One of the questions I’m asked on a fairly regular basis is “How do I become a jewelry designer?”
This question always surprises me. I guess because I just started doing it so many years ago and didn’t really have a master plan. It just sort of happened. Also, many of the people who ask me this question or even just make a statement, like, “I would love to design jewelry someday”…I’d say 99% of them…have never made any jewelry. They have great ideas for jewelry. They maybe even have sketched out a few pieces, maybe. But that’s it. They haven’t strung a bead, bent a wire, or touched a torch.
In this I explain the basic steps you need to take before you can call yourself a "jewelry designer."
My advice to these questions and statements are – okay, prepare to be shocked – first you need to learn to make jewelry.
I know I’m being facetious here, but I really don’t mean to be. So, I’ll give you an example of why you need to learn the basics of jewelry making, whatever type you plan to design, before you hang your "the designer is working" sign out.
Have you ever seen that reality show Project Runway where they have a group of fashion designers and make them do all kinds of funky stuff in order to win a contract?
It’s one of the few reality shows I’ve ever enjoyed, and the main thing I liked about it was that it showed them designing – working – and that didn’t involve sitting down with a sketch pad, scribbling something, and then handing it to a flunky to sew up. They worked with a needle and thread – gasp!!
They had a background in the basics. Jay for example, who ended up winning during the first season, had actually helped his mom and sisters sew quilts. These people had an understanding of fabric, color, threads, and the human body.
Relating the Example to Jewelry Designing
The same can be said with jewelry. You need to understand the materials you use and how they work on the wearer before you can successfully design jewelry.
Many times, I have what I think is a great idea, but when I sit down to make the jewelry piece, it doesn’t always turn out like I think it will. Through trial and error and past experience, it becomes easier and easier for me, but still, I had to learn how to work with metal, gemstones, glass, fiber, and other materials before I got to this point. I may make a couple of prototypes and wear them around a few days before I finalize a piece. While I have sketch pads filled with ideas, these “ideas” require hands-on effort – crafting – before they become physical realities.
That’s my advice then – it may sound too simple – and yes, after you learn the basics there are a million more steps to take after that, but this is where you must begin. Perhaps some won’t agree with me, may even argue that this just can’t be true because big-named designers don’t work that way. However, I’ll bet you, for every Cartier, there was at first a young man who was sitting on a stool next to his teacher who was showing him the basics of craftsmanship.