In my quest to interview any and all creatives in the West Midlands, I don’t want to forget those on my doorstep – and in this particular case I mean this very literally! Ruth is my next door neighbour and has kindly taken care of many an online shopping parcel delivered while I was not at home, but she’s also a super talented independent jeweller with a sophisticated signature style. I really wanted to learn about how she ended up doing something so special, so a few weeks ago I crossed the (very low) hedge that separates our respective porches and asked her about her creative business, her many other passions and projects, and her journey so far. She also kindly let me take some photos of her workshop and of herself in action. This interview will be in two parts – let’s get started!
Hello and thank you for meeting me! Could you start by introducing yourself and what you do?
Hello! I’m Ruth – my full name is Ruth Mary Chipperfield – and I’m the owner of Ruth Mary Jewellery. My background is actually in chemistry but I have been saved from making a white powder from a white powder for the rest of my life by engaging with my creative side and going into jewellery! I’m completely self-taught – essentially I see everything in jewellery as sculpture and really look at things in three dimensions, so maybe I’m different from a traditional jeweller in that I approach each piece as a problem that can be solved; if I don’t know how to create something I’ll either find out how to or outsource to someone who has that specific skill (like diamond setting). I’ve been doing this for three years and growing the business steadily – at the moment I do a lot of commissions, focusing particularly on gold and platinum. My signature style involves hand-stitching lace and then recreating it in precious metal through a variety of processes – it’s actually quite magical how one turns into the other!
I’ve also got two other businesses: one involves costume jewellery and is called PictureHaus; it’s here that I started making jewellery a bit more seriously, but it’s really affordable as opposed to my other designs in precious metals. I also realised quite recently that the jewellery industry is very tricky in that it requires a lot of initial effort and investments and it does take time to grow, which made me feel a bit overwhelmed and unsure – that’s when I found Arbonne, which is a network marketing company that focuses mainly on beauty and skincare products. I’d never thought I’d do this kind of work but the more I learned about it the more enthusiastic I became, and it’s really giving structure to my life because I can do a bit of that work every day and I can also reinvest some of the income in my jewellery business.
Sounds like you’re very busy! But to go back to the beginning, could you tell me how you got first involved in jewellery making? I’m really fascinated by how people find their specific passions and niches!
Sure! I’ve been making stuff with my hands ever since I was really little, but I was never interested in the classic white piece of paper – I always made things that were three dimensional. I can’t tell you when I started making jewellery because that really depends on your definition of “jewellery” – I made very low cost “jewellery” like all kids do! However, it was always something I did on the side because I was also very academic – that’s why studying chemistry seemed like a good idea. Eventually I started selling the odd bit of jewellery to friends and family on the side, but it wasn’t until I fell ill and had to take three years out from my degree that my passion really started to grow. My husband was my carer and he’s a graphic designer so we were a really good team, and it was also more or less at this time that I fell in love with lace as an artform and with how precious it is – it’s quite hard to find people that actually know how to make lace, so I started collecting vintage lace which I still have loads of! I started doing some sewing and taught myself how to use a tatting shuttle, which is a tool used to make lace, and quickly started coming up with my own designs.
It was more or less at this point that I realised that if I were to turn this into a business there were two routes I could go down: I could either go low cost and high volume – essentially mass production – or I could go high cost and low volume. Obviously you can try and go for a middle ground, which I’ve done before working with sterling silver, but I’m realising more and more that my customers want gold and platinum and precious gemstones. That’s a huge difference from where I started, but my clients are amazing – sometimes they ask me to do something and I have to tell them that I’ve never done it before, but they trust me to work it out which is quite incredible! Sometimes I speak to other jewellers who have very demanding clients whose expectations they have to constantly manage, but I just seem really lucky in that my clients trust me a lot. Part of it is down to trusting my own creativity myself and knowing that I’m going to be able to come up with a solution, and that attitude really gets transmitted to the client, but essentially what I’m doing is just playing with stuff like I did when I was two years old – it’s just a lot more expensive!
It makes a lot of sense that your clients would want something so special – I think if you’re going to invest a bit of money in a piece of jewellery for yourself or someone you love, you might as well make it unique!
What I really love is taking client’s stories and weaving them into the jewellery – I was having the same conversation with a client earlier: I know my works are not the cheapest, but what I can do is come up with something really creative which involves the client’s story and weave it into the piece to make something really special; and of course I’ll make them feel valued in the process, which is what they really want. A lot of the time I’ll take a piece of jewellery that belonged to a relative that passed away, which I always see as a huge responsibility – it’s a big step to take something that belonged to someone that was really loved and is no longer around and turn it into something new, and I think it’s really important to just hear that story and treat it with the respect it deserves.
Part II will be up at some point next week; in the meantime, I highly recommend checking out Ruth’s beautiful creations at the links below, and maybe considering a special gift for a loved one or yourself…