Precision, intelligence, designed to work in the real world; all these qualities are demanded by architectural design. However, they also translate remarkably well to the world of jewellery.
Chalk was founded in 2012 by architect Malaika Carr. She splits her time working for Notting Hill based architectural practice Michaelis Boyd where she designs for hotels, restaurants and private homes; and the rest creating jewellery from her Ladbroke Grove design studio.
Malaika had always been creative, and loved art and textiles at school, but her skills suited becoming an architect. She studied architecture at the University of Greenwich and completed them at Westminster University, graduating in 2013.
She has long been a fan of Tatty Devine’s work, saying, “They are the pioneers of acrylic,laser-cut jewellery”. During her time at Westminster she used laser cutters in her architectural model making and, inspired by the techniques, realised she could be her own Tatty Devine, and make jewellery. A few, simple designs later, she had pieces based on her travels to Cuba and Scotland.
After finishing her Masters she continued to make jewellery while looking for architectural work, selling her pieces to friends and family and then at markets. Even after she landed a job she carried on making pieces on the side, and has done ever since.
Inspiration comes in different forms. Architecture clearly influences her and she does “like to look at buildings” she says – clearly so, as entire collections have been inspired by, for example, the incredible buildings of Ricardo Bofill. She is also influenced by travel – her Samburu collection was inspired by the intricate colourful beaded jewellery made by Kenyan tribes, while Egypt and Morocco also sparked her imagination.
In 2018 Malaika collaborated on a collection with the Royal Opera House. Asked to design pieces based on the architecture of the ROH’s buildings, she focused on the Hamlyn Hall, designed by E M Barry in 1858. The Hall is a beautiful structure made from cast iron and glass, with simple details and lots of repetition. Her consequent collection incorporated the blues, greens and reflections she saw in the hall, as well as the dominant arch shapes in the building’s structure.
Her making process is, she says, “Similar to how a building is designed”.She creates a theme and finds a concept; sketches her ideas, makes a prototype, then tests and produces. Sketches are then drawn up in CAD where she plays with shapes and colours. She tests ideas by making prototypes and seeing if they sit right as a piece of jewellery. Once satisfied, she gets feedback from friends and family and “runs with the ones that are liked the most”.
Malaika loves working with walnut and acrylic. The walnut forms the structure of the pieces and the acrylic – the bit she dubs the “fun filling’. These pieces are however “Rather two dimensional” and she always yearned to work with more solid forms. So, in October 2017 she introduced metal – and the resulting Arco collection contained high-shine curved metal rings, gold arch earrings and dramatic silver earrings, all based on the works of architect Carlo Scarpa.
Balancing her time as an architect and jewellery maker is challenging but rewarding. She thoroughly enjoys architecture; one design project includes a shop in Luxembourg and a Grade 2 listed house in Kensington and Chelsea. Her “day job” allows her to share with, and learn from, others and is hugely inspiring. However, with Chalk she has the freedom to create whatever she likes, and a lot faster. She explains “As much as I enjoy practicing architecture, it requires a great deal of patience – it takes years from design to construction. Creating jewellery is instantaneous! It's so satisfying that I can design a wearable collection in months”.