Karlin Anderson, designer and teacher

 26 November 2012

After a week of work experience, Karlin Anderson was sure she wanted to work with jewellery. She now runs her own designer brand.

"My whole career started with a work experience opportunity."

Hometown?

I'm from the Shetland Islands in the north of Scotland. I'm now based in London.

What job do you do?

The main part of my week is spent running my jewellery design company. I design and make bespoke jewellery for private clients. We do the design together, look at stones, diamonds, and other gems, and then I make the pieces for them.

I also create pieces as a self-employed designer-maker for a couple of jewellery shops, either for particular clients of theirs or stocking their showrooms. Nothing I do is mass-produced – I make all my designs myself.

Finally, I teach at Holts Academy of Jewellery two days a week. Mostly I teach 'bench' skills, meaning the students are all at the workbench and I’m teaching them how to make pieces of jewellery. The course I teach is the Level 3 diploma in Jewellery Manufacture. I also teach some of the design classes.

How did you get started in jewellery?

My career in jewellery started when I was at school on the Shetland Islands. I grew up on a farm, and had no idea what I wanted to do, but I loved art and making things.

One of the options for work experience was in a jewellery workshop. I spent a week with Shetland Jewellery. At the end of the week, I thought, "If I can do this for a job one day, I’ll be delighted."

"My whole career started with a work experience opportunity."

Until I did that work experience, I never thought I'd have the opportunity to get into things like that. When I left school, I approached the same jewellery company. They asked me to come in for a chat and offered me a job.

In the workshop, I got loads of hands-on experience. I started on less technical aspects of the work. They taught me things like basic jewellery repairs, ring sizings and cleaning up castings.

The workshop did a lot of casting in-house as well as making pieces from scratch. This meant they were able to give me silver pieces to hand-finish – things like filing the edges smooth. Gradually the responsibilities increased.

Eventually I left the Shetland Islands for Glasgow to do a Higher National Diploma (HND) in jewellery design and manufacture. 

My whole career started with that work experience opportunity.

What previous jobs have you done?

While I was studying, I got work experience with Hodgkinson Jewellers, Glasgow. I designed and made pieces for clients, and came up with new ideas I hoped would sell.

They started me off on the easiest stuff, but as my capabilities increased, so did the responsibility. I ended up working there for seven years in total. By the time I left, I was doing the full range of work: meeting clients, designing with them, making pieces for them, and designing pieces for the showroom.

"I got to design for Claudia Schiffer. One day Kate Moss came in and bought some jewellery."

I wanted to move south, so I got in touch with a number of jewellery companies about working for them, and landed a job in the Hatton Garden jewellery quarter.

I did diamond mounting, mainly. Diamond mounting doesn’t actually mean setting the diamonds – it’s making the mounts which hold the gems. A stone setter then added the gems.

After that, I got a job with Wint & Kidd, a coloured diamond specialist in Notting Hill. I designed directly for visiting clients, and once again I could oversee the whole making process from beginning to end. 

Because they were a high-end jewellery design company, I was able to make some really interesting things. I got to design for Claudia Schiffer, and one day Kate Moss came in and bought some of our jewellery.

After four years, the company went through some changes, so I set myself up on in a shared workshop space and did further work for them from there. I always wanted to have my own business, and working self-employed for Wint & Kidd allowed me to do my own work on the side. It was a great stepping stone to setting up my own business.  

Gradually I was able to increase my private clients, and that’s now the main thing I do.

What qualifications do you have?

My HND started me off, but throughout my career I’ve kept training. I also have:

Jewellers' Diploma for retail from the National Association of Goldsmiths
• City and Guilds qualification in stone setting
• A number of short courses here and there – great for topping up your skills. I look forward to doing more of these with Holts Academy.

Most of my learning has been workshop-based. My greatest learning curve has always been in the workshop, surrounded by people who can teach me 'on the job'.

The companies I have worked for have also invested in me – Hodgkinson sent me on short courses at the Birmingham School of Jewellery. I learned stone-setting there, among other things.

What do you do at work?

A typical day in my workshop

  • I check emails and follow up potential clients for commissions. I look over the progress of my designs, and sort out all the day's paperwork.
     
  • I then look at the jobs for the day, and spend time in the workshop making pieces of jewellery. 
     
  • My clients usually come to see me in the evening, after they finish work. They’ll come to discuss new ideas and designs, view progress, look at stones, choose diamonds, check finger sizes for rings, or collect a final piece.
    When I speak to a client about a piece, I usually don't get to work on it straight away as I have a waiting list, but usually it’s not too long a wait. I aim to take 4-6 weeks to complete a project, from discussion to finished piece.

A typical day teaching jewellery skills

  • I arrive at the college, check my lesson plans and make sure I am set up for everything. Do I need tools, worksheets, or materials? Is the training workshop set up and ready for what we're doing? We might be making a piece of metalwork, doing some engraving, or practising wax casting.
     
  • The students are in the workshop from 9:30-5:30, with a break for lunch. It's a good system for learning to make jewellery, as students have long periods to really focus on the technical skills they are being taught and the ] jewellery they are making. My role is to teach them these skills and support them in their learning.
     
  • When I'm not with a class I have my learners' work to assess and lessons to plan. It's great to see them progressing from when they first join to when they leave, confident in the skills they have learned and preparing for a future in the jewellery industry.

What's the best thing about your job?

Meeting my clients. A lot of my work is spent creating gifts people want designed for special occasions, so I love giving them the piece at the end of the process, knowing I've made something special for someone.

"You get to know the client quite well, especially if it’s an important piece, like an engagement ring."

Having gone through all the stages of designing the piece with the client, you get to know them quite well, especially if it’s a really important piece, like an engagement ring.

Clients will tell you about their vision for the piece, and often what it is being designed to commemorate.

It’s always an honour to see how much they love it, and be able to fulfil all the dreams they had about what they wanted the piece to be like. I do love that.

In terms of teaching, I like that we have a mix of ages on our courses. We have a range of students, from school leavers aged 17 right up to a 72-year-old, who I believe is our most mature learner! It's never too late to begin learning something you are passionate about.

And the worst thing about the job?

The admin side of things is never as fun as actually making pieces. Whether it's running round collecting stones you're going to use, or doing accounts, I'd always rather be at the bench, or meeting clients. 

How do I get into jewellery?

These are my five tips:

  1. Work experience is key
    You have to be bold. Ask people. All the jobs I have ever had came from me approaching people and asking them – letting them know what I could do.
     
  2. Target your potential employers
    Make a list of people you want to work for, and go through it, enquiring about work experience. Look for work experience with all of them. You lose nothing by trying, and you may start at the bottom, but with enthusiasm and skills learned, your responsibilities will also grow.
     
  3. Get the right skills
    Try to get some skills that would be beneficial to potential employers. Do a short course if you can afford it. You want to be useful. 
    Good training courses start you off from the beginning and teach you most things you will need. With the diploma at Holts, Level 2 covers basic skills, Level 3 builds on those, and Level 4 sets you up for the workshop.
    After Level 4 you should be able to go confidently into a paid job, or set up your own business. That kind of learning is invaluable.
     
  4. Go for your dreams
    Decide what it is you want to do in the future and choose your skills and employment based on your dreams. You often have to start small, but know where you want to be going. 
     
  5. Being employed as a craftsperson is a two-way relationship
    Sometimes people think that a company owes them a living, but it’s such a two way thing. If you’re willing to invest your passion into the company, they will invest in you.
    Think about what skills you can offer as an investment for them. Make yourself employable, an asset to them, and they will be able to invest in you more easily.
    It’s amazing when it works like that – both sides have to choose to put the time and effort in.

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