Join us for our weekly BAJ:Insight on the latest industry trends by Rachael Taylor, a freelance journalist who writes about jewellery for a number of titles, including The Financial Times, The Jewellery Editor and Retail Jeweller. In her 10 years reporting on the industry, she has travelled the globe to visit key industry fairs, descended a Fairtrade gold mine on top of a Peruvian mountain, toured silver jewellery factories in Thailand, and regularly has access to the most sparkling jewels and people in the business.
For all you apprentices out there, this is your moment in the spotlight. It’s National Apprenticeship Week, and across the country, thousands of people are talking about how apprenticeships work for individuals, businesses, communities and the wider economy.
The jewellery industry certainly has a rich tradition of apprenticeships. While there are myriad ways to study jewellery today, from night classes to full bachelors degrees, this was not always the case. Many of our most brilliant jewellery designers, goldsmiths and stone experts started out by learning on the job, just as the British Academy of Jeweller’s 30 apprentices are doing right now. Here are just a few of those famous apprentices.
British Academy of Jewellery’s Apprentice
Jeweller to the stars, Stephen Webster started his career as a 16-year-old apprentice at Saunders & Shepherd in Hatton Garden, earning just £10 a day. The jeweller, who picked up an MBE from the Queen in 2013, last year took inspiration from his apprenticeship days when designing the Thames collaboration between his brand and young fashion designer Blondey McCoy. He told Vice: “It was one of my jobs to make what seemed to be an endless supply of 9ct gold razor blades worn as pendants. Years later, with my then boss Tony Shepherd, it became obvious he had no idea his company were at the time supplying up-market hardware for recreational drug use! Of course, I knew the significance of the blades… so the Thames razor blades had to happen.”
British jeweller – Stephen Webster (right)
Multiple award-winning jeweller Shaun Leane left school at 15 and was persuaded to take a Jewellery Design and Manufacture course by a careers officer; he had originally planned to go into fashion and was biding his time until old enough to get into fashion college. But before the first year was up, he became restless and so his tutor suggested he might prefer an apprenticeship. He agreed and signed up to seven years with English Traditional Jewellery in Hatton Garden. “They were brilliant,” he told The Guild of Jewellery Designers. “They were two masters, Brian Joslin and Richard Bullock. They taught me everything I could ever possibly need to know about goldsmithing and I sat in between the two of them. One taught me technique and attention to detail and the other one taught me speed. I had the best of both worlds and remained working there for 13 years.” Shaun recently sold a private collection of his couture jewels, including designs made for Alexander McQueen, at Sotheby’s for £1.94 million.
Multiple award-winning jeweller – Shaun Leane
The Queen of England’s personal jeweller and former Crown Jeweller, Harry Collins, started out as an apprentice. Before he got his hands on the royal jewels, Harry learned his trade in Hatton Garden, picking up an apprenticeship after leaving school. “I was just a boy, and I fell in love,” he told me of his introduction to jewellery for a story in Bentley Magazine. Harry now enjoys passing on his skills and knowledge and last year took on two new apprentices at his G. Collins & Sons store and workshop in Royal Tunbridge Wells.
The Queen of England’s personal jeweller and former Crown Jeweller – Harry Collins
He might be known as the king of diamonds now, but Laurence Graff OBE worked his way up from the bottom. When he left school in the early 1950s at the age of 15, he was taken on by a Hatton Garden jeweller as an apprenticeship and taught the basics. “I sat down as a proper apprentice, learning how to make jewellery,” he told The Telegraph. “It involved a lot of remodelling and repairing. I learned all the ways to make something look new again. And very slowly, I started to build up.” And build up he has – Forbes magazine recently estimated his wealth at £3.7 billion. Something to keep in mind after a long day at the bench.
Founder of Graff Diamonds – Laurence Graff OBE
You can join in the discussion by posting your experiences of apprenticeships to social media and using the hashtag #NAW2018.