In the latest instalment of our Graduate Stories series, we catch up with BAJ Jewellery Design and Manufacturing Diploma alumna Genevieve Schwartz who has just launched her eponymous brand. After graduating from BAJ in 2014, Genevieve interned at Vivienne Westwood and was a production assistant at Laura Gravestock and Mr Jones Watches before joining Astley Clarke as a designer. Following a four-and-a-half year stint at Astley Clarke, Genevieve launched her own jewellery brand with a collection of modern gemstones and engagement rings for men. We chat to Genevieve about her time at BAJ and her new endeavour.
What did you study at BAJ and what did you enjoy most studying there?
What I enjoyed the most was learning how to make jewellery from the ground up. I loved that at BAJ we were given an overview of every part of making jewellery: setting, wax carving, and enamelling, we got to try them all.
That was what I loved most about the courses I took there. What has been the most useful since I left is probably CAD. Now that I have gone and started my own thing, I rely wholly on CAD and, because I can do it myself, I save a lot of costs and it also means I can get things how I want them the first time around. I think that would be the most useful skill, looking back on it now.
How would you describe the learning environment at BAJ?
What was great about it was that it was more applied. When I was at university, it was more theoretical, but at BAJ the learning environment was about learning by doing and I really enjoyed that. I think it was just more geared towards how I am as a person. I like getting involved, trying it, failing, then getting it right, that feeling is better to me. Also, I liked the fact that everyone there was there because we all had this shared interest in jewellery, culture, and design, so the network that I made there was a big plus.
Why did you choose BAJ?
BAJ was recommended to me. I did a day-long internship at a company called Ingle & Rhode and I told them I was interested in the field. They said that, if you want to start in this industry, you want to go and learn from the ground up how to actually create jewellery. So they recommended BAJ and that was why I came to you guys.
What’s your favourite memory from BAJ?
My favourite memory would probably have to be the wax carving course. I still really remember it, even though it was many years ago. Firstly, I had a very good class. The group of people I was learning with was all really engaged and all really interesting people.
I really enjoyed the course but also the wax carving itself. I loved the process and I thought the teacher was really excellent, she was very inspiring and she really showed us what you can be if you practice, which is always good at that stage.
What have you been up to since graduating from BAJ?
While I was still at BAJ, I undertook loads of internships at companies like Vivienne Westwood in their jewellery design department. Then, I went to a brand called Laura Gravestock and I did part-time production work for her for about a year and a half. There were other brands I worked at over Christmas as well as watch company Mr Jones Watches, so I was doing different production roles. I went away travelling for a bit and, after I came back, I got a jewellery design internship at Astley Clarke. I was there for four and a half years until quitting in October of last year to start my own thing.
How did what you learnt at BAJ help you in your career?
I think the biggest help was that, learning about how to make jewellery, people always say you need to understand the fundamentals before you’re able to design it. I think going into a job at Astley Clarke where I quite quickly had to get heavily involved because it was a small team, having a background in manufacturing just meant that I skipped out certain steps. I knew what was going to work and what wasn’t. Had I gone into a role like that without any of that knowledge, it would have taken me longer to get to where I did. I also think that all the other people I worked with at the company had that similar level of training, so we all had a similar level of understanding of jewellery. I think that really helped me to actually get the job in the first place and then with working there everyday, as well in terms of the knowledge. Also, knowing the people from BAJ was good for learning about different suppliers. I think you can only figure out where to go once you know who uses who, so that was really useful.
What jewellery making techniques did you learn at BAJ that you use frequently in your work now?
CAD would probably be the biggest one followed by wax carving. I try and do lots of wax carving but I find that, because it’s so time consuming, I don’t actively do much of it. Also, I use more general techniques like piercing, enamelling, and polishing all the time.
I’m always coming up with new ways of doing things but it all started at BAJ, we covered everything there.
What are your plans for the future?
The hope is that my brand is able to grow and I’m able to sustain myself through the brand. I hope to just keep building it and to have a successful jewellery business that I can live from and enjoy designing for. And always come up with new ideas, that would make me incredibly happy so that’s what I’m focusing on for now.
What are your tips for aspiring jewellers?
I would say to take every opportunity that comes their way. I remember I got my first job in jewellery at Vivienne Westwood as I applied and didn’t hear back but then I just called them and I got an email back. In a job like jewellery, it’s quite competitive and it’s a creative job, so a lot of people want it and are also people are willing to do all sorts for it. You just have to really put yourself out there and don’t give up the fight easily. They are more likely to get back to you if you keep reminding them that you’re there and that you’re keen! You have to take every opportunity because every opportunity I took led me to my next one. I met Laura Gravestock who’s a jeweller through just going into EC1 and asking “do you know of anyone looking for someone?” and then she introduced me to my next job, so that’s how it works.
Just be persistent and don’t lose hope.
How are things going with your new brand?
I’ve just launched my men’s engagement ring collection. The idea behind this collection was over Covid, a lot of my friends got engaged. Actually, two of my female friends proposed to their male partners and one of the things they said to me afterwards was “you know it’s really hard to find a ring, I just ended up giving him a book or a puzzle or something.” So, the reason for designing that collection was to try and create a collection for men either to be given to by other men or for women to give to men, just to change that dialogue a bit. I got engaged last December and everyone said to me, “are you going to make him a ring?” and I thought, “why aren’t I making him a ring?” Why does the man always have to give the ring to the woman and the man doesn’t get anything and why is it always the man’s decision? As women nowadays, why are we waiting around for men to propose to us!
There’s definitely a change in the way things are going and I found there was a gap in the market. It was really exciting for me to do the relevant market research and that was something I had also learnt a lot about at BAJ. Learning about mood-boarding, market analysis, and things like that was also something I developed at Astley Clarke. I went about researching, asking people, and sending around initial ideas for people to select from. It was a really exciting experience and it’s really nice to see the final collection. I hope it will resonate with people and they will feel empowered by the idea.