A career as a jewellery designer enables you to combine your creative talent and business skills with hands-on crafting ability
Jewellery designers design and make jewellery using a variety of materials, including gold, silver and precious stones.
You could either produce designs for mass production, make jewellery in small numbers or create bespoke pieces commissioned by a client.
If you work for a company, your designs will be made by other members of staff.
As a self-employed jewellery designer, you'll need to:
- hold consultations with commissioning clients
- discuss a client's range of options and formulate original ideas
- sketch out ideas, sometimes using computer-aided design (CAD), to help the client visualise the finished design.
If you make jewellery, activities will include:
- mounting - making the framework for the piece of jewellery. This involves handling, forming and drilling metal, and opening out holes in which to place the selected gems
- model making (casting) - making an object or decorative detail using a mould
- stamping and presswork
- chasing - making a raised pattern on the surface of the metal
- soldering and fabrication
- polishing - ensuring the finish of the piece.
You may also perform the following specialist processes, but often pieces of jewellery are sent on to companies (outworkers) for these processes to be completed:
- stone setting - making adjustments to the mount to ensure the stones fit perfectly. This can involve very intricate work, such as removing tiny fractions of metal
- electro-plating - layering a precious metal onto a base metal
- enamelling - fusing powdered glass to metal in a kiln to create coloured patterns and pictures
- welding - joining pieces of metal using traditional methods or by laser
- engraving - carving lettering or patterns into precious metals by hand or by computer-aided manufacture (CAM).
Promoting and developing your business is crucial in order to succeed as a self-employed jewellery designer. Many designers try to boost their reputation by networking, entering competitions and attending craft fairs.
Other activities include consulting with galleries, store buyers and suppliers, and researching jewellery and fashion trends.
- Starting salaries for jewellery designers in an employed position can be around £16,000.
- Salaries for experienced designers can range from £20,000 to £50,000.
There are limited opportunities for graduates in salaried positions. Most designers build their careers as freelancers or start their own business. You may decide to accept a lower paid position in order to learn specific skills from experienced craftspeople.
Salaries vary widely according to whether you're employed or self-employed, how experienced, successful and well-established you are, and how actively and skilfully you promote your jewellery or business. It's possible to earn high salaries, but this can be difficult in the early part of your career and an additional income may be needed.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Most designers are self-employed or freelance, which leads to more flexibility and the opportunity to work hours to suit you, or on a part-time basis.
If you're self-employed, you may find that your hours will fluctuate to meet demand. For employed designers, working hours are usually regular and don't involve shifts.
What to expect
- The work setting ranges from a small studio to a large workshop, which can be noisy and dusty. Self-employed jewellery designers may share a studio with other designers.
- As a freelance or self-employed jewellery designer, you can work in any location. Most employed designers are based in towns and cities. Cities with significant numbers of jewellery manufacturing factories and workshops include Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and Sheffield.
- Self-employed designers often work to commissions or sell through craft fairs and retail outlets.
- Travel to exhibitions and trade fairs is an occasional part of the job.
- In the short term, designers sometimes take stop-gap jobs before getting relevant work. Working part time and keeping your longer-term aim in view, as well as the steps you need to reach it, may be a necessary compromise.
You don't need a degree or HND to be a jewellery designer - proven craft skills are more important - but those without a higher education qualification would usually need to undertake an apprenticeship or on-the-job training.
The most relevant degree, HND and foundation degree subjects include:
- jewellery design and production
- 3D design.
Any art and design degree, HND or foundation degree with a craft or making element may give you an advantage, in particular:
- applied arts
- fashion design
- fine art
- textile design.
It may be possible to enter this type of work with other art and design degrees if you have a suitable portfolio and are prepared to learn the relevant craft-based skills. A postgraduate qualification is not necessary, although it may be useful for making the transition from other areas of art and design.
You'll need to show:
- creative thinking and vision, to produce new ideas
- practical application to produce a piece which is desirable in the marketplace
- practical ability to work with tools and materials, such as metals and gemstones
- drawing and computer design skills to produce designs
- dexterity, attention to detail and good hand-eye coordination
- organisation and time-management skills and the ability to work to deadlines
- commercial awareness and the confidence and temperament to be successful in the business world
- the ability to market yourself and your work
- skills in negotiation and persuasion when dealing with suppliers and buyers
- a commitment to - and passion for - your work.
Work experience is valuable and helps you to build up a network of industry contacts, as well as providing experience of working in the jewellery industry. You may find work experience placements through your degree course or you could try contacting jewellers to ask if they have any opportunities.
Apprenticeships are rare but more information is available from Creative Choices - Jewellery.
For example, The Goldsmiths' Company runs an apprenticeship scheme for 16 to 24 year-olds which lasts up to five years.
It's important to be flexible and proactive in your job-seeking approach in order to become established. Some graduates are offered work following degree shows, but for many it's vital to network and take advantage of any opportunities that arise.
A portfolio, website or images of your work on a CD are useful evidence that you have the necessary design skills and ideas.
Most jewellery designers are either self-employed - establishing their own workshop or studio, or freelance - working with individual makers or fashion and jewellery designers.
You can build up your own business through getting yourself and your work known. You can sell your designs to manufacturing companies or design and make your own jewellery for sale through craft shops, galleries and online retailers.
Vacancies are rarely advertised and speculative applications can be effective. Knowing where to look for jobs, how to promote yourself and being willing to network and take advantage of opportunities are crucial. Start by thinking of contacts made through your course, particularly during any work experience placements.
It's possible to gain employment in larger design companies. Typical employers include factories and workshops that manufacture jewellery. Companies are often small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) employing up to 20 people.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Creative Choices
- The Hockley Flyer - vacancies mainly in the Birmingham area.
- Jeweller Magazine Online Recruitment
- Retail Jeweller
Recruitment agencies rarely handle vacancies.
Continuing with training throughout your career will help you to develop your skills and keep up to date with new methods and changes in the industry.
Further study offers the opportunity to experiment, diversify or produce better work within a specialism. Courses are offered at postgraduate level in:
- metal work
Shorter, skills-based courses, offered by colleges or commercial organisations, are also useful and can be a quicker and cheaper way to add to your expertise. Specialist courses are available in areas such as setting, engraving, enamelling and gemstone cutting and carving. Details can be obtained from organisations such as:
If you're employed by a company, they may provide in-house training. This usually involves being taught and supervised by a more experienced craftsperson.
Business skills are important if you're thinking about self-employment. Getting Started, a free, annual, week-long introduction to business course for recent graduates of precious metal courses, is run on behalf of The Goldsmiths' Company by The Goldsmiths' Centre.
Getting your work known is vital for career development and the success of your business. You can showcase your work to employers and potential clients alongside other jewellery designers on a number of dedicated websites, such as:
The four crafts councils can help to identify awards and competitions, commissions, exhibitions, workshops and studio spaces, which are excellent ways of promoting your work:
Joining a professional body can help your professional development and is a good way to meet and make contact with established designers. Some key organisations include:
- Association for Contemporary Jewellery
- Chartered Society of Designers (CSD)
- The National Association of Jewellers
Attending trade fairs and exhibitions can be important to develop your career. Gaining recognition can be a long process, but the rewards can be great if you're willing to grow your business, keep learning and stay in tune with trends in order to produce desirable and original jewellery.
There may be opportunities for jewellery designers to move into other areas such as fashion design or retail selling or buying. It's also possible to work for galleries or, with further training, teach in further or higher education. Opportunities in silversmithing may be possible if you're prepared to learn additional skills.