What is your full name?
Joanne Verna Saxelby Balisky – I prefer Jo. Verna is after my Nana Q’s neighbour who was a theatrical, exquisitely beautiful lady that I adored and everyone who met her, also loved her. Odd name, but gorgeous woman. Saxelby is a name I will treasure for all the right reasons
as I have the best parents and family. Balisky is a surname I share with my gorgeous daughter Isabella.
What is your background?
I’m a born-and-bred local raised on a strawberry and avocado farm in Palmwoods. I went to Woombye Primary School and studied at local Art Schools on weekends and then went to Brisbane to study a Bachelor of Arts Degree with
a major in Photography, double minor in Fine Art and Ceramics. I focused on social documentary photography including my love for indigenous cultures and First Nations, while also being immersed in our family jewellery business which had been a part of my world since I was 12-years-old.
My documentary work was chosen to be exhibited in the National Gallery of Victoria and regional galleries as part of the Felix H. Mann Award. I also spent 12 years working with aid agencies overseas and then began a jewellery wholesale business in Canada which I later brought back home. Photography, art and jewellery were always a part of my world and life.
What makes your business different?
To Hold & To Have (Th &Th) purposefully merges the lines between business, friendship, community and family because we do not see that who we are and what or how we do things changes when we walk out one door and into another. It is a gathering place, a connection point of all things past and present – not just for me but for many families in our community.
This is why right from day one our showroom featured the dining table I had been using to create my jewellery label. I knew it had to be the consultation table where we would offer our clients a cup of tea and first and foremost listen to what they wanted and hear the purpose for their design.
This allows us to all be comfortable, at peace, enjoy the moment and take time to connect. This is often when we hear what the piece of jewellery means to our clients and this is as important to us as the design itself and often answers our design questions. Is it to remember the colour of a loved one’s eyes, is it to use gemstones given to them or representing each child’s birth? Is it being worn every day, in active work situations where comfort and durability is a high priority so that longevity is sustained? Is it something so precious that it will only be worn on special occasions?
How would you describe your clients?
When I think of the gorgeous people who have walked and wheeled in our door today, phoned in orders, emailed, messaged, texted – I’m in awe of our clients. They are creative, thoughtful, kind, giving. I love hearing the fun, sometimes crazy, amazing things that fill their lives but most of all I love getting glimpses of their hearts. If I had to use a phrase to describe our customers it is that ‘they have beautiful hearts’.
You recently achieved over 50,000 Facebook followers – that’s a huge achievement. Why do you think this platform has been so successful for you?
Facebook is very interactive. Our “tribe” enjoys sharing not only with us but also with each other; it’s like a family chat page. We share stories about pieces we create and so do our clients. Sundays are always a day of rest and have a community, nature or family theme. It’s a fun, lighthearted place and it’s by no means perfect, you’ll see me posting way too early some days, way before I’m literate.
What inspires your design and buying?
Separate to our client designs – our designs are inspired by our lives. Since Uni I have had a favourite quote by Susan Sontag that goes something along the lines of “You cannot put anything into an image which isn’t first in you yourself. You can only see what you are ready to see. What mirrors your mind at that time.” While Sontag is talking about image-making I believe this also is relevant to any creative process including
jewellery design. All of my team are designers and our ‘creative capacity’ draws naturally upon who we are and what we do. It is influenced by our design tastes, our experiences and keeping our “cup of inspiration full”.
That might be as simple as being aware that something someone said triggered a thought of a shape or design element – a pattern on a textile for an engraved feature; the colour of the sky for a chosen gemstone; or a feeling as you walk in the door to an enormous foyer may shape the structure of a modern geometric ring that juxtaposes
a large bezel with a small gemstone. One of our rings was inspired by floor tiles from a scene in a dream.
What advice can you share with fashion start-ups/designer/retailers/ ?
Be yourself, create a business, product, brand, space that you feel one hundred percent comfortable being in, living, selling and sharing all day every day. Stand behind and pay the costs to make up for mistakes when they happen and do it right and celebrate each success
Has there been a favourite piece of jewellery in your life.
Many! One from each of my Grandmas including Nana Q who gave me a pendant that had a copper, gold-plated band that framed a sepia photo of a lighthouse on one side and a verse on the other. You’ll have to ask me what it says! She was a treasure.
There is another piece I love that has a bluebird, a gift from friends who I was a flower girl for when I was three.
What can we expect to see popping up in the store in the next few months?
More of what you and I have loved – by more I mean MORE! To Hold & To Have designs, creations and the stories behind each piece are being embraced and loved by many all over the nation.
It’s beginning to have a presence little by little, here, there and everywhere; in families, establishments, at tables, in spaces and in lives; in the most precious of places – yours and mine and our neighbours and friends.
What fashion item can you NOT live without?
I don’t leave home without a coloured gemstone dress ring that is either a grey tourmaline cabouchon, hand-engraved, medieval-inspired treasure; or my emerald pavé set gorgeous beauty.
I love their colour, texture, boldness and their beauty.
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PHOTOS: SARAH VERCOE