“Faith in oneself is the best and safest course. The greatest danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short: but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” Michelangelo.
Some say stones hold magical powers, healing properties within the elements locked in from the time it took to form. Igneous rock form quickly through melted lava from the center of the earth, while sedimentary rock form through erosion and other elements settling into the rock over sometimes millions of years and lastly, metamorphic rocks are igneous or sedimentary rock which has changed from extreme pressure or heat far beneath the Earth’s surface.
Slow down world. Working with our hands satisfies our basic need to feel effective and vital in our lives. The world is saturated with technology, making it possible to do nothing in the form of creativity from food preparations to house repairs. If we need anything, we simply buy it. If it’s broken, we call someone to fix or replace it with shiny new things. By making something with our hands we may experience some health benefits too. While you spend your time tending a garden, repairing a button on a shirt, cooking a meal from scratch, knitting a blanket, or anything involving a focused period of time, it can become a great source of joy, and even help combat the blues. While lost in the moment of doing, all else dissolves around you, giving you a temporary break from our fast paced lives. It leaves your mind in a suspended state of pure happiness. Instead of working with your mind, for example online where your reward is an invisible intangible value; working with your hands is tangible, which provides a solid, concrete, and clear criterion for success and failure. Get back to the basics.
Andrew Cochran made his career in IT long before arriving to France, creating databases for large companies and the pressure to strive in the virtual world was enormous. Although his success took their family around the world, he says he would never go back to IT after so many years of intense pressure, and little sleep. No amount of money is worth your health, and the demands of his job pushed him to his breaking point and eventual burnout.
Now he chooses to create unique artisan jewelry. His creations are from malleable natural elements. Through trial and error he is learning the art of creating with his hands through these newfound mediums; solid precious metals, and raw stones. His shop is a tinkerer’s dream, with brand new equipment lining the shop floor; sanders, drills, polishers, diamond edged cutters, a modified engraver, masonry handheld tools, a tumbler and the list goes on and on. All set in the beautiful French countryside near the Canal du Midi in a tiny village called Paraza.
Not only do these unique handmade stones look beautiful worn on your body, offering a vast variety of natural colours against your skin, but some people believe they can help block bad vibes, give energy, root your emotions, balance your hormones, bring you strength, relieve stress, clear the mind, protect your heart, increase intuitiveness, bring you luck and wealth, detoxify, enhance creativity, help you find peace and balance… For any imaginable ailment, there is a healing stone.
Sabina, Andrew’s wife, has followed his lead towards making a viable income here in southern France from the jewelry line, and brings her own personality and ethnicity to the Azur jewelry line. With her Taiwanese roots in the mix and her natural connection to nature, she adds her finishing touches to many items throughout the display case.
My ultimate desire is to make people feel good, like a wedding ring someone will wear for the rest of their lives. It’s wonderful to hear how happy we make our clients. It makes work rewarding.
It’s been a long stretch to build our workshop. We constantly add new equipment and learn new techniques as well as master classic ones. It is very important to us, that we source our materials from ethical establishments and recycle metals.
Sabina Wan Huei Cochran is originally from Taiwan. Andrew Cochran her husband and is from Vancouver Canada. They met and got married while living in Bermuda in 2000, and have been exploring the world as expats ever since.
“We have two very different styles when creating our art. He uses stones and metal to convey emotion. They are raw and strong. My style is minimalistic; most of my work contain little to no stones but are very feminine.” Sabina
So why move to France?
We literally spun the globe, but after many times landing in the water, we eventually landed on southern France. Before, we had lived in five different countries from Bermuda to Vancouver Canada, to Antigua, and lastly between Taiwan and New Zealand at the same time. It was a lot of travelling not to mention a costly endeavour. So we wanted to settle down in a place that satisfies our need for culture and also the tranquility of the open countryside. Without speaking the language, we took on this exciting challenge. And we landed this part of the France by chance. Just like the name of the village Paraza, in French it sounds like “Par hasard”!
Did you experience culture shock?
Yes, plenty of culture shock. First of all, we discovered how much French love their paperwork! And their pharmacies with green neon lights blinking outside even when they are not open. Also most children go home to eat lunch. Maximum workweek is 35 hours! Stores are not open at lunch time, Sundays and sometimes Mondays… It was a lot to take in, especially after living in modern cities like Taiwan.
Did you do anything since moving to France that you never would have expected?
Becoming DIY (Do It Yourself) people. We used to pay for people to fix things or build things. Now we try to do it all ourselves and discovered that we so capable! There is something empowering about being able to fix things yourself and we even watched our neighbors build their house from the ground up. Very impressive!
‘We are completely self taught jewelers and really hesitate to call ourselves that, as we feel we just create “cool stuff”. Andrew
And of course starting our artisan jewellery line AZUR. Officially we opened for business in November 2014. With Andrew’s past successful career in IT, we launched our website www.azurjewelry.com and our ETSY store front www.etsy.com/shop/azurjewelryfrance. It was quite a test at first but we believe in the process, having artisan craftsmanship from beginning to end. The products speak for themselves.
Explain the process to me…
“At any moment in time we have 10 to 20 designs in various states. We do not rely on pre made components.
We use solid sterling silver, gold, copper and brass as the base for our creations. We employ techniques including using patinas, enamels, electro plating (gold, rhodium, platinum, rose gold, palladium). Generally we start with raw silver and melt it in a furnace. After, we form it into metal slabs, which we roll into sheet metal on a rolling machine. Then we use hammers and mandrels to form it into the shape of our designs.
It was important to us to cut all our own stones. These have been sourced from around the globe through various contacts and trips made. We create cabochons, and faceted stones. They are then mounted in traditional jewelry setting methods (bezels, tube and collet and claw settings etc.) Also we utilize electroforming, a new form of setting we have been experimenting with, which keeps the focus on the stone rather than the metal.
Our designs are most of the time from a sketch, however sometimes we utilize the latest 3D software for creating complex shapes, and utilize a custom create CNC machine to generate a model of the product and then cast it in precious metals. These designs for me come mostly from dreams, so upon waking, most of the time it’s straight to the workshop. It is my passion.
We also do complete custom work, directly working with our clients to create completely unique one of a kind items.
When creating new designs, a lot of thought is given to how the various components will work together, different stones have spiritual value, and mixing certain metals with certain stone can increase the value.
We also create the pieces so they are actually wearable and not just a quick trendy fashion piece that will break and go into your jewelry box to sit there for years and never been worn again.’ Andrew
What did you do to integrate with your community?
We have four young boys, so it’s easier for us. We needed to register them in schools, talk to teachers and other parents. Kids have playdates, it all started from there. That led to friendships, connections and an integrated life.
What is your favourite thing about being an expat?
It’s a fulfilling lifestyle. You get to see what the day-to-day is really like in another country, the part that most travellers wouldn’t have the chance to see. And most of the time you are out of your comfort zone, so you are constantly challenging yourself to overcome different situations along the way. It’s exhilarating.
What do you miss the most about your home country?
I miss my family, friends and the Taiwanese cuisine. Taiwan has the most amazing variety of foods, located in the heart of Asia, and we have a lot of fresh produce. And it’s in our culture to eat all the time; from Michelin star restaurants to night street food markets. That’s a big part of my culture.
What advice would you give other expats?
My advice is to move to France even if you don’t speak the language. You can still integrate into the local life while you learn. There are many very well-established groups and websites that provide good information to help with the transition. The language part is daunting at first, but little by little you will find yourself not wanting to move. Staying instead of moving seems to be the challenge for most of us expats!
What are you currently working on? Projects, books, business ventures…
We are building our workshop to be able to accommodate students for jewelry making day classes. Imagine coming to southern France, enjoying the delicious food and wine, and going home with an original piece of jewelry that you made by yourself from the start while cutting your stone, to setting it and then plating it. It is wonderful to share our craft with visitors from around the world. Now that is the next dream!