One of Arrowtown’s oldest, heritage buildings in Buckingham Street houses The Jade and Opal Factory which has been creating original jade sculpture and jewellery collections for over three decades.
Lee Roy Mullings, a master carver in his own right, heads the business started by his father, Gary Mullings in the early 1990s and there is wide recognition for the quality of their bespoke jade pieces.
“It is the history and the cultural aspect of jade that attracts international visitors and locals,” says Lee Roy. “New Zealand Māori first started shaping it for tools and weapons because they had no access to steel and then progressed to jewellery for their people.”
“The colour and beautiful lustre that you can get out of the stone is quite magical and people really respond to the jewellery and the larger sculptures we carve here onsite.”
Lee Roy trained under renowned Queenstown master carver Rob Lynes and the family business has been dedicated to handcrafting raw stone into original and beautiful pieces. An array of traditional jade jewellery such as Toki, Koru, Fishhook, Pi Circles and Twist pendants are made by Lee Roy in the store’s boutique carving studio.
“It’s what we have always done and will continue to do,” says Leroy. “The carving process takes time and patience with smaller pieces like pendants and earrings anywhere from a few hours to the larger sculptures that require several weeks or even up to a month to complete.”
“Our customers appreciate the authenticity and respond to the sculptural aspect with each design dependent very much on how I choose to carve the piece. That’s often dictated by the stone itself – as to shape, size, colour and any natural fractures – that I am working with. Every carver carves differently and sees something different in the stone.”
Visitors to The Jade and Opal Factory can glimpse Leroy at work in the studio where nothing is left to waste and any left-over stone is tumbled and polished into small specimen pieces for people to buy.
“New Zealand Jade makes ideal gifts particularly for guys who might not wear much jewellery. We sell a lot of jade pendants for Christmas gifts, birthday presents, weddings and for couples starting a family. It is a unique and natural gift ideal for visitors to take home as a memory of their time in New Zealand.”