers to get stock in SA on time. I ended up also designing a few pieces that the company manufactured in-house. I lived in Pretoria and travelled to Joburg daily. I eventually got to a point where I felt those lost hours on the road could be better utilised. I knew that I could do what I was currently doing, but for myself. I trusted my gut and started Rings & Things in 2012. I started out with selling fashion jewellery, but also designed and manufactured fine jewellery. I’ve supplied most of SA’s biggest online stores with fashion jewellery. It worked well, but I, very recently, let go of the fashion jewellery side of my business to solely focus on fine jewellery.’
Most memorable jewellery creations ‘I love incorporating different and unusual objects into my designs. I once designed a wedding ring that contained the seeds of the tree where the burial of the bride’s dad took place. And at varsity, I designed and manufactured a political piece inspired by the late Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. It was a neckpiece constructed from sterling silver, glass beads, clear Perspex, polymer clay garlic, beetroot and African potato, red enamel and a black condom. It was manufactured shortly after her controversial opinion that vegetables can be a cure for HIV-Aids. I was almost suspended from varsity, but one of the external evaluators thought it was brilliant and actually wanted to purchase the piece.’
Juggling work and family ‘With wine? Joking. My office is right next to our home, but a separate building with business hours. After a workday, I lock up and leave to spend time with my husband, Tommy and our twins … we call them our salt and pepper pair. Matthew has the biggest grey-brown Bambi eyes and brown hair – I suspect he is like me, a more emotional and creative being. Then we have curly-haired blonde Oliver who is a proper Oliver Twist. He pushes boundaries and is usually the instigator of most of the mischievous things the two of them get up to.
5 Things you should look out for when buying jewellery?
- Am I buying a piece of jewellery that is made of actual gold or is it only gold plated?
- Beware of black plated Tungsten and Titanium rings. The black layer wears off over time and your ring will be silver in colour.
- Avoid gold jewellery that is alloyed with nickel. A lot of people think they have an allergy to gold, but it’s the nickel. In some countries, you actually have to state that the jewellery piece was alloyed with nickel. It’s a cheaper alloy and SA has no law that requires the jeweller to inform the customer.
- Think about your lifestyle, longevity and purpose. If you never remove your ring and you are quite ‘rough’ with your hands, you might want to reconsider the design of your ring. Going for the fine, dainty vintage-looking option will most probably lead to having it repaired quite often.
- Please don’t guess your ring size or measure it with a piece of string … Have your finger sized by a professional jeweller. Yes, your ring can be resized but the less you have to cut into and alter a ring, the better. Tungsten and Titanium rings can’t be resized.
Some of Erika’s creations:
3 Jewellery items every woman should own?
Hoop earrings – The size of the hoop will obviously depend on your style, but they can match just about anything. Smart, casual and everything in between.
A collection of stack rings – Also, a great idea for birthday and anniversary gifts. You can keep on adding to what you have and mix up the look as you please.
At least one colourful stone – It doesn’t have to be your birthstone, but one item with a pop of colour can add such a fun element to your outfit.
Short and sweet:
Dessert you cannot get enough of? Crème Brûlée
I drink … too much coffee and I derive great pleasure from a good red wine.
I’m definitely not … a morning or winter person.
I spend the most money at… Dis-chem
The world needs … a lime and dark chocolate combination. I’m over the orange now.
Who gave you the best advice ever? And what was it? Where your mind goes, your energy flows – Carla Klue. She doesn’t even know it, but it made a big impression on my current (especially) Covid state of mind.
The last thing I Googled was… time and temperature to cook the perfect lamb chop in an air fryer.
The last book I read was… Midnight Library by Matt Haig.
Would love to live … in the 20’s era. The style, Jazz music, fascinators, Broadway theatre, fur, feathers and tassel dresses. I’m an old soul.