Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex nailed her jewellery and the “something borrowed” part of her royal wedding to Prince Harry when she wore a diamond bandeau tiara on loan from Queen Elizabeth. I don’t have a direct link to the Queen, but when it comes to the “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” I know just where to go for the “something new” part – particularly when it comes to that all important piece of bridal jewellery.
I first met lacemaker and jewellery designer Ruth Mary in 2017 through the networking group Athena, when I saw her beautiful lace couture jewellery on display. I found her business start-up story fascinating and the bespoke jewellery so beautiful. From starting her business in 2017, Ruth Mary has gone from strength to strength, and apart from being an amazing artisan, an inspirational woman an all-round cool chick, she has a string of accolades behind her name including being selected by The Guardian for its Top 100 Small Business feature, a trip to Downing Street, winner of a LadiesFirst award 2017 and a finalist in the Woman Who Awards 2018. Wow. Just Wow. I caught up with the award winning designer Ruth Mary Chipperfield behind the scenes….
1. Ruth Mary – you initially trained as a chemist so how did you get into this profession?
In the middle of my chemistry degree I became ill with severe Narcolepsy and had a three year period where I couldn’t do much and my husband (Paul) was my fulltime carer. So I spent the time designing and making jewellery. Not many people have the chance to develop a passion like that.
2. You create couture jewellery from lace. That sounds rather complex! In simple terms, how do you that?
Couture design is all about hand stitching and that’s what I do to create my lace designs, using just a needle and silk thread. Once I’m happy with the design, I create a mould around the motif. The lace is then removed, leaving a cavity into which molten silver or gold is poured. That way I get the exact shape of my original lace design, but in a luxury material.
3. You have an existing range of necklaces, earrings, bracelets and rings that can be bought online, but do you do commissions?
I absolutely LOVE taking on commissions and have done so for a variety of occasions. I’m currently working on a pair of earrings and bracelet to match the brides wedding dress. Sometimes my customers give me a piece of sample lace from their dress, on other occasions it’s a close up photograph of the lace detail.
4. Bridal jewellery is such a personal choice. What advice would you give to a bride about her jewellery (or a groom!)
My top tip is to find bridal jewellery that you can wear again. It’s the one part of your outfit where that is possible and I always find a way of designing jewellery to be as versatile as possible. For example, my hair jewellery can be made into earrings and a necklace after the big day. Also go for something timeless. It’s the only piece from your day that can become a real heirloom. The same goes for the groom’s cufflinks.
5. We are talking about jewellery for that one special life event –the wedding day – but what of other life events such as pearl, golden or silver anniversaries, or even memorial jewellery to remember loved ones?
Bespoke jewellery should always tell a story. A 13th wedding anniversary is symbolised by lace, so it’s the one I focus on a lot. I also create pieces to tell the families story, such as a recent commission of a bracelet with silver lace initials of the three children.
6. Where do you get your design inspiration from?
It’s a real mixture, but I love looking at opulent interior designs with carved detail in the ceilings and furniture. My other main source of inspiration is from couture embroidery or antique lace. I recently visited the lace archives at Nottingham Trent University, which was a huge treat!
7. Typically how many hours are involved in creating a piece of jewellery?
It varies a lot, depending on the complexity of the design. I generally ask for 8 weeks for a commission, because I know this will allow me time to think. I like to work on several pieces in a day and switch between them. I can still get a creative block, but it allows me to use that time on more repetitive tasks at the jewellers bench, like filing, soldering or polishing.
8. The words ‘couture’ and ‘bespoke’ imply designer prices….is that the case?
Yes and no. Most of my pieces on my online shop are between £50 and £150, which includes some real wardrobe staples that will last for decades. So in the long-run it’s a more stylish, more sustainable way to shop. Most of my bespoke pieces are over £150 and the price refelcts the complexity of the design.
9. How can clients be sure of the quality of metal used?
Precious metals above a certain weight have to be hallmarked by law. This is 7.78 grams for silver and 1 gram for gold. Many of my silver pieces aren’t hallmarked, but the same standards still apply. So a customer can always request the hallmark to be present. Unlike the metals used in costume jewellery, precious metals have very specific standards, so the customer can know exactly what they are wearing against their skin.
11. What do you enjoy most about your job?
Impacting people. I love taking customers ideas and turning them into something even better. I also love to inspire the people I meet. The jewellery trade can often seem very mysterious and it’s common for people to feel a little nervous about going into a jewellers shop. I like to share about what things are really like – the good and the bad. I try not to give people the impression that my story has now had it’s happy ending, because the truth is that we’re all human. Whether or not we run a successful business, life goes on.
12. Any words of advice or pearls of wisdom that you would like to share?
I have lots of pearls, occasionally some wisdom and every now and again the two combine.