Amy Keeper, designer and maker
For years Amy believed that she needed to be good at drawing to succeed as a jewellery maker. Then an evening class gave her confidence, and she began to turn a hobby into a career.
I'm from Hornchurch, where I live. I work in Clerkenwell.
What job do you do?
I am a jewellery designer-maker. I work mainly with sterling silver and semi-precious stones.
How did you get started in jewellery?
I got into it when I started an evening class at City Lit, just for fun. I always wanted to make jewellery when I was little, but I thought you had to be able to draw. I can't draw very well at all, so I didn't pursue it until later.
I was working in an office at the time. The evening class led to more classes on the weekend. After that, I thought I'd give it a go properly. I went to college part-time and did a City & Guilds certificate, then a diploma.
"I got into jewellery when I did an evening class, just for fun. After that, I thought I'd give it a go properly."
Now I'm self-employed. When I left college, my tutor knew someone who had some workshop space to rent, so I got myself set up there.
Thanks to the design work I'd done on my courses, I had an idea of the kind of things I wanted to make. I set about making a range and applying for stalls at trade shows. I worked in other part-time office jobs the whole time.
My first collection was inspired by vintage postcards. It's still popular today.
What previous jobs have you done?
I've worked in council offices, I've assembled Christmas decorations in shopping centres, and I've done admin jobs. At one point I worked for a company who designed Christmas decorations for shopping centres.
I also did some office work at a college, and worked for the council. All the time, I kept making jewellery.
What qualifications do you have?
I did a degree in Theatre Studies before moving into jewellery.
I have both a City & Guilds certificate and diploma in jewellery manufacturing.
I did Design and Technology at school, but my City & Guilds courses didn't really ask for design qualifications as entry requirements. It's not the same as a degree.
If you'd never made any jewellery before, they got you to do an extra two-week making course before the proper course started. Because I'd already done the evening short courses, I didn't have to do this.
What do you do at work?
I don't really have typical days, but on a 'making day', I usually have a list of what I need to get done in my workshop by the end of the day. Often I only get halfway through, but it helps to keep lists.
I take bespoke commissions, but I also have standard ranges I make. I send these out to galleries, jewellery exhibitions and stockists. When I have a bespoke order for a customer, it often takes priority.
"Try to get work experience at a jewellery gallery."
When I have a show coming up, I send out mailshots via email and by post, to keep customers up-to-date about what I'm doing next. I also post samples of my work out to places that might be interested in stocking it.
What's the best thing about your job?
I love getting to be so creative. It's a great feeling, being able to come up with a new design you think will really look good.
Following on from that, it's really satisfying to be able to turn that idea into a physical thing, especially when it works out really well.
And the worst thing about the job?
There can be money worries from time to time when you run a business. You've got to watch out.
How do I get into jewellery?
This is my advice:
- Work experience will help you
A designer friend of mine also works at a jewellery gallery. She's gotten into jewellery the same way I have, but her work experience has been a big advantage.
Try to get work at the sort of gallery where they make their own jewellery as well as sell things.
- Train any way you can
If you're at school, it never hurts to have done as much art and design work as possible. If you have no making experience, do some courses, even just 'hobby' courses. You can never do too many short courses in my opinion. I still pick up new skills in this way.
I wish I'd known it was possible to do an apprenticeship when I was younger, as that would have been ideal. But if you can't do an apprenticeship, you can still get into jewellery. Start with an evening or weekend course, and see where it goes.
- Learn about how jewellery is sold
The selling side of jewellery can be hard to understand without making some effort. Try to find out about how different materials and pieces are valued. It's a good skill to have under your belt.
- Trade shows are worth it
You'll get to know suppliers who are all potential customers, but also other jewellers. You'll see your competition, but also what trends are going on. Then you won't accidentally end up making something that's very similar to someone else's range.
When you're new to the industry, shows give you a good feel for what the trade is like.
- Join a network
I'm a member of Craft Central. It's not that expensive to join, and they're really good. They offer subsidised training days and put on craft fairs. They offer places to exhibit in, and people use them to advertise workshops they're renting out.
It's a great way to get to know other designers, and they're very supportive.
I'd also recommend benchpeg. They're a really good resource for getting into the industry. They advertise jobs for people who don't want to be self-employed. If you do, they also advertise workshop space and anyone who is selling secondhand tools.
Finally, once you're all set up, consider joining the British Jewellers' Association (BJA).
- Discover how business works
Get your 'business head' as early as possible. If you're going to do it yourself and set your own brand up, think about the money. Where will you get it? How will you make it? How much do you need to live on? Do you need a second job in the first few years to keep things afloat? Always think about the money.
Work your pricings out properly. Think how much you're going to earn out of it. It doesn't sound very arty, but you've got to feed yourself.