Sofie Boons, Head of British Academy of Jewellery
Sofie’s jewellery career started at a very young age when she became interested in the art of craftsmanship. She explains her journey, what qualifications she has undertook and what tips she has for anyone wanting to get into jewellery.
I am from a small village called Kruibeke in Belgium and moved to the UK to study a Masters in goldsmithing, silversmithing, metalwork and jewellery at the Royal College of Art.
During my studies I fell in love with the vibrancy of London, so after graduating I decided to move here permanently.
I now live in South London where I have an atelier (workshop) to design and make when I am not working for the British Academy of Jewellery.
What job do you do?
I am the Head of Academy for the British Academy of Jewellery.
Gaining experience whilst working for others is a great way to learn the dos and don'ts of the industry
The Academy seeks to inspire and nurture the next generation of jewellers and ensure valuable technical skills are not lost.
Whilst at the same time, equipping learners with those modern skills needed to survive and blossom in the industry of today.
This aim is very close to my heart and I am dedicated to contributing to building a school where students do not shy away from originality and creativity.
Because I am a jeweller and I wish to practice what I preach, in addition to my work at the Academy I also manage my own jewellery label called “The Alchemical Jeweller”.
How did you get started in jewellery?
In my hometown, my parents ran a local catering shop and from a very young age I was indulged in the world of cooking and preparing food.
Working with my hands came from very early on and my interest in craftsmanship, creativity and experimentation, led me to study an art qualification in Belgium.
What other qualifications do you have?
When I was 18 years old I visited the jewellery department of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp.
I instantly fell in love with the tools and materials used to create jewellery and the possibilities of creating ‘art’ for the body.
I finished my Bachelor’s degree there and went on to study a Master’s degree at the MAD-faculty in Hasselt.
Finally, I completed a 2-year postgraduate course in London at the Royal College of Art.
What previous jobs have you done?
During my studies and for about a year after graduating, I interned and worked several jobs in the industry. Some in retail, others behind the bench.
Gaining experience whilst working for others is a great way to learn the dos and don’ts of the industry, and they were a valuable experience for me.
I am a firm believer that restrictions force you to be even more creative
A short while after graduating I launched “The Alchemical Jeweller” and my jewellery travelled the world for exhibitions and some publications and events.
Even though it is fantastic to work for yourself, it became evident I really missed working with people.
I started teaching workshops and got involved with the various charities to deliver creative sessions, before joining the London College of Fashion.
When a teaching opportunity arose at BAJ (called Holts Academy at the time), I was excited to be teaching groups technical jewellery skills in addition to creative subjects.
What do you do at work?
I manage the day to day running and work on the strategic direction of the Academy.
Having studied jewellery myself, it is fantastic for me to be able to collaborate with a wonderful team on the development of our courses, ensuring they meet the needs of the ever evolving industry and our dynamic students.
What's the best thing about your job?
What I love about working for BAJ is that I have the opportunity to support the development and delivery of courses and programmes that will give all those interested in starting a career in the industry a solid foundation.
In order for our learners to build strong networks and brands, I believe it is important to engage with the jewellery industry, not only locally but also globally.
My advice to anyone starting out in the industry is to not to forget about making those pieces of work that keep you up at night
One of the goals for the Academy in the next couple of years is to engage with the jewellery scene internationally and this is incredibly exciting.
Furthermore I feel that by contributing to the provision of quality education, we provide the trade not only with a skilled workforce, but also with designer/makers that have the aptitude and ability to inspire innovation within the industry.
I like to think of myself as a jewellery designer with a conceptual mindset. The jewellery I design tells a story, it visualises the invisible.
My work is not restricted to a certain material or technique and therefore I love to collaborate with others for the development of my work.
I am obsessed with looking for new and innovative alternatives for the traditional and my passion for scents continues to be reappearing as a topic and inspiration.
And the worst thing about the job?
In my position at BAJ, it can be challenging to make courses and programmes meet funding requirements.
As a jewellery designer used to working on commissions however, I am a firm believer that restrictions force you to be even more creative.
As a jeweller, the hardest thing about the job was certainly daring to be different.
It is easier to make jewellery that everyone can easily identify as a piece of jewellery than it is to produce a piece that perhaps questions what jewellery is and forces people to review a notion or opinion.
My advice to anyone starting out in the industry is to not to forget about making those pieces of work that keep you up at night.
It is understandable that you need to sell and find a market for your jewellery, but from time to time, make a piece that really challenges you as a designer/maker.
How do I get into jewellery?
My top tips are:
1. Identify what you want to do
Try and understand what it is in jewellery you want to do. Look at your existing skills and passions, and try and develop an understanding of the types of jewellery careers out there.
There are so many possibilities, ranging from retail to bench work and digital design. Look at the range, find what interests you, and go for it.
2. Get good at what it is you want to do
Identify a training provider or college that can give you the training you need to achieve your goals. Whether you enrol onto an apprenticeship, a diploma course or even a degree, you need to get those all-important skills needed to start in the industry.
Once you've found your chosen path, aim to really get stuck in. And whilst you are at it, enjoy it. The moments when you learn how to hold a saw and or gain that first invaluable skill are precious.
If you choose to learn the skills like I have, once you have them, you can literally sit at a bench and earn a living by doing what you love! There are so few industries and skills where the same is true.
3. Practice and experience makes perfect
Get that experience, learn from others, and ask for advice. When you have graduated and you have the skills you need to start in the industry, don’t wait for “it” to happen to you, go and make it happen.
Find a job, start your business, keep on doing. It might be hard at first, but these experiences will benefit you for years to come. Don’t lose track of your goals, keep them firmly in your mind and take steps to achieve them.
Continue to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. You might have stopped studying but you should never stop learning and growing.
4. Don’t forget to be creative
As I mentioned before, it is so important to continue innovating. The jewellery industry has undergone major changes, it is so much easier today to get out there with your work than it was 20 years ago.
This does mean there is a lot of competition, so dare to be different, and support innovation.
5. Collaborate and network
This is a large industry, with many people working in it. Attend fairs, meet people, and collaborate with other professionals. You don’t have to know it all, but working when required with someone else makes all the difference.