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Harriet Kelsall Bespoke Jewellery

Muddy talks to Harriet Kelsall about 20 years in the jewellery business, making Hertfordshire sparkle

Harriet Kelsall Bespoke Jewellery is celebrating its 20th birthday this year. On Sat 17 Nov there is an all day Christmas event at the Hertfordshire Jewellery Centre in Halls Green. Pop in any time between 9.45am – 5pm to start Christmas shopping, enjoy mulled wine and mince pies whilst soaking up the sound of local musician Izzy Rowland. Beading workshops for children, charity raffle, a talk about Fairtrade jewellery and demonstrations of jewellery making from the goldsmiths. There is also a fab cafe with delicious coffee and cakes.

Harriet Kelsall Bespoke Jewellery, Hall Green, Herts

Ahead of Saturday’s event, I talk to the founder, Harriet Kelsall:

Where do you feel most at home? Town or country?

I grew up in central St Albans so am very at home in a city and love the business and action of a busy urban environment.  However, I live in very rural North Hertfordshire which I also love, and especially enjoy keeping hens, geese and bees.  I spend a lot of time in central Cambridge too and of course in London, so I think I love both equally.  My brain is half arts and half science and so perhaps I am a bit split in this way too!

Harriet Kelsall, Primrose Hill

You recently opened your third shop in Primrose Hill, a part of London you know well. Are there any changes that have particularly surprised you?

It is strange and wonderful being back in Primrose Hill after more than 20 years.  In many ways it feels like coming home and it is a very strange coincidence that the shop unit that we renovated is right opposite the flat where I used to live when I first met my husband.  I never imagined that I would look out of the window and see the shop that I would one day run – very strange!  It is wonderful to be back here though.  There is still a thriving community and I think that people are more aware of how special Primrose Hill is than they used to be.  Chalcot Square, where we used to live, was always lovely but has received a wonderful face lift (thanks to a film crew I believe) and looks much more colourful now. The shops are busier and thriving and there is even more of a village feel.

What do you do to nurture your own creativity?

When it comes to bespoke design, every piece of commissioned jewellery is inspired by the individual’s style, ideas or story so it’s easy to find new inspiration.  I have never struggled to find inspiration and perhaps it is because there’s so much variety in what I do that this keeps me fresh.  My problem is kind of the opposite in that I always have so many ideas that I can’t actually draw or make them all fast enough.  I keep a sketch book in my bag and am always sketching on the train trying not to lose a good idea. 

Do you think people’s approach to buying jewellery has changed since you first started designing and making jewellery in 1998? 

Bespoke is much bigger than it used to be although many jewellers presenting ‘bespoke’ are offering a customised version or a kind of ‘meccano’ using pre made parts or pre-designed CAD parts. To me these options aren’t as good as starting with a clean sheet of paper and designing just the right thing for the individual and using whatever making processes are right for each project.  I recently wrote the sub definitions of bespoke for the JET jewellery certificate training because the word ‘bespoke’ is getting used for all sorts of things.  There are very few jewellers offering what I would call a proper clean sheet bespoke design service.

Do you think people are more interested and concerned about where their metal and gemstones are coming from?

Information about ethics in the jewellery industry was something we’d always mentioned on our website but not prolifically and not many people were interested. However, I built the business with a strong foundation to try to use materials that didn’t harm those at the bottom of the supply chain.  We helped to pioneer this way of thinking and now customers come to us asking about Fairtrade gold and responsibly sourced gemstones which is wonderful progress.  Older consumers often assume that everything must be okay in the supply chain and don’t really ask questions but millennial and younger consumers always ask the questions which is a real turning point because sadly there is a lot wrong in the jewellery industry.  We are still on a journey but with a combination of lobbying by concerned organisations like us and pressure from customers who genuinely want more ethical options, things are starting to change

Do you have any advice to give to someone who would like to be a jewellery designer?

I have mentored many young creatives over the years and observed so many common threads and found I was giving similar advice to lots of them.  That is why I wrote the book The Creative’s Guide to Starting a Business: how to turn your talent into a career.

Celebrate Christmas at Harriet Kelsall Bespoke Jewellery, Sat 17 Nov, 9.45am- 5pm. North Barn, Fairclough Hall Farm, Halls Green, Hertfordshire, SG4 7DP.

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