Homemade jewellery gets a bad press. Hammered tin cuffs, driftwood necklaces, shells picked up off the beach and inexpertly strung together-the overall effect can be more Madame Arcati than Madame de Pompadour. It doesn’t have to be like that. With a little know-how, a bench and a jeweller’s apron, you could soon be working to a professional standard. Your only difficulty will be deciding which direction to go in. You might choose to master the art of traditional silver engraving or transfer a drawing you’ve made onto metal using state-of-the-art photo-etching techniques. Antique beads can be rethreaded, stones can be reset-there are almost no limits to what you can achieve.
Before you know it, you’ll be producing beautiful one-offs that aren’t so much homemade as handmade. A set of monogrammed cufflinks is just the thing for a young man approaching a significant birthday and a silver filigree bracelet, delicate as a cobweb, would make a wonderful christening present for a little girl. T. S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock measured out his life in coffee spoons, but how much nicer to be able to do it with really special pieces of jewellery.
There are more than 100 different courses to choose from at the London Jewellery School (020-3176 0546; www.londonjewelleryschool.co.uk), including working with resin and perspex, wood-carving and setting up your own jewellery business. You can elect to work towards a certificate or diploma, too. The regular beginners’ silver-jewellery evenings cost £252 for five sessions.
If beads are your thing, you’ll love the jewellery-making classes at Bijoux Beads (right) in Bath (01225 482024; www.bijouxbeads.co.uk). The boutique’s designers will help you get to grips with the basics, before progressing on to wirework, decorative knotting and brooch-building. A two-hour session costs from £24, excluding beads.
Creative Breaks (www.creativebreaks.co.uk) organises tuition in professional studios in and around Herefordshire. At the end of its dichroic glass-fusing course, you could take away an elegant pendant, cufflinks, earrings, a brooch or a ring, plus a wealth of transferable skills. Two days’ tuition costs £165, excluding glass.
Cornwall is home to some of Britain’s most highly regarded up-and-coming jewellery makers. Join their ranks at Aggie Arts (01872 553722; www.aggiearts.co.uk) in sleepy St Agnes. Its silver-ring workshop, during which you’ll learn everything you need to know about cutting, bending, shaping, soldering and polishing, is limited to just four people and costs £175, including lunch. A two-hour Cornish-pasty-making class runs in the same building.
Give it a try
The renowned West Dean College in West Sussex (01243 811301; www.westdean.org.uk) holds regular jewellery study days for beginners (£100). Expect plenty of hands-on fun-you’ll be encouraged to develop your ideas by sketching them out before being let loose on the silver. The college also runs courses covering most aspects of jewellery-making, from bead-threading to working with resin and stone-setting.
What to buy
Universal work holder, £7.99, Jewellers Equipment (www.jewellersequipment.co.uk; 020-8871 3730)
Paris jewellery box in Amazon brown croc and stone suede, £175, Aspinal of London
(0845 517 8915; www.aspinaloflondon.com)
Wheatsheaf wooden-handled stainless-steel ring-stick, £39.95, Cousins UK (01708 757800; www.cousinsuk.com)
Stainless-steel 6in ruler, £1, HobbyTronics (www.hobbytronics.co.uk)
Silver-polishing cloth, £2.95, Argento (0845 366 4224; www.argento.co.uk)
Make a weekend of it
Farncombe Estate, Broadway, Worcestershire
This 320-acre estate in the north Cotswolds hums with industry-visitors can try their hand at everything from art history to cake-decorating and digital photography. A one-day bead-weaving course costs £80 per person, including lunch and afternoon tea but excluding materials. Book yourself on-site B&B accommodation (from £70 per night for a double room) or check into Farncombe’s ultra-smart Dormy House Hotel, which has just had a £10 million facelift. Rooms from £170 per night, including breakfast. (0333-456 8580; http://farncombecourses.co.uk)
Art and Craft Holidays, Speyside
The Cairngorms might be the last place you’d expect to find delicate beading and silver filigree, but a trip to jewellery-making tutor Mhairi Ross in Grantown-on-Spey will set you straight. Stay at nearby Mains of Kirdells (01807 500756; www.speysideholidaycottage.co.uk), a charming Highland cottage that’s well located for the Malt Whisky Trail. (www.artandcraftholidays.co.uk)
Tips from the expert
Jewellery designer Tessa Packard (07801 944758; www.tessapackard.com) passes on helpful hints
* The secret to creating wearable jewellery is that the design must take into account the lifestyle and needs of the intended wearer. At the start of each commission, I ask my clients will this be an everyday or showstopper piece? Do you have any metal allergies? What do you love but never wear, and why? What do you want the jewellery to say about you?
* Be realistic. If clinking bracelets annoy you, stay clear of loose arm candy, no matter how pretty the design. If heavy earrings hurt you, make sure to keep the size reasonable. Be honest about what sort of jewellery person you are. Always wear rings? Never wear neck-laces? Jewellery can be time-consuming to make and you don’t want your labour to have been wasted.
* Consider the semi-precious or precious stones you want to use. If you plan to gold-plate your design, for example, be wary of using softer stones, such as lapis lazuli and turquoise, which don’t take to plating well. A reliable and informative gemstone dealer is essential.
Read all about it
Jewellery Making: A Complete Course for Beginners – Jinks McGrath (Apple Press, £14.99)
Practical Jewellery-Making Techniques: Problem Solving – Stephen O’Keeffe (A&C Black, £19.99)
Designing and Making Jewellery Sarah Macrae (The Crowood Press, £25)
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