Meet your Maker - Susi's journey

I’ve always loved jewellery and being creative. Whether that was making beads out of newspaper and glue when I was 10, or a rather obsessive habit of making friendship bracelets up until the age of 15 (which I used to tie to my big toe!). But somewhere through school, this got put to one side and off to university I went, to study Maths and Management. After graduating with a great sense of business but having fried my brain on the maths, I delved into the worlds of events. I loved creating one off events that the guests would never forget and soon the synapses in the stagnant creative side of my brain were firing again.

It wasn’t until I did a short beginners course in jewellery making at Central Saint Martins in 2007 that I started the path to my career today. That first ring I made I still hold dear, I couldn’t believe that I’d made it! All I wanted to do was learn more and whilst I toyed with the idea of starting from scratch and going to Central Saint Martins full-time, I didn’t want to wait another 4 years so decided to train as I went along.

I was lucky that Master Jeweller Martin Hopton had a space for me in his jewellery school, which meant that I could go for one day a week, I continued for 4 years. We each worked on different projects and he would walk you through each one. It was here that I learnt the basics and got a really feel for the craft.

Susi Smither 

SilverSmither

 

 

So I enrolled on a Gemmology Diploma course, 8 months later in 2011, I graduated and became a Fellow of The Gemmological Association of Great Britain. I was in love – gemmology was the most exciting thing I’d ever learnt. The aesthetics of breathtaking gemstones mixed with chemistry right down to particle physics of why exactly rubies are red! I discovered my inner Gem Geek.

I’m a great believer in fate, so when I saw a job advertised, just before my final exams, as Stock Controller for Holts Gems and Jewellery in Hatton Garden, I marched in with my CV the next day. The first day in the job was when my gemmology training really started. There is no better way to learn than to handle and test gems each day. Their collections of gems is extraordinary and it was working with their team for three years that made me the gemmologist I am today. It has enabled me to find out how a jewellery business works from the inside out. 

One side of the industry which I hadn't yet got to grips with was the design side so I headed back to school, this time with the Gemmological Association of America to learn jewellery rendering the old-fashioned way with hand-painted jewellery designs. Drawn by hand and to scale, this not only helps a client get a feeling for what their jewellery will look like, enabling you to make tweaks on the design before you start, but then acts as a design template for the production stage. 

I was amazed that with patience you can bring these two-dimensional drawings to life and this gives you such control over all aspects of the design. 

Field Trip To Sri Lanka 2012

 

 

 

This soon evolved into SilverSmither, my own jewellery business creating silver jewellery and launching my first collection in 2009.

It was during this time that I first started looking into the use of ethical gold and got in touch with CRED, who were the supplier in the UK. Back then there wasn't a Fairtrade goldsmith's registration scheme and whilst I used gold in some of my designs, it was only as plating over silver so it didn't work out. Back then, people were only just starting to ask where all their materials came from and our customers were yet to catch on. I frustratingly put this knowledge to one side but my mind was always ticking the subject over.

As I started to get commissions through SilverSmither for more exciting and elaborate designs, I was introduced to the world of coloured gemstones. I was born a rock hound, brought up on my parents love of minerals and rocks, but walking into a gem dealer in Hatton Garden for the first time is a daunting thing. I ashamedly had to ask questions such as, “Have you got something like that in blue?”. There is nothing wrong with that at all but to anyone who knows me I’m a perfectionist and I like to exhaustively research things that interest me. I didn’t just want to know what gems come in blue, but I needed to understand the science behind it.

Drawing Gemstones 

But new questions were brewing in my head and soon I wanted to know more about the gemstones. Testing, mounting, setting were all part of the jewellery process but where did they come from? I'd learnt about The Gemstone Pipeline but I wanted to see it for myself. Heading to Sri Lanka in 2012 on a field trip with a group from The Scottish Gemmological Association was an eye-opener. Scrabbling around in my first mine and seeing the gems coming out of the earth felt like a privilege. And meeting the miners really solidified my sense of where these gemstones really come from, because it's not just about where they've been dug but by whom. Peoples lives and livelihoods are intrinsically tied to this process and I couldn't get my head around why they've become to separated. 

Impassioned and steeled by all this knowledge I was ready to start my own business The Rock Hound.

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