There is a great, unspoken gulf in the creative industries. Each year, art school graduates file out of education with portfolios and heads bursting with brilliant ideas, equipped with all the tools required to make beautiful things. For the most part, however, they lack the business nous to sell them; a dangerous pitfall that can lead to disheartenment and a crumpling of fledgling brands. But down a side alley in London’s Farringdon, there is a place where the gap between creativity and commerciality is being bridged for the next generation of one of Britain’s oldest creative industries, its jewellers.
The Goldsmiths’ Centre, the location of this innovation, is an offshoot of the near-700-year-old Goldsmiths’ Company. This charitable organisation has been supporting the survival and success of the British jewellery industry since 1327, more latterly through events such world-famous selling show Goldsmiths’ Fair, which has launched the career of many a jewellery deity throughout its three decades, including Shaun Leane, Tomasz Donocik and Hannah Martin.
Opened in 2012, the purpose-built Goldsmiths’ Centre, which cost £17.5 million to erect, is perhaps the more youthful arm of the livery company. Over four floors, it offers a mixed-use space that has 24 commercial workshops inhabited by a diverse bunch of jewellers and craftspeople, training workshops and classrooms for its education programme that runs from short courses and evening talks through to a full-time foundation course, as well as events spaces, including a spectacular roof garden, and a very popular public-facing café, Bench.
A collaborative space
What is perhaps most unique about this jewellery talent incubator is this jostling mix of ages, abilities and backgrounds. Teenage apprentices-in-training mix with established jewellery businesses, such as Bobby White London, which has created bespoke designs for Beyoncé and Prince. “The café leads to a lot of informal relations,” says Goldsmiths’ Centre head of professional training Chris Oliver. “You often see [emerging designers] chatting with very established makers just to run an idea past them.”
This is not just a cosy scene but the core philosophy of the Centre. Each inhabitant of this jewellery utopia – in exchange for an affordable central London location purpose built for their trade, a stone’s throw from historic jewellery heartland Hatton Garden – must commit to lending their time and experience to help progress the careers and businesses of fellow residents. Goldsmiths’ Centre is not just a workspace, but a live collaboration.
“I have the opportunity to go to master craftsmen that will open the door for me to learn a little more,” says jeweller Ana Thompson, whose Gold Membership at the Goldsmiths’ Centre allows her to drop in and use the facilities and workshops on a casual basis to develop her sculptural jewels, and be part of the community there. Thompson’s first step into this world was through a week-long course called Getting Started that aims to deliver a crash course in business for creative jewellers that includes face time with established names in the industry (Stephen Webster dropped in to give a talk the year Thompson signed up). The course is part of the Goldsmiths’ Centre’s expanding business growth programme, the star of which is a year-long initiative called Setting Out.
In a dedicated studio in the Centre, the eight jewellers selected for the 2017-18 run of Setting Out work in pods of two. No longer students but not fully fledged brands, these designers – graduates of prestigious schools including Central Saint Martins, Glasgow School of Art and the Royal College of Art – have been handpicked by the Centre for this immersive programme of lessons, mentoring and peer-to-peer learning that aims to teach them how to run a successful, and financially viable, business.
“The people we select each year have experience in business, they have tried, and they are looking for next step,” says Oliver. “They aren’t the finished article, but they have a concept, passion and drive that has potential. Formal education acts as very important learning ground. We want to make sure the good work is continued, and pays the mortgage.”
Over the past year, these jewellers have been exposed to topics such as utilising consumer research, how to set prices (a topic the group found immeasurably helpful), the logistics of manufacturing, cash flow management, and some cool-headed critique on the commerciality of their designs. “The course is bridging the gap for young jewellers leaving the education system and hoping to set up on their own,” says Setting Out jeweller Jessica Pass, whose oversized bug-inspired jewels have since been commissioned by singer Eryka Badu. “I can honestly say I would be a little lost if I hadn’t completed this year, it has been invaluable. We have access to a wonderful set of workshops in the building, a business coach and product development help. Mastering spreadsheets and focusing on cash flow forecasts has been testing, but essential. ‘Cash-flow is key,’ as our business coach likes to remind us.”
Each task laid down during Setting Out is geared towards one final aim – the creation of a three-year business plan. “If I’m really honest, I think I might have run out of steam,” says fellow Setting Out jeweller Samantha Hamilton on the prospect of not having signed up (informal Goldsmiths’ research has shown that year three is often the death knell for many young brands). Her brand Sam Ham offers up gender-challenging silver jewels decorated with precious penises and highly polished testicles, which on paper could be a hard sell. “When you’re in uni, they’re there to challenge your thought process, they’re not trying to talk to you about who’s going to buy it or how you’re actually going to come up with the price. The good thing about the Goldsmiths’ Centre is that they basically put a mirror up to you, make you really examine what you think you’re going to achieve, who’s going to buy it and why they might buy it. I feel like after this year I’m now ready to run, to plan a collection the way you should, budget the way you should, and not make as many mistakes.”
A new set of jewellers are already in place to take over from Hamilton and her peers (or “cell mates” as she jokily refers to them), and start their own Setting Out journey in September. Like their predecessors, the class of 2018 have successfully navigated the gauntlet of the highly competitive selection process, which Pass describes as “a little like Dragon’s Den”. And like all that enter the Goldsmiths’ Centre, they are primed to absorb the deep knowledge offered up by this unique hub to ensure their own travail across that bridge from student to founder runs as smoothly as their jewels’ final polish.
See the work of the Setting Out Class of 2017 at a collective show called All Set at The Goldsmiths’ Centre from the 17th to 19thOctober, 2018.
“When you’re in uni, they’re there to challenge your thought process, they’re not trying to talk to you about who’s going to buy it or how you’re actually going to come up with the price. The good thing about the Goldsmiths’ Centre is that they basically put a mirror up to you"