I started writing this post initially about jewellery trends for the coming season, but got side-tracked whilst thinking of all the trailblazing jewellers I know, and subsequently how hard it is to maintain the freshness that got them there in the first place. Starting a jewellery business in today’s times, in London (or any big metropolis) is something that I’ve been thinking a lot about recently. Part of my work as a jewellery consultant is giving creative advice to jewellery companies and designers starting out, and another part of my work is to write about them on the blog, so I generally come across a lot of people trying to achieve success as a jewellery designer. Very, very few ‘press release’ emails catch my attention, and I thought it would be worth sharing my experience as to why this is the case.
Starting a jewellery business in the current market is not easy, mainly due to the exceptional amount of competition making it extremely difficult to stand out, as well as painfully high metal prices stunting free-flowing ideas and concepts, compared to in, say, the 1960s.
But don’t let that put you off. Read on for my tips on how to start a successful jewellery brand in 2015…
AM I DOING ANYTHING NEW?
This is the first thing to ask yourself when looking at your designs and ideas. The jewellery market in the UK is saturated with similarity; in style, form and brand look and feel – we aren’t short of companies who profess to have an ‘edgy’ or ‘minimalist’ look, and ‘dainty’ stacking rings and chains are in abundance. Sigh. There are also so many new brands who seem to have borrowed from others – a bit of a spiky silhouette here, skinny double rings there…all thrown together without much creativity and a definite feel that they are following the zeitgeist rather than starting anything genuinely new. This is perhaps understandable with prices for gold and gemstones still very high, and dainty and skinny shapes and styles are the easiest to achieve at a certain price-point, but this is no excuse. Be new.
DEFINE & CONQUER YOUR STYLE
I do not believe that what a designer can achieve creatively should be limited by budget. I walk through tradeshows with an uninspired, sinking feeling, as I see yet another jewellery brand launch with no real uniqueness or authentic originality; with few pioneers or game-changers on show. Be brave and bold. Please.
The jewellers who I feel are setting the standards in creativity and leading the way this year are certainly not following trends, and as their style is unique and authentic to them, it will be hard to be emulated by others. Hence they truly stand out amongst the masses. To be a strong, desired jewellery brand you must first define and conquer your own style, and stay true to that style, to the niche you have created, and imbue everything you touch with that feeling. Which is a lot easier in theory than in practice.
EXPLAIN YOURSELF: DESIGN A WINEGLASS
Ok, not literally. But this exercise is a good one to see how strong your brand DNA really is. Many successful jewellers are asked by other companies to collaborate, as they want a piece of their style. Hannah Martin and Hendrick’s Gin (pictured above) is a great example of this. Probably before Hendrick’s even asked Hannah to design for them, they had a good idea of what it would look like, because Hannah Martin is such a strong brand with a very true sense of design identity and a cohesive, recognisable design handwriting.
From the dozens of new jewellery brands launching every week, very few achieve newness in style, or uniqueness in its truest sense, mainly because they are either chasing someone else’s style or they aren’t being authentic to their own style. As a designer or creative person this is all you have – your vision, your ‘take’ on the world, and when you’re able to convey this through a piece of design, again and again so it becomes cohesive and comprehensive, to the point where you could design a wineglass, for example, and everyone would know it was you who designed it, this is when you’ve achieved a successful brand. And hopefully, a successful business.
It’s hard to sell a product that isn’t unique, and I always advise new brands to be as niche as possible initially. You design jewellery from grains of recycled coffee? Excellent. Your new collection is based on gang culture in the Bronx from the 1970s? Again, excellent. You design ‘gold and silver jewellery’ that is ‘exciting’ and ‘quirky’ and ‘bold’, ‘with a twist’? Not so good.
Commerciality is important, but it’s much easier to add this in and develop your range from a starting point of originality, than it is to add originality to a commercial range that adds nothing new to the market. You can add commerciality as your business grows as you learn more about your customer and what they want, but without the ‘undiluted’ pieces acting as the backbone to your collection, reinforcing your style and becoming triggers in people’s minds when they think of your brand, you’ll just be another London based brand scrambling to catch the attention of editors and journalists alike.
For jewellery start-up consultation/advice, please email me directly at email@example.com
Last week we visited the pretty London enclave of Primrose Hill, where jewellery designers Zoe & Morgan have created their new boutique space, showcasing a beautiful selection of handmade, delicate and style-focused jewellery and – most importantly for me – their new collection of engagement and wedding rings. With graphic prints on the walls, flowers and plants everywhere and beautiful vintage display cabinets and furniture, the store has clearly been as lovingly designed as the jewellery within it.
Zoe & Morgan was started by siblings Zoe, Morgan and Ruth in London in 2005. As children of a silversmith and an upbringing that took them all over the world, their influences range from talismanic, tribal and cosmic patterns and motifs, with a strong free-spirited feel underpinning all the collections, reflective of their bohemian childhood and love of the outdoors.
Recently diversifying into engagement rings and wedding bands, the bold yet minimal style and silhouette the brand is known for has been distilled into a collection of sharp-looking, sophisticated rings with an unusual geometric edge, with graphic lines and great use of negative space that give the pieces a contemporary and easy-to-wear feel.
The strong geometric designs which are the essence of the Zoe & Morgan brand have translated perfectly into this engagement ring collection, which holds true to their linear, graphic style, but in a more luxury, classic way. For a low-key, stylish engagement ring with a non-conventional edge, this London based boutique is well worth a visit. Find it at: 48 Chalcot Road,London NW1 8LS, or visit www.zoeandmorgan.com.
For more engagement ring inspiration have a look at our Gallery
I love looking at a person’s handwriting. The flourish, scale, weight and care that the individual gives each word says so much about them, that I find it intensely personal and revealing (non-descript, changeable scrawl or basic printing in capitals acts as a warning, and is hugely unattractive to me). It is also relatively easy to look at a body of work and identify a unique design ‘handwriting’ (see Fernando Jorge, Polly Wales and Hannah Martin), a cohesive tone that makes it instantly recognisable due to a familiarity of form, yet wholly original in style. New jewellery design duo Shimell & Madden have this quality – a small British jewellery brand that has been growing steadily over the past 5 years, their seemingly complex mini structures of layered linear pattern result in strong, bold, but delicate forms.
I met Emma Madden, fresh from a successful London Fashion Week (which resulted in prestigious concept store Dover Street Market declaring they would ‘take it all’) at their retailer The New Craftsmen to talk inspiration, building collections, and process.
Coming from a traditional jewellery background, Emma and her design partner Luke Shimell met whilst both working at a family-run jewellers in Devon, mainly undertaking general repair and soldering work for the shop. Sharing an interest in maths, pure geometric shapes and proportion, they launched their brand in 2010, which they now design and make by hand in their studio in East London.
Collections are started organically, without sketches, moodboards or tangible points of inspiration, and instead are borne from experimentation; playing with a simple concept of layering, initially with concentric circles – each circle painstakingly cut out by hand and raised above the previous one with tiny supporting joints, like miniature architectural models. This very visual way of working allows room for trial and error, and Emma tells me of the hoards of discarded brass models piling up at their studio.
They pair also spend time hunting down the perfect stone – design of a piece often follows the discovery of a one-off cut gemstone – with skinny, geometric cuts of tourmaline or lemon quartz taking centre stage in the middle of the maze-like structures.
The strong symbolic feel of Shimell & Madden’s collections also add to their appeal; although according to Emma people tend to add different meanings to each piece, depending on their perspective. The satisfying symmetry, clean lines and repeating pattern feel familiar yet modern; reminiscent all at once of ancient pagan symbolism, old english mazes and stellar constellations…yet the pieces manage to sit proud in contemporary spaces such as Dover Street Market, Ruberg in Islington, and The New Craftsmen.
To see more of Shimell & Madden’s work, visit the above retailers, or have a look at their website here.
With thanks to The New Craftsmen, 34 North Row, Mayfair, London, W1K 6DG. Photos and text by Kate Baxter, copyright 2015.