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Ernesto Ovalle - The First Colombian Working With Maori Pounamu

Updated: Dec 2, 2023

Today, we want to bring the incredible story of Ernesto Ovalle, the first Colombian to work with Pounamu in New Zealand.

Ernesto Ovalle Oro Negro Pounamu
Photography by Ricky Wilson.

Pounamu Jewellery

Pounamu is a term for several types of hard and durable stone found in the South Island of New Zealand. They are highly valued in New Zealand, and carvings made from pounamu play an important role in Māori culture

We want to share his interesting story, we asked him some questions about his journey to build his business, Oro Negro, and here's what he told us:

How Oro Negro Started?

Pounamu Jewellery

" Established in 2001, Oro Negro Jewellery Studio flourished out of my need to create

contemporary jewelry as I had in my homeland, Colombia. These skills were passed down to me by two previous generations in my family who began training me when I was 13 years old.

Later, Oro Negro opened their first studio on Beresford Square, near Karangahape Road where I and my crew began focusing on expanding their knowledge of the traditional methods of Pounamu Whakairo (Maori Greenstone carving). Oro Negro has now been based on Karangahape Road for over 13 years having moved from Beresford Square in 2018 to Maota Samoa House"

How did you learn about carving?

" I started working full-time as a carver in 2002. In 2010, I attended Taipotini Polytechnic in Greymouth to study carving and further my skills. At the end of the year, I opened The Bridge Gallery Studio in Auckland Central. To develop my practice I went to Elam School of Fine Arts in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014. At the university, I studied under Dante Bonica of the Maori department in subjects Te Kete Aronui and Maori traditional methods to work with pounamu. I trained in hand finish techniques and tool-making and learned to produce sandstone files to create carvings"

Ernesto Ovalle Oro Negro Pounamu

How would you define what you do?

" My love of the craft can be traced back to my indigenous and family heritage: in the pre-colonization state of Cundinamarca, the Muisca tribe created gold ornaments and statues, and my uncles and grandfather worked with metals as watchmakers and jewelers"

How Oronegro is now a family business?

Currently, my two children - Sebastian and Manuela - carry on the tradition as fourth-generation Colombian jewellers/carvers. Through their work, they have been able to create a unique cultural environment to express their identities as Colombian / New Zealanders.

In 2017, Sebastian began his jewellery training in the Oro Negro Studio. Sebastian developed his brand Frankie Ruins which has a focus on modernising signet rings. The inspiration of working with signet rings came from Sebastian's great grandfather who was a watch and signet ring maker in Colombia.

Early 2019, Manuela joined the Oro Negro team alongside me and Sebastian. She acquired jewellery and carving skills which inspired the initiation of her own jewellery brand Saint Cecilia Jewellery. Her is a celebration of both sides of her cultural identity as a New Zealand - Colombian coming together.

Ernesto Ovalle Oro Negro Pounamu

What is the Latino Foods Product you like the most?

Our favourite product is, without a doubt, Juan Valdez coffee. It brings our team together and keeps us energised to keep up with our customers.


Don't Forget to Visit his website:

Thank you for reading,

Latino Foods Team

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