Artisan men's jewelry makers
Interview: Ben St George
Codis Maya has made a name for itself as one of the most distinct men’s jewellery firms in the world. Founded in 1987 by Roshini Aluwihare, a regular collaborator with many of the world’s most notable names in menswear, and a fixture at Pitti Uomo, Codis Maya’s name has been made on their elegant design aesthetic and their dedication to keeping traditional British jewellery craft alive.
Aluwihare herself always had a creative bent, and was encouraged by her family from a young age to pursue her artistic interests. “I did a foundation year at Chelsea College of Art where I spent a lot of time creating small sculptures, playing with metal and soldering irons” says Aluwihare. “After this I had my first real experience of jewellery making at Sir John Cass School of Art & Design in London”. After completing a Jewellery and Business degree in the mid-1980s, Aluwihare was eager to start her own business. Partnering with a friend, she began researching what materials to make her signature.
The pair had settled on creating cufflinks and pins as their core offer and, after researching both renaissance jewellery and the work of Fabergé, they settled on using enamel. “Vitreous enamel was a great medium to inject colour into an offering that was pretty staid for men at the time”. Their first year was spent drumming up business on the back of their first collection - a set of heraldic pins. “During our initial meetings with prospective buyers we felt like two naive young girls on what seemed like a slightly mad jaunt” she says of that period, “but to our amazement we were taken on by Liberty as one of our first accounts and that gave us the confidence to continue”.
Their business continued to grow over the following years - including picking up an important account in Paul Smith - but Aluwihare says one of their biggest hurdles was keeping maintaining support for British manufacturing. “There was definitely a noticeable change in the buying climate when the manufacturing industry started booming in developing countries. Thankfully in recent years, there has been a shift back to people wanting to invest in the provenance of an item, the story it signifies and the quality that comes with that”. She also credits the unique and incredibly technical nature of Codis Maya’s construction as helping them hold their own as a business and continue to grow. “An owner of a quite a well-known store group once approached us at a trade show showing interest in our enamel products but was hesitant to buy because of the price point. He came back a year later and said “you know I’ve been trying to have these copied, but they can’t do it”. That was heartening at least!”
When asked what it was about men’s jewellery in particular that she found so intriguing, Aluwihare points to its contrasting natures of it’s construction and presentation. “There’s a satisfying union of masculine and feminine elements found in jewellery making. It’s a craft often involving delicate and dexterous work but one that also at times requires demanding physical activity, operating machinery and the mess that comes with it”. Though jewellery like Codis Maya’s requires a lightness of touch and an attention to intricacy - and creates delicate and beautiful objects - much of the construction is hand-blackening work at the bench that uses metals, hand-saws, and polishing materials.
Indeed, Codis Maya’s brand today is built on their employment of traditional, industrial techniques - and often ones that are unique to the tradition of British manufacturing. The shift of manufacturing from Britain to overseas has seen many of the traditional metalworking factories and workshops close down, and with it the loss of many specialised skillsets. It is these skills that Aluwihare seeks to celebrate and preserve through Codis Maya’s work. “Many of the processes that we employ such as enamelling or the engraving of designs into steel dies draw on these, often very long-standing techniques, that have been refined over hundreds of years and that once lost cannot easily be replicated”.
She mentions attending a retirement party for two of Codis Maya’s employees - silver stampers for Codis Maya for thirty years, and independently for thirty more before that. “During the speeches the new director of the workshop expressed the concern that skilled people such as these, experts in a craft that has been passed down through generations and honed for decades, are fewer and farther between. It’s also thought-provoking to think about all the various aspects involved in the jewellery making journey- from those mining the silver, the incredible history surrounding the processes to the simplicity of final piece worn on a person’s wrist and how each generation of jewellery making captures the spirit of the time”.
It’s clearly a source of pride for Codis Maya, and for Aluwihare especially, who has had to work tirelessly to preserve the workshops and skillsets that are required to make such intricate and elegant jewellery. “When you wear our jewellery you can feel good in the knowledge that it has passed through the hands of around 8 different skilled workers who have refined their skills over the course of their lifetime, the result is something that inherently bears the hallmark of quality and integrity, something special and distinct”.
Predictably, weddings are a big market for Codis Maya, and while Aluwihare is in many ways a traditionalist, she’s eager to see men bring some vibrancy to occasionwear. “More and more we see weddings easing up on their fusty side in terms of dress codes. We love to see a classic aesthetic observed but it’s nice that touches of individual style are increasingly able to come through and accessories are definitely an area that people can explore more daringly and have fun with”. If in doubt, she advises sticking with the classics - “customary materials such as onyx, mother of pearl or plain metals. These will always be a classic and elegant staple, especially lending themselves to a formal event requiring morning suits for instance”.
Where the dress code is slightly more relaxed, however, she recommends adding a punch of colour where appropriate. “Be bold and don’t be shy to add your own unique touches like bright pocket squares, pins or cufflinks. A recent wedding combination a friend was wearing that I thought nicely offset a classic navy suit was a small olive green enamel pin in the centre of an aubergine-coloured silk knitted tie. Lovely stuff”.
You can find Codis Maya products on our webstore and instore.