Jessica Poole revels in the traditional methods of goldsmithing and derives great satisfaction from spending hours at the bench – slowly crafting metal into a defined shape. She further trained in Antwerp to master the art of micro pave setting so that she has greater control over the final product. When you know so much precision, effort and love goes into each piece, the resultant jewellery shines with a deeper radiance.
Jessica worked with top British jewellery brands like De Beers and Boodles before setting out on her own. She speaks to ALIYA LADHABHOY about focusing on high-end bespoke creations and bridal collections.
Did you always want to be a jewellery designer/goldsmith?
I think I was always destined to be my own boss. At the age of 14 I began making jewellery from silver wire and beads and my dad encouraged me to take them to a local boutique to see if they would like to stock them. When I walked out of the store, not only had it placed an order, but all the employees working there that day had bought a piece from me. That very moment I realized that I could making a living from doing what I loved.
What is it that drew you to jewellery design? Tell us about your journey.
I love working with metal, I love its properties and the fact that when you manipulate the metal it holds its form unlike clay, for example – the randomness and volatile nature of clay would drive me mad! Strange as it may sound, I enjoy the time-consuming, slow developing nature of a craft such as jewellery making.
Once I realised my true calling and decided my career path, I set out to learn the craft of goldsmithing. After a degree in jewellery and applied arts, I knew I had to learn traditional techniques as I was bursting with ideas from the art college training but had none of the required skills. I then completed an intensive jewellery skills programme in Kilkenny, Ireland, which was based on the German apprenticeship scheme. From there on, I worked with various jewellery houses and was lucky enough to make pieces for some of the top names in the British jewellery world, including De Beers and Boodles.
Why and when did you decide to launch your own label?
I always wanted to be my own boss. I had a clear vision of what I wanted to make and enjoy all the various aspects of running a business. After many years in the trade working for other jewellery houses I decided that once I completed my training in micro pave I would set out on my own. It was a leap of faith and I did it slowly. At first, I worked part time. I was fortunate enough to be invited to take part in the prestigious Goldsmiths Fair in 2010. This was the launch pad for my own label and I started to build up a network of private clients from there.
Do you continue to follow traditional goldsmithing techniques or have you adapted them to include modern techniques?
I am very much a fan of traditional goldsmithing techniques. These techniques and skills have been perfected over centuries. There is a right and wrong way to execute them in order to produce well-made jewellery efficiently. A handmade piece of jewellery will always have a certain quality over a printed CAD file. Of course, modern techniques and equipment play a huge role, but it is all about knowing when and where they can be used best. Micro pave, which I use a lot in my work, would not be possible without the use of microscopes. Modern cutting and engraving equipment can help perfect a traditional technique, bringing it to the next level of accuracy, but I do use traditional goldsmithing techniques to craft my pieces.
You specialise in the micro pave setting following your training in Antwerp. Why did you decide to specialise in micro pave setting? How many micro pave setters exist in UK?
I could already set but I wanted to learn how to set really well so that I could have complete control over the jewellery making process. Setting is like any other form of craft; every setter has their own style or interpretation of how a stone should be set, so all too often I was either disappointed with the quality I was getting or the piece would come back from the setter after being set in a slightly different way from what I had envisioned.
The micro pave setting, in particular, is a beautiful addition to my work; the style lends itself well to my designs, working with minute stones, sometimes as small as 0.5mm, means that I can make whatever I want and add the stones to the piece, rather than the stone becoming the main focus. Setting collection quality small diamonds in this way also gives an amazing sparkle and when done well is beautiful. When I first came back from my training in Antwerp there were very few micro pave setters like me. Most micro pave setters were working for large jewellery houses and were not very accessible. However, over the past five years or so more and more jewellers are training in it as the style is in such demand, but there are very few female setters in the UK.
What inspires you?
It is very difficult to pinpoint one thing that inspires me. I strive for a quality in my work that gives a feeling of softness, fluidity and organic symmetry.
Are you working on a new collection?
I largely focus on bespoke jewellery tailored for each client. This process can often be time consuming and daunting for the customer who can’t always envisage what the end product will look like. I am working on a collection of engagement and wedding bands, pendants and earrings. So that clients, especially the gents who are planning a surprise proposal, can pick a ring straight from the collection.
Do you prefer working on your own collections or designing a bespoke piece for a client? Which is tougher and why?
Designing my own collection can be very freeing as I can design anything I want. However, with that comes a lot of pressure. I find designing my own collections to be tougher. It’s often hard to know which pieces to make and which ideas are for the scrap heap as I have hundreds of sketches. I really enjoy the bespoke process, working one-on-one with the client. They give me a brief, some inspiration and I start the design process from there.
Their feedback ensures I am on the right track and although the designs are my own ideas, often I would never have produced that work without the client’s brief and input, so it’s always an interesting process for me.
You are known for your bespoke bridal commissions. Tell us about a commissioned piece that is close to your heart.
When I am designing bridal jewellery, there is so much emotion that is tied up with the piece – what the piece represents as well as the material itself in case I am resetting heirloom gemstones. The experience is such that I remember almost all of the clients and what piece of jewellery I made for them as each piece has been made with care and consideration. It’s a great feeling knowing that something I made is cherished every day. If I had to pick one piece then it would be a ring I made for my sister. My now brother-in-law asked me to design a surprise engagement ring for my sister. I felt immense pressure and was quite emotional when making it. Thankfully she loved it.
You bring movement, twists and turns and fluidity to gold. How long does it take you to craft a piece of jewellery?
It is very hard to answer as to how long a piece takes as it depends on the design, the techniques required, type of stone setting, etc., and of course if it’s a good day or a bad day at the bench as some days things run more smoothly than others. Running a business means I very rarely get to sit at the bench all day. It can be anything from eight hours to a full week.
Tell us about your Folia collection. What was the inspiration behind this collection?
My now husband introduced me to anticlastic raising over 12 years ago and I love this technique as it produces beautiful fluid forms. The Folia collection draws inspiration from nature and represents the curves and curling of leaves. This technique helps me create elegant and effortless shapes.
Which is your most popular collection/jewellery piece?
The Folia earrings have always been very popular for many years now. The Viennese ring and Crushed Velvet ring are currently the favourites. They are my most loved pieces also as the soft fabric quality makes them very wearable every day.
How do you unwind?
I have a young family so all of my time at the moment is spent either in work or with my children so there is very little chance to unwind. I love gardening so as and when I can, I get out into the garden or I take a trip to the local flower market bringing back more plants than I can carry. I have recently taken up swimming which I am enjoying and this gives me some alone time, and is great for the body and mind.
Where do you see yourself five years down the line?
I took on an apprentice one year ago. I am teaching her diamond settings, including micro pave. It is a long process that takes dedication to become a good craftsperson, but she is getting there and is already very good. Having more staff and help will free me up some time to design and create more elaborate pieces and develop collections. I am currently known for my bespoke work. In five years, I would like to have established a presence in the jewellery market for my bridal ranges and concentrate on even higher-end bespoke work.