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Jessie Thomas, fine jewellery designer and daughter of prestigious master craftsman David Thomas, talks about the challenges of working as a father-daughter business and why she wanted to establish a brand under her own name.
Daughter of one of the UK’s original and best-respected master goldsmiths, Jessie Thomas learnt her craft in her father’s workshop in Chelsea. Six months ago, she launched her namesake fine jewellery label which offers ready-to-wear designs and a bespoke service.
Culture Trip: As the daughter of master goldsmith David Thomas, was a career in jewellery design always on the cards for you?
Jessie Thomas: In a word; no. Most goldsmiths start from the age of 16 as an apprentice so for me that was never an option. I wanted to stay in school and I wanted to go to university. When I graduated I asked to train with my dad but he declined – he thought I didn’t have the patience for the craft. I went to work in film and I was really bad at it so when dad decided he wanted some help in the workshop he took me on. It makes sense for us to work together and there’s no better way to learn than from a master craftsman, especially one that will be brutally honest.
CT: How does the family / professional dynamic work and how has it evolved?
JT: It can be really hard. He’s so tough in terms of his critique; he would never accept a piece of work if it wasn’t crafted to his own high standards but that’s probably why he’s such a well-respected name. I, too, have so much respect for him. We never lived and worked together – he lives above the shop and I prefer to keep things separate.
CT: How did you go about building the Jessie Thomas brand?
JT: I wanted to have my own business for so many reasons so after 5 years making bespoke jewellery as part of the David Thomas label I launched my own fine jewellery brand. I still work with him as well but most of what we create together is very traditional and I wanted to explore something more exciting to make a name for myself separately. I get to do my own thing and I get complete creative sign off which is great. I am learning what works for my own label as I go. I have a ready-to-wear collection and I create bespoke designs.
CT: What defines your design aesthetic?
JT: Wearability is really important to me, as is simplicity. I don’t want to create anything too heavy. I make and use my own tools and I focus strongly on craftsmanship. Each piece is limited edition. At the moment I’m working on creating my own technique to perfect the art of balling gold for decoration.
CT: What is the importance of having a RTW collection as well as a bespoke service?
JT: A ready-to-wear collection can really define a label’s aesthetic and it’s a chance for me to design exactly as I want to design, but these pieces are made to order so they can be personalised as well. Someone might bring in a stone that holds sentimental value and ask me to create one of my RTW designs using it. That’s the beauty of having a workshop in London and doing everything myself.
CT: How do you source materials?
JT: All of the gold that we use is recycled and we source all of our diamonds from the same man in Antwerp that dad has used for the past 40 years. They’re all sustainable which I think is becoming increasingly important… the jewellery industry has a bad reputation when it comes to ethics.
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CT: What, to you, makes a truly valuable piece of jewellery?
JT: Quality craftsmanship is key and I think it’s unfortunately something that is being lost due to mass market demand. Less money is being invested in training people than in previous years and CAD now means that everything can be done on a computer. Handcrafted designs are becoming increasingly hard to find.
CT: Are you influenced by fashion trends within your designs?
JT: It’s hard not to be but I try to stay away from it. Oversized earrings are something that I love to create and they’re fun to wear but they’re definitely a fashion statement. What magazines want to shoot for editorial is so different to what they put on the shopping pages though so it’s important to have a bit of both.
CT: Have any of your father’s original designs inspired you?
JT: I’m obsessed with his work from the 1970s – he created a series of melted molten gold pieces using a specialist technique that he wouldn’t share with me. I tried to work it out for three weeks before he finally showed me how to do it. The way in which he has always worked is via experimentation and that’s inspiring. He’s got signature techniques, styles and handmade tools that I’ve inherited but I’ll also keep adding to my own variations of these as well.
CT: What’s next for Jessie Thomas fine jewellery?
JT: I’ve created a core collection of investment pieces that will pretty much stay as it is now and won’t be dictated by seasons. I’m still working on the idea for the next collection but it will be a smaller, capsule edit of around five key pieces.
Find out more about Jessie Thomas and shop the ready to wear collection here.