Thursday 20 June 2019

The jewels in the crown of Irish design businesses

Irish jewellery design is making its mark at home and abroad

DESIGNER: Chupi Sweetman
DESIGNER: Chupi Sweetman

Fiona McBennett

As a way of celebrating and promoting Irish design, the year 2015 has been titled the Year of Irish Design (ID2015) by the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland.

While many Irish fashion designers, such as Paul Costello and John Rocha, have firmly established themselves in the industry both at home and abroad - Irish jewellery designers have also been making their mark in recent years.

Chupi Sweetman, jewellery designer and owner of Chupi jewellery, founded her company three years ago, having previously been head-hunted by Topshop to work as a fashion designer.

Specialising in delicate gold pieces, the business has gone from strength to strength and has a celebrity following that includes Ruby Wax, Miriam O'Callaghan and, most recently, Buckingham Palace.

"We have been on Kate watch ever since that delivery went out. Everyone else was waiting on the baby and we have been watching out for her jewellery," laughs Sweetman.

Running a company as opposed to working solely as a designer means that much of Sweetman's time is spent away from the drawing board.

"The idea of designing all day long will work if you want to be a designer for someone else but running your own company is more about planning, strategies and forecasting. I might only get two hours a week to design. There are a lot of blood, sweat and tears involved but I love it."

"One of the best pieces of advice I was given was not to do everything myself. I can't draw, so I have an amazing illustrator who does all that. Our goldsmith knows more than I ever will about working with gold. It's good to let others introduce different ways of doing things."

Jewellery designer since 1998, Alan Ardiff says that staying in the game for all these years has required a business mind; something that he struggles to combine with his creative side.

"I am very lucky, as I have a business partner, Siobhan Riordan, who deals with the business side of things. I know there are people who can be creative and do the business stuff as well but I can't. When I am being creative, that is all I am thinking about at the time - I'm not able to think of the administration stuff as well."

Ardiff works with silver and many of his pieces have a mechanical element which allows for parts to move. He say that being a male designer brings something different to the industry.

"I think I approach jewellery differently because I am a man. I don't really wear jewellery but because I am making it, I have to get some enjoyment out of it - that's how I ended up making mechanical pieces. Men can be uncomfortable around jewellery, it's as though it somehow affects their masculinity."

Former business student, Natasha Sherling, says that her background helped her when founding her fine jewellery design business over three years ago. "Creativity can only take you so far - marketing and business connections are so important. There is a fine balance between following your creative dream and seeing what's selling."

A qualified gemmologist, Sherling says that a design business is very personal. "If someone doesn't like my work it feels like they don't like me. That is the most difficult part - along with trying not to buy every gemstone I see," she laughs.

Sherling is passionate about working with Irish craftspeople when creating her own designs.

"Some 95pc of my pieces are made in Ireland - the level of creative talent here is so high. It's really nice to be able to work with local people as it means you can have face-to-face meetings which is nice when you are working for yourself."

Husband and wife team, Barry and Adrianna Doyle, have been running their jewellers and design shop, in Dublin's Georges Street Arcade, for the past 17 years. The shop has a studio where Barry, a goldsmith by trade, works at designing and creating pieces.

"The concept of combining a studio, where you can see the work involved in making a piece, and a shop, is surprisingly uncommon here," explains Adrianna. "Everything that is for sale in the shop has been made by Barry and we would be one of the only jewellers in the centre of Dublin where there is a goldsmith on site."

Adrianna, a qualified gemmologist, runs the business side of the shop and says that their decision to export to the States two years ago has brought them much success.

"Over the last couple of years, there was very little room for growth in this country, we had never wholesaled before but in the latter part of 2013, we took ourselves off to the States and started doing trade shows there. It was a completely different experience from a business perspective and we continue to enjoy success with it."

While there are many craft makers around these days, Adrianna says it is a less competitive field to be in than high street jewellery.

"We are competing amongst a group of designers and makers and each are very individually different. One things is not going to appeal to everyone, so we are not all on the same plane."

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