How long does it take to make that ring?
As a maker, I often get asked how long it takes to make a piece of jewellery, like the ring pictured below.
My answer? About 27 years.
No, I've not gone a little crazy, I'll explain.
But let's first rewind back to the Autumn of 1994.
You will find me trying my hand for the very first time at metal work at Stourbridge College of Art & Design; I have the stitches to prove it after an unfortunate and rather foolish encounter with a pillar drill that has left me scared of the damn things ever since. Anyway, as a 16 year old fresh out of school, I was learning all about the possibilities of three dimensional design.
Later, during my second year, I remember the moment vividly when I looked through the glass of a display cabinet at Birmingham School of Jewellery and saw the contemporary creations on show.
"I need to be doing that" I thought. And that was that.
By the time Wannabe by the Spice Girls was at No. 1 in 1996 (yes, I loved that track and no, I don't think I'll ever be cool, but I'm fine with that) I was moving into my halls of residence at Middlesex University. During the next four years I was busy learning how to saw, solder, file, finish and present jewellery. I was fortunate to work alongside established London jewellers, who taught me both tricks of the trade and what it meant to build up client relationships that were to be nurtured and cherished (the latter being equally as important as the first).
As the year 2000 dawned, Kate Smith Jewellery Design became more than just an idea and Oh. My. Gosh. what a ride it's been! I went from a makeshift bench in my parents' garage to working in the Birmingham workshop that I now fondly see as my second home.
All quite straightforward, right?
Well here's the thing. If you watched the first episode of the talent show "All That Glitters" on BBC2 last Tuesday evening, you would be excused for thinking that making 3 individual bangles out of precious metal, all to the same specification, within 3 hours, is something a trained jeweller could do well. Well, I'll let you into a little secret: it isn't.
It seemed a shame that this time constraint was put on the contestants as it failed to allow their true skill and creativity to fully shine through. Design ideas, development, making of samples, back to the drawing board, more making of samples, and then a finished product takes a lot longer than three hours for one bangle, let alone three of them.
Those jewellers, no matter what stage they are in their career, will have put hours of perseverance and practice into their craft already; hours beavering away that no one will ever get to see. For every solder join that went like a dream, there will have been plenty of others that nearly caused them to throw the damn piece across the room in a fit of anger!
During the past two decades I've learnt new skills, developed ideas, launched collections, mentored other craftspeople, worked with and learnt from my peers and gathered years and years of experience along the way...as well as always hoping for that perfect solder join! I don't believe there is such a thing as overnight success. Well, unless that night lasts about 10 years.
As a potential buyer of hand made products, it's understandable that on occasion you might think "how much!?" and it isn't uncommon for 'commentators' (as I will politely call them) on social media to share the enlightening view that they "could do that for a fraction of the price" when looking at a piece of handmade craft, where the material isn't necessarily the costly part.
My response? Well, they most likely aren't doing it. Where as the person that is, has stuck their neck out, made sacrifices of secure employment and a guaranteed salary at the end of each month, to pursue an idea they had in the hope that others might like it enough to part with their own hard earned money to buy. They are doing it.
Every day that they open up their workshops, craftspeople are bringing all of the experience they've gathered with them through the door, channelling it into the pieces that they create.
So I'm hopeful that when I say that the ring in the first picture took about 27 years to make, you won't just think that I'm a little lazy, but that I've spent all that time working towards something that is as perfect as it can be for you.