All that glitters: Rugeley teacher gives up profession for jewellery dream
Jewellery can represent special moments in our lives, evoke fond memories of happy times and connect us with loved ones.
Making one of a kind pieces that people will love and admire for years to come takes passion and dedication.
And for jeweller Ruth Hollick designing these wearable pieces of art is also incredibly rewarding.
"The process of taking raw materials and turning them into something beautiful is amazing. I love how metals can look really uninspiring and dirty and two-dimensional, but with a little bit of skill,and a lot of polishing, they can become a thing of beauty to be enjoyed for many years," she says.
Ruth has her own studio in the village of Hamstall Ridware near Rugeley where she specialises in bespoke commissions.
The former primary school teacher first fell in love with jewellery making after enrolling in evening classes to learn the craft.
"I’ve always enjoyed creative activities, but took a traditional academic route after school and, after completing a degree in linguistics, I became a teacher.
"Apart from creating displays in my classroom, I rarely found time to do anything remotely arty.
"In 2014 my mum had a major stroke, and I started to question what felt important. Juggling home and work became increasingly stressful, and a friend suggested that I look for something to do just for me. I found a college evening class in jewellery making and signed up straight away. It turned out to be life-changing," she tells Weekend.
As well as face to face training at college Ruth's jewellery-making has developed through self-taught practice.
She is a member of various online jewellery-making groups, and a member of the Jeweller’s Academy, which provides guidance in both skills training and business development.
"I dreamt about turning my hobby into a business for a couple of years, but never expected to actually do it. After I found that my jewellery was selling, and bespoke commissions were increasing, I decided to give it a go. I leapt into the unknown in October 2017 and haven’t looked back," says Ruth, whose business is called Mayflower Bespoke Jewellery.
Her favourite materials to work with when creating a piece of jewellery are silver and gold.
"I work mostly in silver, which I love, but I do get excited when I get to work in gold. It is such a beautiful metal to work with, it files and smooths like a dream and is a joy - if you can get over the heart-in-mouth ‘I’d better not melt this’ moments!.
"I take inspiration from everywhere, often on my dog walks around my local area, and especially on holiday. I might see a shape or pattern on a railing, over an ancient door, on a stack of lobster pots, or in the shapes the sea makes on the sand. My phone is full of images for future use," she tells Weekend.
All of her handmade jewellery is unique as there are always subtle differences in every piece, so customers can be sure their item is different to anyone else’s.
And she believes this is what makes her creations stand out from the crowd.
"I think the care and attention that goes into every piece makes it special. It’s impossible to make a piece of handmade custom jewellery without thinking about the person who has commissioned it, and the person who is going to wear it.
All of my jewellery is made with attention to detail, both in the piece itself and the service I provide.
"Wedding rings are a favourite. They are high-stakes pieces as they carry so much importance, but it is amazing to make rings that are so symbolic and will be part of people’s lives forever.
"I also love making very personal pieces - I made a necklace of a tiny silver map of St Lucia with a gold heart placed exactly over the location of our friends’ wedding twenty years ago. We were their witnesses and it was just so lovely to be able to use my skills to give them such a personal gift," she tells Weekend.
Ruth says she enjoys helping people to transform their thoughts and ideas into reality.
"I think good and relaxed communication is key when working on custom pieces. I will always take the time – whether in person or via email – to find out exactly what my client is envisaging and the message they wish the piece to give if it is a gift. With budget in mind, we work together to establish style and materials. Sometimes people have clear ideas of design, sometimes they have no idea – either is fine.
"Once all the design elements are agreed, I share a commission agreement with my client, which details materials, size, price and completion date. I keep my client up-to-date with photographs along the way, and include little extras such as polishing cloths, gift-wrap, and a handwritten note with the finished item.
"I think my clients love to give and wear special pieces that are not mass-produced and can tell their own story. The joy of bespoke jewellery is that you can have the stone you want, in the setting you like, in the size you need – no trailing around the shops and no compromises.
"I like to think that the people who buy bespoke jewellery also want to support small businesses, and for that I am very grateful," she explains.
When it comes to choosing jewellery for herself, Ruth says she prefers to wear very simple pieces.
"I tend to wear a few silver stacking rings or one thick wrap ring, my wedding jewellery, and maybe a discrete necklace with a symbolic nod to my children. I do have plans to make my own 20th wedding anniversary gift and I already have the gold and stones sitting waiting. Maybe I’ll get to it before our 25th anniversary!," she adds.
As well as making jewellery, Ruth also enjoys sharing her expertise and learning new techniques and skills.
"There is always something new to learn – and I love teaching others how to make jewellery too. I’m enjoying experimenting with lost-wax casting right now, which involves carving jewellery designs from wax and having them cast in precious metals. I’m hoping to offer casting workshops alongside my traditional silversmithing workshops very soon," she tells Weekend.
So what makes being a jeweller such an enjoyable and satisfying job for Ruth?
"Creating beauty - both in the pieces I make and the joy on people’s faces when they see their pieces. Corny but true," she says.
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