Nicolson Russell: From a humble gift to a calling

A chance encounter among the ruins of Ayutthaya in exotic Thailand sets the stage for one woman’s journey of tenacity, courage and cutlery.

Emma Russell found herself stranded in the old city of Ayutthaya, Thailand by a looming typhoon while en route to Sydney. For five years she had been travelling the world as an air hostess for Emirates, after having completed her Finance degree at Wits University. Unhappy and stressed in her job, Emma made the bold decision to retire from the corporate world and commit to her feelings of wanderlust. ” I didn’t enjoy my role in finance at all, I just wasn’t well-suited to it,” Emma remarks. This was perhaps the crucial turning point in finding her ultimate passion.

It was on that fateful day amidst the crumbling ruins and lush jungles of Thailand where Emma met her destiny. The “ah-ha” moment was preceded by a brief, casual glance at something glittering in the sun. It was most certainly the ‘magpie effect’ that drew Emma’s attention at first, but upon closer inspection she noticed a Thai family making traditional cutlery; the sparkle which had caught her eye was in fact a knife and fork being lovingly handcrafted. “I was fascinated by the process and the beauty of the cutlery and decided that this would make an incredible wedding gift for my sister,” Emma explains.

Set in hand, Emma finally made it back home but the novelty of this coincidental sight was the start of a journey that has spanned the last ten years of Emma’s life. Never doing anything by half-measures, Emma took another leap of faith and quit her job, contacted the Thai family she had seen crafting the cutlery and organised a trip back to Thailand. “The Thai family could not speak English, and I could not speak Thai, but we managed to communicate through hand gestures and bits of broken speech,” Emma explains.

Once she had learnt all she could, Emma returned to South Africa with the intention of designing the cutlery that had left her dazzled. She travelled to China, learning all she could about working with stainless steel. With plenty of interest in these pieces, and a gaping niche for local cutlery manufacturers in the South African market, Emma felt that she had finally found her calling. “I’ve always been artistic, with a keen eye for detail and a knack for great design.

At school I was discouraged from pursuing the arts due to a widely held belief that there is no money in it, hence my degree in finance,” Emma says. However, she could not suppress her creative spirit for long. “I get much of my design inspiration from the fashion industry. Home decor mirrors fashion trends in a big way so keeping abreast of these is vital. I keep my pulse on current European trends but I value my own take on designs,” Emma explains. “Pinterest, painting, travelling and people influence my style to a large extent. I don’t follow narrow-minded commercialism when it comes to my design integrity,” she explains. Despite having had no training, Emma styles her own shoots for the Nicolson Russel brand, proving her natural talents and creative flair.

For the last ten years, Emma has been using her sense of style to create gorgeous bespoke cutlery collections. These pieces are potential family heirlooms to be passed down through generations. “When you buy something you intend on keeping for life, it needs to be of the highest quality, when sentimentality is at stake,” advises Emma.

“No one will know the price of your decor, but with cutlery you can always tell. Your cutlery will always carry the table,” she says. Which collection is her personal favourite? “I love the two-tone range we have brought out. Think black and gold, white and gold, bold complimentary colours and colour plating. There has been a distinct move away from vintage pieces towards a more contemporary feel.

Thin handles, small blades are hallmarks of this style,” Emma explains. On buying a cutlery set, Emma is straight forward; “If you like something, buy it. It’s easier to make something you like work than going for a safer option and being disappointed in the long run.” Fans of Nicolson Russel can expect to see more of Emma’s work in the hospitality industry. She has recently worked with the new Silo Hotel in Cape Town. “We’re working on a new range that is trendy but affordable. We also want to encourage people to shop more locally,” Emma says.

“I decided to jump straight into this, with no real business model to work from. I think that many people convince themselves not to do something when they look at the figures. I could have given up at any point, but I persisted,” Emma recalls. 

Emma Russel is a charming, talented woman who has utilised her innate set of skills with a never-give-up mentality. The result? A beautiful, local product fit for royalty.

Contact: Nicolson Russell


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here