Top jewellers tell Olivia Simpson about the hard graft, years of experience and artistic drive that goes into their creations
Kathryn King, Kathryn King Designer Jewellery
What attracted you to the jewellery world? I think I’ve always been fascinated by gemstones. My earliest memory of jewellery is visiting the gold souks in Kuwait, where I lived as a child.
How long have you been making jewellery? After five years at art school (I completed a BA at Edinburgh College of Art, specialising in jewellery), I started my business in 1996, so it’ll be 26 years in February.
What is your favourite kind of piece to make? I enjoy the commission side of the business because it’s always challenging. However, my favourite part of the job is designing for stock with selections of precious gemstones.
Who or what are your biggest inspirations? I appreciate nature and architecture but I’m probably most inspired by the raw materials themselves – I love the precious gemstones and the metals.
What makes a bespoke commission special? Reworking a customer’s sentimental jewellery is lovely. It’s so special to create a piece which will be worn and loved and eventually handed down to the next generation.
Which of your designs are you particularly pleased with at the moment? I adore autumnal colours and have been working with some gorgeous Mandarin garnets and Mali garnets in multi-stone necklaces.
Dan Dower, Dower & Hall
Where does your love of jewellery come from? I’ve always loved small precious things that fit in the palm of you hand and can be admired from all angles. As a kid, it was shells, pebbles and crystals; this has evolved into a fascination with the tactile treasures that I make and sculpt from metal and gems today.
Did you have to undertake any formal training? I studied for a degree in jewellery design (which is where I met Diane, my wife and business partner) and a diploma in gemology. Everything else I’ve learnt from 30-plus years in the business.
Why should someone come to you for their jewellery? Because we pride ourselves on having a sense of fun, a fascination for detail and craftsmanship, offering great service online or in store, and creating designs that will feel relevant to current trends while always remaining timeless.
Do you have any upcoming projects or designs that you’re particularly excited about? We’re about to launch a brand new range of Narrative rings that I’ve been working on for a while. This is a collection of precious stacking rings to complement the ever-popular silver Twinkle rings that we’ve been designing and developing for over 25 years.
It has been an opportunity to distil some of our classic styles and inspirations into a collection that will allow you to wear the rings in myriad ways to tell different stories.
Sheila Kerr, Sheila Kerr Jewellery
How did you get into making jewellery? It happened almost by accident! There was a restructuring in my job as a lecturer and my job content changed. I had always been interested in the idea of making jewellery so I decided to go to my local college to learn silversmithing and goldsmithing.
Where does your inspiration come from? I am inspired by everything! A lot of shapes in nature, architecture and art inspire my work. I find my customers’ ideas can inspire me too.
What are your favourite pieces to make? I love making engagement rings and wedding rings: they are exchanged as a sign of the couple’s love on their wedding day, and I am proud to be part of this special ceremony.
Which materials do you most enjoy working with? Gold – the solder flows beautifully, making it such a pleasure to work with. Gemstones are a delight too – who doesn’t love the huge variety of stones? That being said, diamonds have got to be my favourite.
What has been the highlight of your career so far? There have been many highlights and I have treasured each one, but my proudest moment was being runner-up in the Jewellery Designer of the Year awards in 2016, awarded by the National Association of Jewellers of which I am a member.
Sheila Fleet, Sheila Fleet
How did you get into the jewellery world? I was drawn to the idea of learning a craft that would give me a creative future and also help me earn a living. While cutting and polishing stones at an amateur lapidary club during my second year of art college in Edinburgh, I set my first stone in a silver ring. That was my first jewellery-making experience and where I started my journey.
What inspires you? I’m inspired by where I live. I grew up on a farm at Hoxa Head in Orkney with views of the countryside and the Pentland Firth. After some time spent away from this part of the world, I moved back to Orkney in 1977 and it continues to offer inspiration to this day.
From idyllic beaches and dramatic sea cliffs to the open farmland, not to forget the amazing historic features, there’s so much to draw on. The stormy sea around the islands in particular has been the starting point for many of my collections.
What has been the highlight of your career so far? I am fortunate to have had many high points in my career, but receiving an OBE for my services to the jewellery industry in 2013 and being awarded an honorary degree from Edinburgh College of Art in 2014 are definitely at the top of the list!
Are there any upcoming projects you’re excited about? I have teamed up with fashion designer and fellow Orcadian Kirsteen Stewart to create a range of beautiful muslin scarves inspired by some of my iconic jewellery collections.
Sarah Raffel, Brazen Studios
How long have you been making jewellery? I graduated from the Glasgow School of Art with first-class honours in 2003 and have been running Brazen Studios since December 2004, so nearly 18 years.
Who inspires you most? I love how British designer Solange Azagury-Partridge uses colour and takes a Pop Art approach to her jewellery. And when I was first contemplating moving into a 3D art form, I was very taken by Cathy de Monchaux’s sculptural work.
She uses a wide range of materials and blends sexualised themes with beautifully intricate forms in brass, paper and leather. They are quite beautiful.
What makes a bespoke commission special? It is a combination of the conversations that inform the development of the piece and the fact that the client can inject their own ideas, thoughts and considerations into it. They inform the outcome as much as I do, and I provide the necessary technical advice where applicable.
How would you help someone who is unsure of what they want in a bespoke commission? I break it down into the separate components: colour, shape and style. Most people do know what they want, but it takes that conversation to unpack the details of what they don’t like. Then you start to create a picture in your mind, and through the drawing process you start to build upon the important details and eliminate what’s not needed.