Emma Turpin, designer and maker

 27 November 2012

Emma Turpin set up her own jewellery brand after graduating with a degree in Jewellery. As well as designing her collections, she works at a gallery as an assistant jeweller.

Emma's collections are inspired by the decor and buildings of the Victorian era.
Emma's collections are inspired by the decor and buildings of the Victorian era.

Hometown?

I’m from the Bishop Stortford area, and am now based in Saffron Walden.

What job do you do?

I'm a designer-maker of jewellery.

I work primarily with silver. I can also work in gold, both 9 and 18 carat, platinum and palladium. At the moment, though, silver is cheaper for me to work with. 

How did you get started in jewellery?

I left school after my GCSEs and went to college. 

I studied 3D design and then jewellery design at Hertford Regional College in Ware. Then I went on to do a degree in Jewellery at Middlesex University

I had the opportunity to take a year out, so I did, and during that year I spent six months working for a fashion jewellers in Primrose Hill. It was interesting, but it wasn't really for me. I got to make some pieces, but it was very much making what you were told to make.

"I got work at a gallery because I met people in the industry. Work experience gives you contacts."

Fashion jewellery is often a lot more trend-focussed. It has a different market to contemporary jewellery, which is more about creating one-off, bespoke pieces or using precious metals. Contemporary jewellery interested me a lot more.

I spent some time working as a teaching assistant at my old college. At that stage I was also considering a teaching career. 

Then I was offered work as an assistant jeweller at the Gowan Jewellers contemporary jewellery gallery. I'm still working freelance for them now.

I wanted to see if I could do some shows with my own work, so I started applying for places at craft fairs around the country. I sent samples of my work to galleries, too.

I did some fairs and trade shows, and did well. I found a recognisable style to work in, and built my collection up. More recently, I set up a workshop space at home.

What qualifications do you have?

At college, I did a BTEC National in 3D design which covered a lot of aspects of design, but did include some jewellery work.

Then I did a Higher National Diploma (HND) in Jewellery Design, and finally the BA in Jewellery. 

What do you do at work?

I always start the day by answering my emails. 

I tend to give myself a list of jobs to do throughout the day. I make work for stockists who are selling my collections, or galleries that are showing my work.  I also do bespoke commissions.

"It can take a long time to become established. You have to really want it."

I make rings, necklaces, brooches, earrings – all of it. I don’t outsource any work except, occasionally, gem setting. This is a skill in itself so a professional gem setter's skills can be useful.

I have to photograph everything once I have made it, so I have a visual record of what I've made.

I also spend time writing invoices and contacting galleries about putting work into them. Searching out new galleries does take time. Some days I will only do paperwork.

I also use social media to promote myself – I have a Twitter and Facebook presence. 

What's the best thing about your job?

Being self-employed means I am my own boss. I can be flexible about when I work.

Also, there's real job satisfaction in making something others appreciate. 

Finally, I'm always learning how to make new things or form new designs. 

And the worst thing about the job?

It can take quite a long time to become established. You have to really want it, and be in it for the long term. You can’t expect things to turn around for you instantly.

I launched the Emma Turpin brand straight away when I left university, and it took at least five years to be recognised.

How do I get into jewellery? 

Well, I came into it via the university route, but these days a degree isn’t necessary. My advice would be as follows:

  1. Get the right skills in the best way for you
    Some sort of qualification is often useful, but it doesn't have to be a degree. Places like Holts Academy offer a range of qualifications. You could also do some evening courses.
     
  2. Aim for a range of work experience
    Try and get as much experience as possible in different fields of jewellery. Different companies and designers work with a range of people. Gemologists, gem setters, galleries, and so on.
    I got work at a gallery because I met people in the industry. Work experience can give you long term contacts – it’s not always what you know, but also who. Make yourself accessible to people.
     
  3. Visit as many craft shows as possible 
    If you're new in the industry and you've set yourself up as a designer-maker, I recommend International Jewellery London's Kickstart programme.
    You can only do it once, and it exists to encourage makers to do a show if they haven’t done it before. There's a selection process, and, only about eight people are chosen.
    If you get a place, you get to attend IJL for a cheap price, and they'll give you a lot of promotion.
     
  4. Plan ahead
    You should always be looking ahead, six months to a year in advance. Where do you want to be? What shows do you want to have attended? Who do you want to be working with? 
     
  5. Be original
    Don’t copy. Influences on your design are fine, but direct copying never goes down well. 
    Give yourself an aim, and work to get a collection together you can market. Try and come up with something that's your own. 

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