The life and role of a jeweller has changed dramatically, or has it? New technologies may have been implemented to develop the jewellery making process, but does this go hand in hand with good old-fashioned knowledge and basic understanding of the jewellery industry?
As a jeweller of more than 30 years, Chris Green has seen it all. Joining his family-run jewellers Crystalink, in Birmingham’s Jeweller Quarter as a teenage apprentice, Chris is now heading into his fourth decade as a jeweller.
Sharing his experience of what’s changed and what’s stayed the same, Chris explains what it means to be a jeweller in 2019, compared to thirty years ago.
The fundamental methods are still important
Many things may have changed, but the basic methods of jewellery making are as imperative today as they were 30 years ago. Every day I’m still using the same techniques I was initially taught. They’ve stood me in good stead, so I’m a big believer in something we call ‘bench knowledge’ in the industry, which is knowledge and expertise picked up going through the ranks as an apprentice and learning on the job.
Handcrafting is something I practice every day and an aspect of jewellery making that is definitely still needed, regardless of the era we’re in. Hands-on craftmanship and having that innate knowledge is priceless; experience working under different challenges and requirements is a skill that can’t be bought, and something I’m proud to have in abundance.
But new methods are equally as beneficial
Machinery has improved tremendously and come on leaps and bounds since I first began working in the industry. The way castings have developed has sped the whole process up completely and made things easier. Access to laser welding has made things more affordable over the last few years, and I do believe these innovations have improved us as jewellers, especially when concerning platinum and how pieces are caddied.
Simply put, traditional methods combined with the modern-day advancements is not something I could have envisioned 30 years ago. I feel both are equally as necessary and important in today’s role as a jeweller. In today’s industry, it’s not easy being a jeweller as there’s a lot more competition on your doorstep. But new practices, methods and processes on refining our job are a lot more accessible today than 30 years ago, and that is something I do value in 2019.
Of course, trends come and go, but over the last five to ten years we’ve definitely seen a huge increase in social media trends having a direct impact on what customers are coming in and asking for. Common requests are for engagement rings, but even then, it’s not always about the design, but can be focused more on the colour. For the last ten-plus years we’ve seen platinum as a very popular choice. But why is that? In my opinion, the influences and impact is led by the bigger companies who are able to create those trends, which eventually makes its way down to the independent jewellers. The Royals have also had a profound affect on the jewellery industry, with Kate Middleton and most recently Meghan Markle influencing what people want to see created and have made.
The changing face of the Jewellery Quarter
To say the area has changed since I started out as an apprentice would be an absolute understatement. Back in the eighties, the Jewellery Quarter was a very industrial space, with little back street jewellers, few shops and very much a working-class area. It was almost like a ghost town when everyone finished at 5pm.
To be a jeweller in those times, and to still be working here today, is quite remarkable. It couldn’t be any more different, as along with the jewellery aspect of the area, there are so many more different businesses, bars, restaurants and nightclubs, which is all fantastic and great to be shouting about. The Jewellery Quarter is called the Jewellery Quarter for a reason, with jewellers and independent business still the crucial backbone. However, the improvements, investment and gentrification into the area has created a whole new customer base and appeal for people to be visiting, which is fantastic for us as an independent jeweller.
The future jeweller
As a jeweller for thirty years, one aspiration I would love to see in the future is an influx of younger jewellers coming through, and more apprenticeship schemes being offered through manufacturing businesses.
Not many young people think about being a jeweller, as most people fall into it. The average age is 35 plus, and we need the younger generation to keep the craft going. The role may have changed in some aspects over the last three decades, but nothing will beat going into a store and speaking face to face with a jeweller over a precious item, ring or other sentimental piece you want creating. Our role today is still as essential as it was.