Do you have a thing for bling? Are diamonds your best friend? Or are you just attracted to shiny things like a barracuda or a magpie? More importantly, though, do you have bags of creativity, a steady hand and a talent for design? If you answered ‘yes’ to all of these questions, then you are definitely reading the right article!
Jewellery designers are trained professionals who use a variety of materials, such as precious metals, gems, stones and crystals, to create accessories for the ears, neck, hands, fingers, feet and toes.
Jewellery design requires a lot of creativity, imagination and technical knowledge. To be successful in this profession, you’ll need an expert understanding and command of design processes, such as cutting, shaping, polishing, stone setting, mounting, welding and engraving.
For many designers, making or designing jewellery is a family occupation with a well-established heritage, e.g. goldsmiths, silversmiths and so forth. Others take it up as a profession on account of a keen interest in jewellery, while some are artists simply experimenting with various materials and mediums to improve and hone their craft.
Most jewellery designers work on a freelance basis. However, younger people coming in to the profession, after completing their studies, are more likely to work as salaried employees. They may work for small and medium-sized enterprises that supply finished goods to high street stores, retail chains, or boutiques and galleries catering to the high-end markets.
If you enter this profession, you’ll be liaising with existing clients and prospective customers to discuss their wants and needs. Furthermore, you’ll be discussing the precise specifications for the jewellery that they want designed.
You’ll begin by presenting sample designs and ideas to the client, and recommending several options or alternatives which may even surpass their expectations.
Once the design has been finalised, it’s all about cracking on with the hands-on jewellery-making activities. Here, you’ll be employing different techniques, such as preparing moulds for casting metal, mounting, stamping, welding, soldering and polishing.
You may also perform specialist tasks, including setting precious and semi-precious stones, electroplating, enamelling and engraving.
You can’t just make beautiful jewellery and leave it kicking around in your workshop. To be successful and really make something of your career, you need to have the commercial acumen to promote your business, build up your professional network and try to secure as many commissions as possible.
Salary & benefits
Salaried jobs are few and far between for jewellery designers, with low starting salaries of around £12,000 to £17,000 per annum, while experienced designers in permanent employment may earn between £20,000 and £50,000.
The vast majority of jewellery designers work as freelancers or run their own businesses. Their earnings depend entirely on their market reputation, expertise, experience and the type and quality of the jewellery that they design.
Freelance designers have flexible working schedules, putting in as many hours as is required to complete their work.
Since most designers work on client-commissioned projects, there may be deadlines and budget limitations necessitating evening and weekend work from time to time.
Salaried designers working for fashion retailers, on the other hand, tend to have regular working hours.
While no minimum or mandatory academic qualifications are prescribed, a background (degree, certificate or diploma) in jewellery design, jewellery-making and production, graphic design, textile design, fashion design, silversmithing or other similar craft-based skills are very useful.
Since this is a profession driven by individual talent and creativity rather than academic knowledge, it’s more important to build up an awesome design portfolio, develop technical skills and master the basic and advanced elements of jewellery designing and making.
Short-term placements with established designers and regular participation in craft fairs, exhibitions and contests are necessary.
Additionally, establishing contacts and strong relationships within the industry, through one-on-one networking or joining trade guilds and professional associations, such as the British Jewellers’ Association (BJA), is a crucial step to success.
Training & progression
Learning and skills development is a daily on-the-job activity.
However, jewellery designers may also improve their techniques and develop new skills by taking specialist postgraduate courses that are offered by a variety of academic and commercial institutions, such as The Goldsmiths’ Company, the Crafts Council and the Jewellery and Allied Industries Training Council (JAITC).
Career progression and success is primarily driven by technical and creative prowess, specialist or unique design approaches, experience and reputation, along with a sizeable and varied portfolio of previous and current work.
Commercial awareness, marketing and promotional skills are also important for building a successful jewellery design business.