May 11 / Samantha Kelly

So you want to be a jewellery designer?

As a professional jewellery designer, I often get asked how I got started in the industry. It's a question with no easy answer, because there is no one path to becoming a successful jewellery designer. In this post, I'll outline my own journey from novice to professional jeweller, and share some tips for anyone who wants to make a career out of designing jewellery. So if you're curious about what it takes to become a jewellery designer, read on!

Bio

Dedicated to my craft, I'm passionate about delivering quality, unique custom handmade designs to create special memories.
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Career 

Manufacturing Jeweller and designer for a high end jewellery house in Australia.Online educator for jewellery design.
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Qualifications 

  • Goldsmith / Manufacturing Jeweller & Jewellery Designer
  • Certified Jeweller (Certificate III in Jewellery Manufacture) 
  • Qualified Gemologist by the Gemological Association of Australia
  • Certified diamond grader by the Gemological Association of Australia
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Awards

  • 2012 WINNER - Apprentice of the Year - Adelaide College of the Arts
  • 2012 FINALIST - 1st Year Apprentice Award - JAA Australasian Jewellery Award
  • 2013 WINNER - Gold - WorldSkills Australia Regional Competition (Jewellery category)
  • 2014 WINNER - Bronze - WorldSkills Australia National Competition (Jewellery category)
  • 2014 WINNER - 3rd/4th Year Apprentice Award - JAA Australasian Jewellery Award 
  • 2014 WINNER - Apprentice of the Year - JAA Australasian Jewellery Award 
  • 2017 WINNER Australian Jewellery Design Awards. (Category winner) Necklaces over $5,000
  • 2017 WINNER Gem Rock Auctions Jewellery Design Competition


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CHAPTER ONE: 

Where I Started…

After being denied an apprenticeship by over 40 different jewellers in my city I was still determined to become a jeweller one way or another. 

I was accepted into a jewellery making course at TAFE here in Adelaide. The course went for a year and I was able to gain valuable skills and find other ways to get my foot into this industry.  

Throughout my year of TAFE I continued to go back to all the jewellers around the city and apply for an apprenticeship. This was a very rough, long, sad, devastating process but I am glad I stuck it out in the long run. 

The day finally came where I received the phone call that changed my life and was finally accepted as an apprentice jeweller. 
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The Beginning…

 During my first year of being an apprentice I decided to become a gemologist. This was difficult and every minute of my life was soon consumed by jewellery.I was working full time with studying gemmology full time. My days consumed with learning jewellery making skills and customer service, with my night filled with a diploma in gemmology.

After two years of intense classes I graduated to became a qualified gemologist.It was also in this time I competed in the Worldskills competition. My skill levels were very low and I did not do well in the state round of the competition. I then became determined to learn, improve and compete again when the competition came around again...During my second year as an apprentice, I entered into the JAA competition. I worked after hours to create an Ametrine and Diamond pendant to enter with. I was a finalist in the apprentice category and didn't win. I declared to my boss the night of the ceremony that I would enter again and win the next JAA competition... 
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The Middle…

During my third year of my apprenticeship, immediately after my gemmology diploma I decided to further my knowledge and become a certified diamond grader. Thankfully this course went for a week. I passed and earned another qualification to help improve my career. 

I have now entered my final year as an apprentice. Due to my year at TAFE before my apprenticeship, I was given credit and moved up a year. Now I was categorised as a forth year apprentice at TAFE but still in my third year of my contract. 

I had to work overtime to make sure I was at the standards of the fourth year apprentices. This meant working after hours on my TAFE assessments. 

After all the hard work and extra hours I was accredited and awarded Apprentice of the Year for South Australia 2012. 
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The End & Future…

It was during my third year that the Worldskills competition began again in 2013. I decided to enter at last minute to prove to myself that I can do better than I did back in 2011. I ended up winning Gold for the South Australian state round of the competition. 

This meant I could move on to the national round and compete in Perth the following year. While waiting for the next round of the Worldskills competition, the JAA competition also began. I had planned my piece for 6 months and the manufacturing of the creation took just as long. I decided to make something that wasn't a jewellery item and step completely outside the box.

Not knowing if it would even be classified as an adornment to even be allowed entry into the competition. I was once again working after hours and working 14-15 hours 7 days a week. The hard work paid off and I just completed my masquerade mask within days of the deadline.

We arrived in Sydney to view all the other incredible pieces entered into the JAA competition. 

The time came for the winner of my category - Third/Fourth Year Apprentice... my name was called. All the hard work, stress, staying back after hours had paid off. For two years I held a grudge and became determined to win this competition. 

I then won a second award for Apprentice of the year for the JAA competition. After much practise the date finally arrived and i was flying off to Perth with the South Australian Team to compete in Nationals. 
The competition was intense and ran over three days. We had a strict time limit to make a complex piece of jewellery in an unfamiliar environment. 

I was proud of myself for being beyond my comfort zone. I ended up winning the Bronze medal in the national round for South Australia.
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CHAPTER TWO:

Small Business. Creating my own identity and building a small business. 

I decided to start my own small business a year after I had finished my apprenticeship. My boss was extremely supportive when I told him my plans. He made the time to teach me the ins and outs of a business and to this day is still a mentor to me. 
I operated and controlled every detail of my business myself. This was extremely time consuming but worth the effort. I took the time to learn all the different aspects that help run a business smoothly.
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During the time I ran my business I knew I wanted to create my own identity and style of jewellery. I had alway loved to draw and paint. I decided to turn my attention to jewellery design. With no accessible learning or content at the time, I had to teach myself how to draw jewellery. 
Thankfully I had my manufacturing knowledge to help. I ran my business for 6 successful years. I felt the pressure and found I was missing out and not being able to design and make jewellery as much as I used to. I had to make a decision in 2021. Keep the business, employ staff, continue to be stressed and working crazy hours without holidays, or get back to what i truly love... the freedom of designing and manufacturing beautiful jewellery. It was an easy decision. 
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CHAPTER THREE: 

Jewellery Design. Self-Taught.

It can be very overwhelming when you begin jewellery design. I had no idea where to start, what materials I would need and if there was a right or wrong way to design jewellery. The best piece of advice my boss gave me was "jewellery is easy to make, you just need to find where to start".
I feel the same applies to design. I often began (and continue to do) my pieces with the main featured gemstone or diamond. Once you have a feature stone, it's easy to start drawing around it. Design is all about development. Constantly being able to change and grow your ideas will help improve and open your mind when it comes to design. You will end up seeing different shapes and objects the more you change your initial idea. I can look back at my earlier works and appreciate how much I have improved over the years. I would draw every single day for hours over 7 years to push myself further and try all possible techniques and materials. 
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I began with coloured pencils. I found they didn't give the look I desired. I moved to watercolour pencils. This is where I really began to develop my methods. I would spend hours online looking at all these beautiful paintings of jewellery and wonder how they painted them. I studied all the images in my high-end jewellery books and studied the way the light reflects on the diamonds, gemstones, and metal. 
Studying where the shadows fell. How settings were drawn. Then one day I came across a word that changed everything... GOUACHE. I had no idea what it was, so I began my research. I went out and purchased the affordable gouache paint set and I began experimenting. After what feels like years of failed attempts and frustration, I finally started to get the hang of the paint. It was a weird almost acrylic type of paint that can be reactivated by water and watered down to be a watercolour paint. 

After finally understanding how the paint worked, I then had the task of figuring out the best way to render gemstones. Attempt after attempt, I would be becoming increasingly frustrated at the whole process. I finally came to a breakthrough and created my own way of successfully rendering gemstones. My style and technique have changed drastically over the years, but it all started in that one moment where I had my first win. I finally knew a way to paint gemstones. My next hurdle was diamonds. They seem so simple and yet there were multiple ways to paint them. Do I include flicks of colour to create brilliance in the diamond? Do I use black, or will it make it too dark?

If you have ever studied or looked at images of diamonds, I mean, really look at them, you will go crazy as you start to notice how hugely different, they all are. People tend to see my work and always say "your so talented". Talent has nothing to do with any of my work. I strongly believe that I am able to achieve designs these days thanks to the many, many (and I mean many) years of trial and error, sheer frustration, time, effort, and money that went into learning this skill from scratch. It was an extremely difficult journey, but I don't regret it for one minute. Because of all my years of practice, I am so proud, honoured, and happy that I can finally share all my skills with you all. In hopes that, even if I just save one person, the amount of time and frustration it took me, it will have all been worth it. 
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 CHAPTER FOUR:

Teaching. Sharing my skills and teaching others how to design.

I had never planned on teaching. It was not something that ever crossed my mind. I loved sharing my designs on Instagram and never thought my designs would end up as popular as they have. I believe Instagram and having a social media presence helped with getting myself recognised and helped excel my career. I received several messages asking if I could teach them as they also noticed there wasn't much content for learning jewellery design. It wasn't until 2019 when I was offered to teach four classes over three days at the International Jewellery Fair in Sydney. 
My classes booked up immediately and I was so nervous on my first day. I can say I am now a confident speaker in all my classes. I never realised that in that moment, my life and career would once again change paths. I didn't realise how much of a demand there was for jewellery design education...I had to learn a whole new skill to begin my online education... How to use technology. I was the worst at using a computer or any piece of technology for that matter. This was only back in 2019! 
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I was back to learning. Researching what cameras to buy, how to use them, how to compress videos, hard drives, what editing programs to use, what computer will run smoothly, how to subtitle, how to voiceover, where to find licensed music, how to create websites, how to upload etc. There’re all those skills I had to learn behind the scenes in order to make any of this possible. 
The skills come easier to some, but they didn't for me. I was so excited when I finally learnt how to use all the equipment. I didn't realise how difficult it was to create a course criterion or even a basic plan. The lesson had to have structure. I had to remember that most of the students I would teach would be beginners. I had to remember what it was like to be a beginner. Remembering the basics of holding paint brushes, pencils, mixing primary colours etc. Once again, I had to relearn how to design and paint jewellery.
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I had to essentially unlearn everything and go back to basics. I had to make my designs simplified and easy to understand and achieve for beginners. This took several months to understand and through more trial and error I was able to break down my knowledge and skills and place them into beginner, intermediate and advanced skill level categories. 

I started to play around more on my iPad for the fun of it. I soon discovered my passion for digital drawing and the freedom my iPad gives me. I am able to draw anywhere, at any time. I was never good in the beginning as it was a whole new skill to learn. I had to learn the app Procreate which is forever changing and updating. I still don't feel like I fully know it. I also had to create ways to draw gemstones and diamonds. Again, it's a completely different skill to painting. 
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I look back at my first designs in Procreate and I love them. I love seeing how much I improve every time I explore and draw in this app. I feel the possibilities are endless. I had only just figured out how to draw gemstones on the iPad in a way that I could apply to all shapes. I felt it was a huge game changer for me. It saves myself so much time now when designing as I am able to import a pre drawn gemstone into my new design. I don't have to redraw the gemstone again. I can even easily and quickly change the colour of the gemstone to suit my design. 
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I could go on for hours how much i love the app. But I will always fall back into painting and at the end of the day, I will always prefer my gouache. I guess the point I am making is, never discredit yourself. Always keep trying and practising. You can only improve if you apply yourself and try. You can’t get better and improve if you don't take the first step.It was only in 2021 that I finally felt I developed my own style of teaching. With the help from my team, we were able to create our first online jewellery design education platform. It was a huge project we were working on for months and to this day we are constantly working on the platform in the background to continuously improve the content we provide our students. 

We can’t believe how much it has grown in such a short period of time.

Thank you to everyone for their support