Bustle your way through the shaded city streets, past the busy tapas bars heaving with tourists picking at olives and the gaudy souvenir shops selling flamenco aprons and mosaic bulls, and you will find a twinkling cavern of pretty little things. Peer into its windows and you will see a beautiful rainbow of gems, precious metals and intricate designs made for beach babes and tribal princesses alike. Step inside and gaze at the white washed wooden doors serving as rustic backdrops to colourful must-haves piled creatively on the shelves and hanging invitingly from ornate door knobs. The sight of such a vast array of jewellery and fabric transports you to far flung places like Kerala, Istanbul or Chiang Mai. But this is Malaga, and you are in Pebbles & Chance, Camilla’s special house of treasures.
Just like the boutique, its owner Camilla Cherry is petite, vibrant, intriguing and utterly engaging. As we talk her mind jumps from one place to another and I find myself travelling around an imaginary globe as she fills me with all the wonders of her travels. Camilla has been on the move since she was a baby. Born in Brighton, she then moved to Zambia and South Africa where she was raised. She was young and carefree in London, married, brought up her family in Ireland, then bundled them all into a campervan and set off for Spain. That was thirteen years ago, and after travelling around the country she settled in Malaga a couple of years ago.
So how did Camilla go from nomadic free spirit to successful shop owner?
‘I come from a creative family,’ she tells me. Her father a technical drawer, her brother a journalist, one sister an illustrator and her elder sister Abby designs jewellery for her shop. ‘I was a freelance graphic designer when I worked in London, but I’ve always been fascinated with stones and gems. So when I went to Ireland I decided to get into jewellery as it was a job I could do from home as a mum of two small kids. I’m self taught but I enjoyed buying up old pieces of jewellery, taking them apart, mixing them up, and making new stuff. I sold my creations in the markets of Galway, and then when we came to Spain and lived in the countryside I carried on selling my pieces in markets and on Etsy online. But it wasn’t enough, I was missing something.’
That ‘something’ was the excitement of city life. So two years ago, after much soul searching, Camilla chose to open Pebbles & Chance in the centre of Europe’s oldest city – in a tiny street with Malaga’s main square at one end and the cathedral and Picasso museum at the other. Her shop, named after her two teenage daughters, sits like a diamond in a giant temple – small, sparkling and precious hidden amongst a vast labyrinth of history.
In between the waves of customers freshly released from that day’s cruise ships in the port, she gives me a tour of her shop and points out her cabinets, each one housing a different style of jewellery. The phrase may be over used, but in this case there really is ‘something for everyone’. There are cotton and trinket bracelets for beach babes, chunky silver ethnic necklaces with bright solid stones for the well-travelled, and yellow gold and antique charms fit for an Indian queen. Some of the pieces have been designed by Camilla, some commissioned and some created by mixing the old and new. Everything in the shop has, in one way or another, been recycled, reused or reclaimed – from the vintage silver to the fabric on the walls. She believes in supporting local artisans too, she has even approached people selling their macramé art in the street and asked them to make pieces for her shop. Her work is also sold on a stall in Puerto Banus, in a shop in Tarifa and even a gallery in Ibiza.
She isn’t short of ideas and I marvel at the assortment of different pendants and earrings available, from bright green emeralds to bright green beach combed polished glass. She gives me an impish grin as she points to a large bucket filled to the brim with what, at a glance, appears to be millions of polished colourful pebbles.
‘I just love stones, they are my obsession,’ she says. ‘I have tubs of them everywhere, hundreds of precious and semi precious stones all squirreled away. I collect them everywhere I go. I love going to India to visit my suppliers as I get to pick out each individual stone and oversee the work the silver and goldsmiths do. I have a great relationship with them, plus I have great fun hunting down antique pieces to mix in with my designs.’
If you close your eyes and take a deep breath you are in a colourful Indian street market. There’s a waft of incense and the fabrics smell of tropical beaches and lazy days.
‘I had no intension of getting into fashion,’ she tells me. ‘But the Spanish customers love clothes, so while I was in India I tracked down the best quality suppliers in Delhi and Jaipur (the textile and gem capital of the world) and brought back shawls, skirts and bags. This year is the first season that I have designed my own range. It’s a mix of ethnic and boho chic in style, but nothing crazy, I like my clothes simple and my jewellery to make the statement. My clothes are like a monochrome canvas and my jewellery the colourful explosion of colours. You can make anything look amazing with the right earrings and necklace.’
Our conversation is interrupted by a Danish customer who tells us she has travelled down the country mountain to Malaga from a yoga retreat. She begins by asking after the price of a pair of earrings, and within ten minutes she has enquired after every item in the shop. She can’t get enough, and flits between the shawls, skirts, necklaces and earrings. Camilla explains to her the properties of each stone, suggesting which ones work best with her skin stone and hair colour.
‘I don’t know what one to get,’ she tells us, enjoying the audience. Pebbles & Chance doesn’t feel like a shop, it’s like being a child again and your mother allowing you to take a look through her jewellery box. You want to touch it all, try it on, and talk about every piece in your hand. And Camilla is more than happy to take her time explaining the healing properties of each crystal to the group of curious customers forming around us. As the Danish lady leaves, her hands heavy with bags and her neck twinkling in the sunlight, Camilla turns to a work in progress – a pretty necklace on her worktop. Most of her pieces are made in her workshop at home, but she sketches and beads bracelets during the quiet times in the shop.
She talks us through the process for her larger metalwork. First she creates a prototype, then makes a wax cast (which can be further shaped to perfection) which is then sent off to India to be set in brass, silver or gold, and the final pieces are then finished off by her silversmiths. Then when she receives them she sets about turning these metal pieces into glorious and unique creations.
I ask her if she has plans to expand the shop.
‘Maybe, although I like the fact it’s small and intimate. What would be wonderful would be to also grow the business on-line and free up my time to travel more, get out there and get inspired. I’m getting itchy feet again!’ She stares ahead, perhaps already imagining herself on a secluded island, and says very quietly. ‘You know what it’s all about? It’s about finding your vocation. Not finding a mindless job that pays the bill, but something you love. You have to enjoy life; it’s short.’
It’s time to go, and with Camilla’s wise words settling in my mind and my wrist now shining with its own irresistible gem, I glance up at two signs on the wall. ‘Amor’ and ‘Welcome’ they say. Yes, I most certainly was.