Tell us a bit about your company
From the age of 16 I enjoyed making jewellery as an evening class, and then I went through my art education which leaned heavily towards working with metal.
I did my degree in jewellery and silversmithing, and after I graduated in 1992 I undertook a residency with the Bishopsland Trust. It’s an amazing trust which was set up for jewellers and silversmiths who have graduated.
You can be there for a year and use their workshop and studio, and there is plenty of training and advice. I then came back to Hertfordshire where I was funded by the Princes Trust to get started, which gave me lots of help on the business side. I felt like I had enough experience, and I knew what I wanted to do on the ‘making’ side, and the two came together. It was 1996 when I first started the business.
You design bespoke pieces and were commissioned to design a brooch for the HM The Queen Mother. Why do you think people choose to come to Rachel Jeffrey specifically?
We’re really friendly and we’re easy to talk to. We sell a high value product and the girls who work for us have lots of knowledge. Everyone knows what’s going on but they don’t have that ‘front’ that makes some customers say they’re absolutely petrified that they’re going to have to buy something even though they just want to ask questions.
People love the fact that they can come in and just have a chat and find out about things. I think my work is very contemporary and very durable. You see some bits out there in the market that are amazing, but you look at them and think: “Someone’s going to be able to wear that for a season and then it’s going to fall apart, it’s going to scratch, and it’s going to look awful”. I think we’ve got a good combination between something a little bit more unusual but made incredibly well.
What helps you to stand out from your competitors?
We make literally everything in the workshop. We really can manipulate everything, people see something in the shop that they love and we can make it a little bit smaller, a little bit bigger, change the metals around, and make it really personal. When I’m designing with somebody I always grab bits from the display cabinets that they like – not necessarily the piece that they want but we can talk about it more visually.
You mention on your website that customer involvement is very welcome. How important do you believe that customer relationship is when designing a piece?
Very important, and I think that’s the way forward at the moment. We sell online but the value going forward is in the service, and as much as you can quickly get something online, people appreciate coming to me, the person who made it, not having to buy it off the rack, but change it.
You also run your own jewellery school. How important do you think it is to teach the next generation of jewellers?
Some people say ‘you’re producing your competitors’ but I always say, ‘don’t ever get jealous or worried about other jewellers being around you’. It’s lovely to be teaching, because when you teach you’re practising all the techniques that you’re not necessarily using all the time, so it keeps my skills up to date. It’s lovely to think that people are going to be able to earn their living and go forward doing exactly what I did. There’s room for all of us and it’s just so nice to get them to do all the hard work and see their finished pieces.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?
Don’t expect to earn any money for at least 10 years. Going from school and training, financially, is the best way to do it because you’re not used to earning money, literally every penny goes into materials. For 10 years I worked four evenings a week and that was really just to earn enough money to pay rent, and to pay for materials. That’s the hard bit: you just have to be in the workshop at 6am and you’re lucky if you’re home by 10pm. It’s only then that people have the confidence, after seeing what you’ve produced, to trust you and come back to your shop.