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Making her mark with Jofine jewels
It was serendipity that led Josanne Mark to discover a talent for jewelry design. While she was at the University of the West Indies studying psychology and human resource management, Mark had to restring a broken beaded necklace given to her by her friend. “I did it in a different design—and I got so many compliments. I took some extra thread and got bits and pieces from my jewelry box and designed a few pieces of jewelry, which I then sold,” Mark said. This surprising turn in her career path, meant she had a thriving alternative trade on campus. Interestingly, Mark said jewelry and fashion were never high on her agenda as a child. She was always academic and was valedictorian when she graduated at the Fyzabad Anglican Secondary school. After graduating from UWI, she applied to several companies for work but did not immediately get through. “After three months of sending out resumes, I realised that I wanted to go full-time into my jewelry making business,” Mark said. It took a bit of convincing her parents that jewelry-making was her passion but eventually she got the support and went to the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan where she graduated cum laude (outstanding honours). Mark has successfully used T&T’s rich cultural legacy to craft fine jewelry pieces using semi-precious stones such as amethysts, turquoise, freshwater pearls and Swarovski crystals in amazing gold and silver settings.
She’s now busy preparing her 2014 collection.
Some of her exquisite pieces were revealed at Stechers in Gulf City, La Romaine recently. In an interview, Mark said her latest collection involves the use of natural flora and fauna from T&T.
Picking leaves from her hometown at Fyzabad, Mark has been able to electroform the leaves and coat them in fine silver and gold. According to the Jewelry Making Web site, electroforming allows the jeweler to take organic objects and coat them with a layer of real metal. “You have the aesthetic of something created by nature. It is magnificent because I took real leaves and electroformed them in 24-carat gold and fine silver,” she said. “These pieces are making it big abroad and many people want to know what type of leaves they are,” Mark said.
“There is a special connection I have with the pieces knowing they are naturally and locally made. There is a special feeling when customers purchase a piece.” Mark said she was interested in preserving some of T&T’s heritage. Saying she was eager to launch a leaves collection in 2014, Mark said she wanted her handcrafted pieces to be affordable for everyone. “My pieces range in price from $200 per set of earrings to $8,000. You really don’t have a wide selection of good quality handmade pieces in Trinidad. Lots of people are doing good work but a lot of jewelry in the stores and malls is not local, or handcrafted. They are foreign and are mass-produced,” she explained. She said her first line of jewelry is made using Swarovski crystals, freshwater pearls and gemstones while the other line focuses on metalwork. “I will say that the metal pieces are my favourite. It was a long arduous journey studying abroad and that’s where I really honed a lot of my skills,” Mark said.
Most of Mark’s gemstones come from South America. “I use the agate druzy stones, a natural formation where crystals grow in small clusters in the earth. The stone is taken out, cut and polished around its natural formation so you get very interesting shapes without interfering in how it was formed,” she explained. These natural formation’s are Mark’s favourites. “I am using a lot of freshwater pearls,” she said. One of her favourite pieces is a pearl brooch. She added that jewelrymaking should be introduced as a course at the University of T&T. “I think there is a lot of creativity in T&T and I will be happy to work with UTT if they decide to bring out a programme in Fashion/Jewelry manufacturing,” she said.
At first, her father, Terrence Mark, did not approve of her decision to pursue jewelry design as a career. She was prepared to fund her studies in New York on her own. “My father was frowning when I told him. I didn’t ask for support. I started to look for loans. “Then my dad realised I was serious and the support came afterwards. Today he is my biggest supporter.” Mark said her mother Joanna is her greatest motivator and stood by her side from the start. “My mother supports any and everything I want to do. She may have fears and would express those, but once I convince her that this is something I want to do, I will work hard at it. My mom always says nothing is insurmountable if you put your best foot forward,” Mark said. Some of her pieces were exhibited in Manhattan during a show last year. Anyone wanting to purchase Mark’s designs can contact her at call 798-5474.
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