The big betty careers Q&A: we meet a jewellery-maker

The end of school is nigh, and all of a sudden you feel like you’ve got 100 decisions to make. What do I want to do with my life? Do I want to go to college, or uni, or do I want to get stuck straight into work? It’s easy to feel lost when you don’t know what you want to do, or how to get there.

But while you have literally your whole life to make up your mind, a little bit of good advice can go a long way. So with that in mind, in a series of interviews, we’re speaking to women who’ve ‘made it’, and asking their advice on how to follow in their footsteps.

This week, we speak to Tine Bladbjerg, jeweller and owner of A L’Etage 2.

How did you end up as a jeweller?

I always wanted to do something creative, I knew that much, I was fortunate that my parents supported that idea and they found me a jeweller I could do work experience with when I was 16. I was hooked. I was at the bench and they showed me how to do it, on the job. I finished school, took a year off and went to art college in the evenings to build up my portfolio and learn to do life drawing, then I got into college in Rochester in Kent. That’s how I ended up in England (I’m Danish, but grew up in Belgium). When I finished college, I moved to London and shared a workshop with two jewellers, then last year opened my own shop.

What are the best bits of the job?

I like to do a bit of everything. I’m quite enjoying having the shop, it’s been a good move for me. I sell my own pieces that I make in the workshop at the back of the shop, but I also sell other people’s work and when all the stuff came in to sell it was like Christmas—even if I can’t keep it! I still like the making and I still like buying the gemstones, that’s always nice.

Are there any bad parts?

A lot of creative people don’t necessarily like to do bookkeeping and stuff like that. When I first started I wasn’t sure if I was going to sell directly to the public or through shops and I didn’t enjoy knocking on doors very much, but some people don’t mind that. It’s up to you how you do it. Sometimes customers can be tricky! And there are a lot of jewellers out there—competition is very steep and you don’t always get into the shows you would like to. That can mess up your year and getting the rejection letters isn’t enjoyable. But you just have to keep going, and get back up.

The big question: uni or no uni?

I do know self-taught jewellers, but I think it’s good to have some kind of training—whether college or university or, if you’re lucky enough to get one, an apprenticeship. There aren’t many of them but they do exist, The Goldsmith Company do pre-apprenticeship courses too.

The thing about being a craftsman or an artist is, people often think that it’s something you do for fun but actually you have to do the business side as well. You need to have the skills to be able to do it, and you need to be thick skinned. When I came out of college I worked part time and I think that’s a good way to do it—going straight from college and thinking you can make a living self-employed is unrealistic. When I finished college, I shared a workshop with two older people who had been in the trade a long time, so they could advise and mentor me in a way.

I would say do any work experience you can get, even if it’s not paid. It’s because I did that I was able to get part-time design jobs for some quite big companies. You have got to be willing to put the work in. In some ways, it’s more fun to keep it as a hobby, because you only get to do the fun bits and there are no time constraints—for me, there’s always deadlines and there’s never enough time.

What sort of skills do you need to be a jeweller?

It’s partly design, partly making, so you have to learn the traditional way of painting up the jewellery, and how to make the pieces up. It depends what kind of business you want to be: if you want to design and make your own stuff, of course you have to know both, but I do know jewellers who just make other people’s work—maybe for a stone dealer or designer, or just people who come in with ideas but may not have the skills to make it. I like to do both.

If you could tell your 14-year-old self one thing, what would it be?

You’ve got to follow your dream, but be realistic. If someone offers you help, take the help!

@EllieCostigan

Image: Katie Edmunds

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