Tough trinkets: working Russian prison tattoos into premium jewellery

Walter Crow
Traditionally, Russian prison tattoos were used to tell stories. Crafted from ink made by mixing urine and soot, the pictures on a convicts skin told the tale of the number and sort of crimes they had committed, and how long they had spent in prison for them.

Now a New Zealand jeweller, Asher Walker, has turned to this infamous style of body art for inspiration for the debut collection for his new company Walter Crow. The series of rings are called “initiation”.

Idealog: What is the story behind Walter Crow?

Walter Crow was dreamt up over beef schnitzel and a few too many beers around three years ago. Between drinks, a fellow jeweller and I drafted the fable of Walter Crow, a restless drifter who travelled the world in search of his parents. Having already dipped our toes into commercial jewellery this was our chance to create an outlet for our creativity to run amok.

Why did you go with Russian prison tattoos for your first collection?

The idea is that each product line is treated like a chapter in Walter's Story. In search of his missing parents, he scoured the globe leaving only an illustrated journal of his journey.

First stop - Russia. I think the juxtaposition of the lines and shapes, with the complexity of the symbolism was what we were really drawn to. This range was developed with our close friend and tattooist Victor J Webster.

How would you describe your design process?

To be honest we're still learning. We begin by brainstorming ideas collectively about direction and aesthetic of the range. For the last range we then worked weekly with Victor in developing the collection. From there we work closely with our cad designer before modeling, sampling and manufacturing takes place.

Where are you currently stocked?

We're currently stocked by some small retailers in Australia, The Market and Black Box stores. We also have a heavy focus on sales through our own site.

What are your plans for the future?

Currently we're working on some very exciting collaborations outside the jewellery realm. It's been fun exploring how we can contribute to the Walter story using different skill sets and materials. Aside from that, we're looking to have a new range out by August this year and a smaller capsule collection towards the end of the year.

See the full range of jewellery here