With not much time to design a gift for Kate Middleton, Galway-based Aisling O'Brien relied on her gut feelings and intuition.
In hindsight the speech therapist and jewellery-maker thinks a more analytical and drawn out approach might have derailed the results. Instead, her gold disc necklace and matching earrings hit the spot with the British royal who has repeatedly worn them since her visit to Ireland just ahead of the lockdown in March.
It has triggered a wave of demand for O'Brien's All the Falling Stars range and prompted her to turn what has been a part time side-line into a full time business.
Why does she think her lovely, but understated and inexpensive design, resonated with the Duchess of Cambridge and future queen consort of the United Kingdom?
"I did a quick search and could see off-duty Kate's flair veered towards low-key and dinky and she liked personalised jewellery. I had two days (to make the jewellery) and if I had two months who knows what elaborate design I would have come up with? I went with my first instinct for simple layered gold discs engraved with her children's initials and it was pure fluke she wore them," she says.
Kate Middleton was presented with the jewellery as a gift by Thérèse Tully Rooney, a physiotherapist at Salthill Knocknacarra GAA club, which the Duchess visited as part of her Galway stop off in March.
"For years I have made jewellery for my friend Michelle on her birthday and her sister, Thérèse, asked could I rustle up a gift she could leave for Kate in her practice room. She got a lovely thank-you letter but I never thought anything further would come of it."
O'Brien first started making jewellery in 2008 as a hobby when she began working as a HSE speech therapist in Ennis after a Masters in Speech and Language Therapy at the University of Limerick (UL).
"Following my Arts degree in NUI Galway, I did a HDip in psychology in Cardiff where speech and language therapy first appealed to me. When I didn't get into UL the first year I applied I volunteered with the HSE to show I was serious. I can be quite stubborn when I set my sights on something," she explains.
By 2014, when O'Brien got a senior post with School Age Disability Services in Tuam, the jewellery was becoming a bigger and bigger part of her life. She was making too much to give away so got involved with the local craft market.
"Making jewellery is something I love doing, a way for me to relax after work. I would light scented candles and feel refreshed after three hours doing this."
"At first I was making costume stuff and then got into metal-work. I learned a lot on YouTube, actually, but the main way I picked up skills was from some intensive silversmith skills courses I took at weekends and over holidays at the School of Jewellery Ireland.
"I don't use machines - just a workshop full of tools. I use a mixture of handmade and bought components for example, I might form, solder and polish a couple of circles from wire for a silver interlocking circles necklace, hammer them by hand to add texture, cut lengths of chain from a roll and combine these with jump rings and then add a bought clasp to make a basic necklace", she explains.
This year "feels full of karma", O'Brien says. Many stars aligned for her.
"I was so lucky I finally got the time in lockdown to get around to teaching myself how to set up my website and take photographs. Then I opened a craft shop in Galway [Ah Sure Look It] with my artist friend Marta Baricikowska in August." Just two weeks later, the Duchess of Cambridge was photographed for the first time wearing O'Brien's designs. Suddenly demand from admirers flooded in, so much so that the new website rapidly sold out.
The Galway craft shop is currently the only place you can find O'Brien's jewellery right now. The shop is a team effort between a group of local makers and businesses.
"We take turns to look after the place and sell on different days. I look after the shop on a Saturday. It is the purest form of fun to be a part of it."
For the last decade, whatever Kate Middleton has worn has sparked a spike in sales, and for O'Brien the 'Kate effect' has triggered the big decision to take a career break from her full time job as a speech and language therapist, which is a tear.
"Parents recognise what you are doing - even if you just give a review and a programme for school when what you really want to offer is ten sessions of therapy - they thank you so warmly and this makes the job so worthwhile.
"There is also an immense reward in managing to engage a child who has complex communication needs and I would have had huge reluctance to put in for a career break before but recent events have forced my hand," she said.
"I now have to completely shut down my website and do my HSE job or else focus full time on my jewellery. The demand is so high it is no longer possible to keep up both."
A big part of O'Brien's role for the past six years has been training teachers to provide speech and language therapy intervention at school.
She's loath to leave until she can hand the work over to a replacement.
"The speech and language therapy services have been stretched thin during the Covid-19 response, with many SLTs (speech and language therapists) redeployed to testing and contact tracing duties, so I am working part-time until a suitable replacement is found for me."
On the design front O'Brien has enlisted a band of helpers to her workshop at the back of the craft shop.
"A few weeks ago Kate wore both pieces together for the first time (she'd previously worn them separately) and within hours I had 60,000 visitors to my website but I already had 5,500 orders on a waiting list and nothing left to sell."
"It is a huge pressure and I am trying not to crumble. I have a team of friends and family helping me. My cousin is doing the admin - everyone chipping in."
She has plans to expand and hire staff but will remain in Galway.
"Other stockists have gotten in touch since all this happened but, for the moment, I only sell at the craft shop but once I get up and running this can change. I am not interested in outsourcing the work to China and I want to grow the company in Galway."
She admits her first reaction was disbelief.
"Straight away I thought I don't deserve this. My only advertising to date had been a €15 Facebook ad and all I could think was this should have happened to someone who has been designing and making jewellery for the last 30 years."
O'Brien is excited but recognises that the project carries its own risks.
"With everything there is the cost of the option not taken and I know I am diving into this without thinking too much about the safety and security of what I have known since 2008, but there is also a pure freedom in that."
With just her and her dog at home to look after she had the space to develop her interest into expertise, she reckons.
"I think the freedom of living solo has allowed me to take chances and follow opportunities, and allow things to evolve in a way that has led to this point."
"Society tends to think that if you haven't settled down and had kids by the time you are in your mid-late thirties, as a woman there must be something wrong, or you somehow haven't 'succeeded' in life, which is nonsense."
"My mantra now is if something makes you happy move towards it because things have a way of turning out just the way they were meant to be, and this year [has] taught me anything is possible."