Lesley Zijlstra-Eyre, goldsmith since 2009. Netherlands

I don’t wait for the right customer to come along, I get out there to find the right customer. Sometimes I will design conservatively other days my designs may be bold and unpredictable…it doesn’t matter eventually they will find their forever home.

What is your profession? Describe it.

The day to day of a contemporary goldsmith is diverse and varied requiring skills and expertise in design, fabrication, customer services, sales and marketing. All, in my case, in a second language not my mother tongue.   From design to client interface I personally see the process through investing all my passions for my chosen profession into my work. The inspiration for my pieces come from nature; mother-nature being the perfect artist, providing an aesthetically proportioned base upon which to develop contemporary jewellery art.  From my initial designs, I work first in a base metal creating a prototype. From here I can determine the appropriate steps required to create the concept to a limited production run, or let the piece stand as a one-off creation.  

What materials do you use?

In Dutch, the word “edel” translates to the English word noble, so I mostly use the noble metals of Gold and Silver.   In their absolute pure states, both metals are too soft for use in everyday jewellery, so fine gold and silver are often alloyed with other metals such as copper or palladium to increase durability and bring about colour changes.

Sterling Silver for example is generally an alloy of pure silver with copper, in the proportions of 925 parts per thousand of pure silver mixed with 75 parts per thousand of copper, thus producing the commonly known 925 Silver. 

Where possible I use recycled gold and silver in place of newly mined metals from the ground, this is a more sustainable product and follows my ethical working practices.  I enjoy working with a customers’ own unworn or broken gold or silver jewellery, in this case they have a personal attachment to the metal and have an additional invested interest in the piece, it makes for the perfect unique item.

Who is your “ideal client’s profile?

My ideal client would be someone who fully appreciates handmade crafted jewellery, that has been created using old studio techniques. They will be someone who values an eco-friendly approach to work, where harsh chemicals and environmentally damaging substances are replaced by modern alternatives.  They may be someone who brings an additional dimension to my own designs, together we will plan a one-off jewellery that fully suits their personal story.

PERSONAL STORY: You chose to be a craftsman. How did this decision appear to be an evidence to you? How would you describe your work and your passion? What is the best moment you had in your job? Tell us your story in this profession.

It is fair to say that the work I do now was not my intended profession, I trained as a medical laboratory professional, and studied jewellery design and manufacture, as an “escape”.  Maybe, I was influenced by my late mother whose hobby was lapidary at evening class, I have some of her cut and polished stones that still require setting. 

I moved to the Netherlands 14 years ago and found myself working for an International Business School in Sales and Marketing. I participated on a part time MBA until the recession hit and I was made redundant.  Eventually it was time to accumulate all my skills and develop myself a role that would satisfy my creativity and passion for jewellery design.  I had over the years accrued many tools and equipment and established my personal style.  I have a small following of clientele and I work continuously to market my business to a wider audience.  From my home studio I love to welcome customers new and old.  Over coffee we will discuss their ideas and incorporate their ideas into my own designs, thus creating unique art jewellery.  Proudly I have welcomed international customers to my home studio, participated in international exhibitions and won design competitions.

SKILLS: What roles do “talent”, “know-how” and “creativity” play in your profession?

I feel that creativity and imagination are the first requirements for making hand crafted jewellery, for me, creativity leads to sketching a simple design and translating this to a 3D metal item.  Like most metalsmiths, the basic skills such as piercing, filing and sanding, soldering, forging, casting and polishing are learnt.  How the goldsmith implements these skills and to what extent they are perfected may define the work as artisan, or high end fine jewellery, therefore creating a professional identity and establishing the metalsmith within the marketplace.  Additional skills such as enamelling and stone setting bring additional dimensions to handcrafted jewellery. 

These skills can be learned, but eventually it all comes down to a “feel” for the task at hand; with soldering for example, we solder gold and silver in a slightly different way, concentrating the heat of the flame differently depending upon the metal.

INNOVATION: And what about innovation, what are the changes since you started? New materials, tools, processes, marketing, … How could your profession be more innovative?

Digitalisation has probably brought about the greatest changes to our work as goldsmiths, from online training tutorials available in all languages, to how we market our products via social media. 

I consider myself a “modern traditionalist”, so I work with traditional materials using traditional techniques creating contemporary pieces of art.  In the world of jewellery, all materials may be utilised, rusted steel, paper and even recycled coffee capsules from the well-known coffee brand have been created into jewellery, it just takes a little ingenuity. 

I use the traditional tools for the making of my jewellery pieces, however I do tend to modify them for my personal requirements, it really depends on the task.  Other materials traditionally used by the goldsmith such as chemicals, may be hazardous.  I personally find alternatives that reduce the impact of my work on health and the environment.

Huge steps have been made recently in the automation of the jewellery industry, 3D CAD design, 3D printing and Metal Sintering Technology are all part of the modernisation of the industry allowing fine delicate designs to be created and replicated to perfection, but stepping far outside the bounds of the handmade arena.  Laser equipment will soon be seen as traditional equipment, often seen being used for decoration, hallmarking and replacing soldering.

TRAINING: Where and how long did you train before you were ready for creating your business? Imagine that you want to invite young generations to choose your profession, what would be your message to them? Are you giving classes to future craftsmen? Where?

The traditional route regarding training for my profession was conventionally a vocational apprenticeship over numerous years and I believe that this is no longer a modern option. The contemporary goldsmith would follow a full-time art or design degree focussing on jewellery, or a full-time degree in goldsmithing from a specialised trade school.  My training took place over many years, where I followed the individual modules of a jewellery design and manufacture course on a part-time basis, so I have no formal qualification but completed the study.  Over the years I have also completed additional courses and workshops including enamelling and advanced stone setting. 

The internet brings online tutorials and classes directly into our homes allowing those with the basic skillsets to build upon, yet in my opinion fail to deliver on the very basics that I now consider intuitive and rely upon daily.  Such as the tone of the “ping” of the metal during forging; it tells me when it is time to re-anneal the metal, or the colour change of the metal during heating; will the solder flow?

Workshops or part time courses will provide anyone the taste of goldsmithing as a profession. I welcome individuals to my home studio for one off workshops.

MESSAGE: In Conclusion, write a quote, a meaningful experience or a personal reflection that you would like to share with us and explain why.

 “there is a customer out there for all the jewellery items that have ever been created, we just have to wait for the right person to come along and claim their piece of art”.  Not my own words I’m afraid, I cite an old tutor of mine, but it is something that has profoundly influenced my attitude towards my work.  Personally, I don’t wait for the right customer to come along, I get out there to find the right customer. Sometimes I will design conservatively other days my designs may be bold and unpredictable…it doesn’t matter  eventually they will find their forever home.

 

To know more about this craftsman, see her profile

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