Patrick Mavros’ new atelier in Mauritius proves that good craftsmanship knows no boundaries.
When I was assigned the article on Patrick Mavros, the family owned jewellery brand beloved by the British royal family, my biggest concern was how was I ever going to transcribe into words what I knew about the Mavros family. It just happens that I share a wall with Kate and Forbes Mavros, who oversee the operations in Mauritius.
I had seen Forbes catch a fish, encase it in salt, and bake it to perfection ‒ all this while Kate scrutinised her bookshelf, looking for a book of fairy tales she wanted me to read. Supper was served on gorgeous ceramic plates set amongst exquisite silver centre pieces sculpted by the man himself ‒ Patrick Mavros.
When Forbes was six years old, he broke his mother’s favourite porcelain teapot. He made one of the broken pieces into a necklace for her to say sorry. “That was the first jewellery I remember making, and I’ve been making jewellery ever since”, recounts Forbes. Kate first experimented with her love for jewellery-making with glass seed beads, doing macrame, the peyote stitch, and Native American bead weaving, which led her to other jewellery-making techniques. She was twelve.
The proof of the Mavros’ love of jewellery can be seen in their new Atelier at the Beau Plan Creative Park, the most impressive space imaginable. The 160-year-old stone building, once the sugar estate’s foundry, has been beautifully renovated. The Atelier is modelled after their Zimbabwean studio, where Patrick senior greets his guests.
“The first thing he does is take you to the workshops”, explains Kate. “With the Atelier we’ve created an interactive shopping experience where people can see behind the scenes and engage with us”.
Inside the Patrick Mavros Atelier is the design room, filled with artefacts collected over the years ‒ stones, fossilised shells, the skeleton of a dodo bird. I ask Kate about a favourite stone. “We have a piece of agate, a naturally-occurring stone from Arizona, christened the starry night. It literally looks like the desert landscape with mountains and comets going through the night sky”. The stone-cutter almost didn’t want them to buy it. “It looks like a painting, so Forbes designed a beautiful little box with that stone as the lid”, adds Kate.
Inside the atelier, craftsmen are absorbed in their work: sculpting, silversmithing, stone-setting, and lost-wax casting – a technique that dates to the 5th millennium BC and requires a great deal of skill. Kate picks up a blue wax mould in the shape of a palm. It forms part of a chandelier she is making. “The jewellery industry is historically secretive and for a long time we’ve disagreed with the idea that the process should be a closed-door affair”, notes Forbes. “For us artists and jewellery-makers, the process is as beautiful as the pieces themselves. The life and soul of these pieces are born in the making of them”.
Enclosed in glass cabinets is some of the most beautiful jewellery I have ever seen. Two immense tree trunks, part of Patrick senior’s collection, have been made into tables on which are set intricate silver candelabra. “One of our most recent pieces is the Hawksbill sea turtle and Staghorn coral candelabra ‒ the first Patrick Mavros sea-inspired candelabra. That was very much close to our hearts, living in Poste Lafayette and seeing the sea turtles near the reef… It’s a piece we’re really proud of, and I feel it connects to the island and its wildlife”, observes Kate.
I am curious about the use of silver. “It’s a family business that started out in Zimbabwe where silver is mined. That’s just the legacy of its origins”, explains Forbes. “A wonderful discovery has been green turquoise from Iran, also known as Persian turquoise. The copper in the ground has, over millions of years, influenced the colour of this uncommon green turquoise”.
Inside the Atelier is the original stonework and crane system that transported equipment from the mill to the foundry. “Forbes salvaged the lids of the old furnaces”, says Kate. “They were buried under three feet of earth when we excavated. It was fun, like an archaeological dig”, recounts Forbes excitedly. “There was quite a remarkable feat of engineering in the redesign of an existing canal to form a waterfall that flows from almost 16 kilometres away, at La Nicoliere reservoir. The canal is as old as the estate. It’s amazing to think that it still serves a function today – to cool the Grays distillery. We were not allowed to decrease the flow so we had to divert it, build the waterfall, then reconnect it”.
The renovation of the historic stone building, a collaboration between Patrick Mavros, Terra, and renowned architect Salim Currimjee was synergetic. “We shared the same values since the beginning, namely that of preserving the building as it was”, says Kate.
“We are this small, family-run business with a flagship store in London, one in Harare and one in Nairobi… Each, in their own right, is beautifully located and interestingly designed. When you walk inside, you are transported to this world we’ve created. We wanted our Mauritius operation to have its own story and identity”, she explains as she twirls a rose gold ‘elephant hair style’ bangle around her wrist, her wedding gift from Forbes.
“We want this brand to feel Mauritian-owned. There are masterpieces being produced in our Mauritian atelier that are gracing the tables of state dinners. We want Mauritians to feel proud”, notes Forbes.
For the Mavros family, jewellery is a way of life. As the interview comes to an end, I ask Azaan, their 4-year-old daughter if she intends to pursue jewellery-making one day too. She fumbles through a drawer and pulls out a box filled with beads: “I’m already a jewellery designer”.
By Anissa Joonas