Making and selling jewellery

,  12 October 2011

Emma Turpin set up her own jewellery business after graduating from Middlesex University. She makes jewellery from silver and gold, drawing inspiration from the Victorian era.

Emma took a BTEC National Diploma in 3D design, before specialising in jewellery.
Emma took a BTEC National Diploma in 3D design, before specialising in jewellery.

Emma graduated with a degree in jewellery in 2005 and set up her own jewellery business. Her range includes unique pieces from silver and gold, featuring intricate hand-folded silver rosettes. Emma's work is sold around the UK in galleries and at exhibitions, trade and retail shows.

Education routes into jewellery

Instead of the more typical A level route, Emma left school after GCSEs and took a BTEC National Diploma in 3D design at her local college.

“Your work needs to stand out. People who are buying commissions want one-offs."

Art had always been Emma’s best subject, and she knew she wanted a creative career of some sort.

“From an early age my mother had always encouraged me with my creativity. I was the sort of child who was always making things. Like many teenagers I loved fashion, and my interest in jewellery really stemmed from that.

"I thought that jewellery would be more useful than fashion. Jewellery can be passed down the generations, and has lasting value. That is one of the things I like about jewellery – and is the opposite of our throw-away culture.”

After her BTEC National course Emma progressed to the HND in 3D design, where she specialised in jewellery. She proceeded to the second year of a degree in Jewellery at Middlesex University. This course included a year in industry, which Emma found invaluable:

“I did three different placements during my industrial year: teaching, and working with a fashion jeweller and a designer/maker.

"This gave me great experience of the industry, and I have been working part-time for the designer-maker ever since. This part-time work has really helped me during the time I have been setting up my own business. I have been earning money, and the designer has also allowed me to use her studio for my own work.”

Starting as a jewellery designer

Becoming established as a jewellery designer is not easy – there is a lot of competition out there. The first few years can be difficult in many ways, not least financially. Half the battle is getting yourself known as a designer .

“After graduating I started small. This meant exhibiting my work at village halls and craft fairs, and perhaps paying around £30 for the table. This was a way of finding out if people liked my work.”

Fortunately for Emma people did like her work. Emma was making jewellery which was not only attractive but quite different to the jewellery others were producing.

“Your work needs to stand out from other people. People who are buying commissions want one-offs."

How to sell your jewellery

"Starting at small craft fairs was ideal, and I was encouraged by the fact that people wanted to buy my work. Gradually I started to establish a reputation and moved to bigger shows, where perhaps the cost of a table was between £100- £150.

"Don’t give up if you have a bad trade show - not every show is good for every designer".

“Joining the Guild of Essex Craftsmen also helped me in the early days, and I sold work successfully via their excellent craft fairs. Making a success of craft fairs takes time and effort, which for me really paid off.

"I gradually progressed onto bigger and more prestigious shows. I have recently exhibited at the Craft Council’s Origin Contemporary Craft Fair in London.

“Some years at retail and trade fairs are better than others. Early on I exhibited at the British Trade Craft Fair in Harrogate, which is a very popular event. I started with a small section in the newcomers' area, and went on to have two more very successful years with them. But on other occasions at different events I have not done as well, and often it is nothing I have done. It might be the economic climate that puts people off, or even the weather!”

Emma has her work for sale in galleries around the country. One big advantage of attending retail and trade fairs is that galleries are often in attendance. They have the opportunity to feel the work and examine the quality before deciding to sell it in their gallery.

“Galleries work in different ways – some offer sale or return, whilst others buy your work at the trade price, and then add their own mark-up.”

Marketing your jewellery products

Effective marketing is essential to the success of any business. Retail and trade fairs involve a competitive selection process, and as Emma explains, it is important to stand out from the crowd:

“When applying to exhibit at a fair, you have to submit some photos of your work. You need high-quality photos against a white background. These days it is relatively easy to do the photos yourself, although it helps if you are adept at Photoshop.

"Some fairs ask for additional information, perhaps details of exhibitions, commissions and any press coverage you have had. Again it is important to present all this in a professional way.

“A lot of my work comes via word-of-mouth personal recommendation, particularly for commissions. But I do have my own website, and have also been featured in various trade magazines. Facebook has a business section, where you can also add a blog, and upload photos, and this has helped contribute to my success.”

Creating beautiful jewellery

Emma's jewellery designs draw inspiration from the folk life, buildings and interiors of the Victorian era.

“Running my own jewellery business has not been easy, but this work is so rewarding and I can’t really see myself doing anything else.

"It is so fulfilling when someone buys your work and you can see that they really appreciate it. I just love designing, and creating something that will last generations is really satisfying.

“The working hours can be long, but I always make sure that I have one day off a week when I do something completely different. That might be visiting a gallery, or gaining inspiration from nature or a National Trust property.”

Emma is keen to make sure that young people are informed about creative careers, and she visits a local high school twice a year to inspire the students.

“I think it is really important to give young people ideas about what they can do in the future. I demonstrate jewellery techniques to students taking A level art, and they really enjoy the opportunity to ask me questions about my career.

"For me, it is important to encourage people if they are interested in finding out more about a career in jewellery.”

4 tips for aspiring jewellery designers

  1. Don’t give up if you have a bad trade show 
    Not every trade or retail show is good for every designer.
  2. Don’t let the economic situation deter you
    If you feel passionate about your work, then carry on.
  3. Consider part-time work to supplement your income
    As well as making jewellery for someone else, I also worked in a restaurant in the evenings to supplement my income.
  4. Keep on top of all your business paperwork
    I try to set aside one day each week for my accounts and emails.

See more of Emma's jewellery at www.emmaturpin.com


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