Pyrrha x The British Museum

Lady Justice.

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According to Greek mythology, when Zeus decided to end the Bronze Age with the Great Flood, Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha were alone—the only man and woman left on the planet. After days by themselves, the pair eventually landed on Mount Parnassus, where the oracle of Themis revealed how to repopulate: by throwing the bones of their mother behind their shoulders. They interpreted their mother as Mother Earth, and began throwing stones behind them. The pieces released from the hands of Pyrrha were reshaped into women.

In a sundrenched production facility in the heart of Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant, Danielle and Wade Papin are happy to celebrate the women in their lives. After all, it was the legend of Pyrrha, from the first book of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, that inspired the name behind their handcrafted talisman jewellery brand. And in this room, where their signature symbolic pieces of antiquity come to life, 28 of their 30 staff members are female. The strength and spirit of women has become an important part of the company, which launched in 1995, and its latest partnership is no different.

Collaborating with London’s The British Museum in celebration of the establishment’s autumn exhibition “I Object: Ian Hislop’s Search for Dissent,” Pyrrha has unveiled the Votes for Women talisman, inspired by Theodore Blake Wirgman’s lithography that explores themes of justice, independence, and freedom of speech for women.

“They sent us an email and they knew about our line,” Danielle says of how the collaboration with Britain’s most historic art establishment came to be. “They contacted us and said given our style and what we’re inspired by, we might be interested in their archives. We were like, ‘Yes, of course!’” The British Museum opened its entire library to the Papins, and for this exhibition, which recounts history through the eyes of “the downtrodden, the forgotten, the protestors,” they chose Wirgman’s lithography in a poignant depiction of what they stand for as a company and as people.

On the charm, a chariot drawn by two horses carries Lady Justice, who stands holding a flag lettered with “Votes for Women” in one hand and balancing scales in the other. The lithograph that the designers took inspiration from was created sometime between 1863 and 1921, a similar period to when the Suffragette movement began roaring through the streets of London, fighting prejudiced laws that stopped women from casting votes in public elections. “We thought it was timely,” Danielle says of the piece, reflecting on the current politics that have arisen as part of the #MeToo movement. “We’re used to working with all women, and it has historically been all women here, so it’s close to our hearts.”

The husband-and-wife duo has spent decades studying the imagery and heraldic symbolism of the 19th and 20th centuries, and began Pyrrha many years before the artisan spirit of the maker’s industry was established in popular culture. Using authentic Victorian-era wax seals to cast its pieces, the brand embraces the beautiful imperfection that comes with each individual creation. With names like New Beginnings and Follow Your Dreams, every design comes with significant meaning that can be interpreted and personalized by its wearer. These reclaimed sterling silver and bronze talismans—which have been worn by everyone from Chris Hemsworth to Taylor Swift, not to mention Patti Smith, who performed an intimate in-studio concert for the brand’s 20th anniversary in 2015—employ old-world techniques mixed with contemporary technologies like computer-aided design. “That’s our whole brand,” Wade says, navigating his way through the studio where twenty-somethings sit at benches working on different projects. “The idea of the juxtaposition, the old and the new.”

In a world of fast fashion and throwaway culture, Pyrrha distinguishes itself with its high-quality products and commitment to sustainability, crafting collections that can be treasured over time. The brand is a certified carbon-neutral company and a B Corporation, meaning it meets the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability—traits that are becoming crucial to any brand based in eco-centric Vancouver. “Who wouldn’t want to live here? It’s the best place live,” Danielle says with a smile, noting that although their one and only storefront is in sunny Los Angeles, the West Coast is very much home. “We said it from the beginning: we will always keep production in Vancouver.”

With designs that proudly show the maker’s hand, every Pyrrha piece reflects the processes and people behind it. “We’re very much about empowerment,” Wade says, pointing out his favourite piece from Pyrrha’s repertoire, a powerful dagger talisman that reads “Courage Sans Peur”—it translates to “courage without fear,” which something both women and men could use a little more of in times like these.


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October 27, 2018