Jewellery designers design and often make jewellery using a variety of materials, including gold, silver and precious stones.
They design and plan pieces that can have great sentimental significance or symbolic meaning, can be wearable or are decorative artefacts in their own right.
Designers must be able to relate well to their clients in order to understand design specifications, as well as master the creative and practical skills needed to make a product.
Designers can produce designs for mass production or can make small numbers of objects or individual pieces commissioned by a client.
Some jewellery designers focus more on design, using specialist companies to provide the different stages of the making process.
The majority of jewellery designers are self-employed so also require commercial awareness, marketing and business skills.
For a self-employed jewellery designer, design activities include:
- holding consultations with commissioning clients;
- discussing a client's range of options and formulating original ideas;
- sketching out ideas, sometimes using computer-aided design (CAD), to help the client visualise the finished design.
Making activities 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.
The following specialist processes may be performed by jewellery designers, but often pieces of work 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.
Promoting and developing the business is crucial for success 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.
When working for a company the jewellery designer produces designs that are then made by other members of staff.
- Starting salaries for those in an employed position can be around £16,000 a year.
- Salaries for experienced jewellery designers can range from £20,000 and £50,000.
There are limited opportunities for graduates in salaried positions. The majority build their careers as freelancers or start their own business. Graduates 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 skillfully you promote your jewellery or business.
It is possible to earn high salaries, but this can be difficult in the early part of a career and an additional income may be needed.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Many designers are self-employed or freelance, which leads to flexibility and the opportunity to work hours to suit, or on a part-time basis.
Self-employed designers can find that their hours fluctuate to meet demand.
If employed, 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, location can be rural or urban. 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 the kind of work that is relevant to their particular skill and qualifications. Working part time and keeping the longer-term aim in view, as well as the steps you need to reach it, may be a necessary compromise.
- You'll find more information about life as a jewellery designer at Creative Choices - Jewellery.
The most relevant degree and HND/foundation degree subjects include:
- jewellery design and production;
- 3D design.
Any art and design degree/HND/foundation degree with a craft or making element may give you an advantage, in particular:
- fashion design;
- textile design;
- fine art;
- applied arts.
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 degree or HND is not essential for entry - proven craft skills are more important than subject of study - but those without a higher education qualification would usually need to undertake an apprenticeship or on-the-job training.
A postgraduate qualification is not necessary for entry into this profession, although it may be useful for making the transition from other areas of art and design.
You will need to show:
- creative thinking and vision, to produce new ideas;
- the practical application to produce a piece which is desirable in the marketplace;
- the practical ability to work with tools and materials, such as metals and gemstones;
- drawing and computer design skills to produce designs;
- dexterity, an eye for detail and good hand-eye coordination;
- accuracy and attention to detail;
- 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;
- commitment to and passion for your work.
Work experience is valuable and helps build up a network of industry contacts as well as providing experience of working in the jewellery industry.
It's important to be flexible and proactive in your job-seeking approach in order to become established. Some graduates/diplomates 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, PowerPoint slides 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/jewellery designers. They build up their own business through getting themselves and their work known. They can sell their designs to manufacturing companies or design and make their own jewellery for sale through craft shops and galleries. Self-employed jewellery designers can work on individual commissions.
Vacancies are rarely advertised and speculative applications can be effective. Knowledge of where to look for jobs, how to promote yourself and a willingness 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 is possible to gain employment in larger design companies. Typical employers include factories and workshops that manufacture jewellery. Companies are often SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) employing up to 20 people.
Look for job vacancies at:
- a-n: The Artists Information Company
- Creative Choices
- The Hockley Flyer - vacancies in the Birmingham area.
- Jeweller Magazine Online Recruitment
- The Jewellery Quarter - vacancies in Birmingham.
- Retail Jeweller
- Local and national press.
Recruitment agencies rarely handle vacancies.
Many jewellery designers continue training throughout their career in order to develop their 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. Details of courses can be obtained from organisations such as:
Specialist courses are available in areas such as setting, engraving, enamelling and gemstone cutting and carving. Research courses thoroughly to ensure they meet your requirements.
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.
Creative apprenticeships are promoted by Creative and Cultural Skills.
Business skills are important for those thinking of self-employment. An annual, free, week-long 'Getting Started' introduction to business course for recent graduates of precious metal courses is run by The Goldsmiths' Centre, on behalf of the Goldsmiths' Company.
It's useful to attend trade fairs and exhibitions in order to build up a network of contacts and to find out about new methods and ideas. A free weekly newsletter, which can help you to keep in touch with the jewellery community and provides a useful source of news and information, is produced by Benchpeg.
Getting your work known is vital for career development and the success of your business. A good way to do this is to enter articles into craft and trade magazines, for example Craft & Design.
Entering competitions, at local, national and international levels, is another excellent way of promoting your work.
You can showcase your work to employers and potential clients alongside other jewellery designers on a number of dedicated websites, such as:
For self-employed designers, it is vital to have skills in marketing and commercial acumen, as well as design skills and a clear vision for your designs, in order to drive your business forward. Establishing a reputation and having a clear identity within the market will influence your degree of success.
A willingness to undertake more training and specialise in, and make products for, particular markets is important. Postgraduate courses or other specialist short courses may be useful.
Joining a professional body can help your professional development and is a good way to meet and make contact with established designers. Some key players to consider include:
- The 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. Planning ahead for such events is essential. Gaining recognition can be a long process, but 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.
The four crafts councils can help to identify awards and competitions, commissions, exhibitions, workshops and studio spaces, and they also have directories of craftmakers:
Other opportunities for jewellery design graduates are in:
- fashion design;
- fashion forecasting;
- 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.