Update - I wrote this piece just on the cusp of approaching galleries with my new collections of work. This morning my niece explained how she'd seen a friend wearing very similar designs to my work and with a little research it quickly became apparent that yes, there are a lot of designers creating similar work. Oops! So back to the drawing board, perseverance and determination will get me there in the end. So my lesson to share is this - do your research!
I've been teaching jewellery and silversmithing for over fifteen years and something I see time and again is people struggling to come up with projects to make. The go-to is to look at jewellery designs on Pinterest and take inspiration from what is already out there. I agree that when you're just starting out it's important to build up your making-skills and create work that you like and to hone your craft by practising with ready-made designs but after a while I believe every serious maker needs to start asking - What does my creativity look like? What do I want to say or share? What does my work mean and how do I want the wearer to feel? What do I want to leave behind? After all our metal treasures will outlive us all.
I hope the following dos and don'ts help you [Summary]:
Do consider your starting point
Do experiment and play
Do test drive your jewellery
Do continue to develop your skills
Don't replicate someone else's work and claim it as your own
Don't keep making work you hate
Don't charge your customer for your inexperience
Don't undersell yourself
Now let’s review each step in more detail.
- consider your starting point.
Try to not look at other jewellery designers work and find something that excites and engages you. Maybe a poem, a story, an old picture or an antique piece, fixings and fastenings, different environments (underwater, mountains, woodland), nature, science, images of macro or microscopic patterns, techniques, spirituality, politics... the options are unlimited, let your imagination fly.
- experiment and play
It is rare to create the perfect piece the first time around. Give yourself a break, relax and play with the materials and techniques, see if you can develop your own way of doing things after initial research and training. Be mindful of the making process so that you can decide if it's something you enjoy and want to repeat and also it's good to know how to repeat it!
- test drive your jewellery
Before making several of the same stunning items be sure to wear your piece, check for any sharp areas by closing your eyes and running fingers over every edge. Wear your item to make sure it's strong, it's comfortable and it sits how you intended.
- continue to develop your skills
Just because you've got to a certain level of competence with your making, don't get complacent, sign up for more training, look online for new tools to play with. Continue to be excited and find ways to stay enthusiastic about your craft.
- replicate someone else's work and claim it as your own
It does help you not to 'copy' someone else's work if you're not looking at other jewellery designers for inspiration. But if, by accident, you land up making similar work through iterative design or from starting from a similar starting point then I feel like that's okay. If you knowingly reproduce a designers work and sell it as your own you are not adding anything to the world and are effectively stealing someone's intellectual property.
- keep making work you hate
You've found something that sells well but it fills your stomach with dread when you have to make it - STOP. Life is too short to be wasting your time on hashing out the same old tried and tested work. It will drain your energy and you'll become little more than a robot. Start again with new inspiration, technique or toy (tool).
- charge your customer for your inexperience
The Artists Union England suggests charging around £30 per hour as a craftsperson. Now, a ring made by an experienced jeweller might take an hour but a novice may take three. This cost can't realistically be passed on to your customer. A way around this is to find a quicker way to produce the same item, outsource the service (stone setting, casting etc), practise the technique you love and get faster or you could consider what you can make quickly at the design stage.
- Undersell yourself
This is such an important one and I can't stress enough how difficult it is for us to know our worth - myself included! With a saturated market it's easy to under price work to match similar work on Etsy and the like. But ask yourself, if you're okay with underselling and it's costing you money to make the item why not simply gift the work for free? By not charging enough for your time, expertise, creativity, materials and overheads you are undermining someone who is, thereby making it difficult for designer makers to earn a living. One way to look at it is this - how much does an average couple out on a dinner date spend? Now, how much are you charging for that handmade, one of a kind ring made with precious metal and stones that will last forever?
Founder of Creative Therapy Space & Fine Jewellery Brand Dea + me