HND Jewellery and Silversmithing Senior Lecturer
Could you tell us about your experience and how this feeds into your course?
I’ve been a jeweller since I started at the bench, aged 14, and that kind of training has set me up with a knowledge of what is required by the industry and what our students need to know in order to succeed when they graduate. The course is very much skills-based and we are unusual in the sector in that we work mainly with traditional techniques and materials. My own interests in the boundaries between “handmade” and “digital” production have brought the active inclusion of CAD/CAM into the course and this prepares our students for progression, either through our BCU “Design for Industry” top-up degree or in the jewellery world. I am also very interested in the role that craft can play in engaging with social issues and I try to bring some of this to the course, too.
What is the philosophy of your course?
We have a well-established strategy for learning and teaching in which practical and critical thinking skills are developed through experiential learning, thinking and problem-solving. Hand skills are developed alongside an understanding of the industry, supporting the growth of a personal and professional identity within the environment of the Jewellery Quarter.
The main focus is on acquiring the fundamental traditional skills. Creative problem solving is a thread running through the course and students build on the potential of the fundamental skills bridging the interface with new technologies and innovative approaches, achieving a solid technical background in all aspects of the industry.
Students develop a high level of skill through working to commissions, competitions and live industry briefs, leading to product outcomes using both traditional and the most up-to-date technology, enabling them to be the next generation of industry employees or preparing them for progression to the Design for Industry top-up degree.
If you had to name one thing about your course that makes it distinct, what would it be?
The HND at the School of Jewellery is unique for a number of reasons. Firstly, we place the teaching of hand-skills as paramount; secondly, we are based in the heart of the jewellery manufacturing centre of the UK; finally, our teaching and support team are all practical makers who are still engaged with the industry and their practice. These factors combine to define the course and to make it attractive to students wishing a career in jewellery and to employers, seeking to recruit our graduates.
Why is Birmingham a good place to study?
Birmingham City University is central to the cultural life of the city and the School of Jewellery is a key influencer within the historic Jewellery Quarter here. Both the University and the School integrate into the city’s lively arts programme and students here have access to the benefits of being part of such a large institution. The city is large and sprawling but it has a compact centre and adjacent cultural areas so it is easy to find things to do, exciting places to eat, music and arts events, sports activities and more. Birmingham is proudly multi-cultural and very proud of the heritage that multiculturalism has brought here.
Why do you believe it’s important to study a degree and why might students want to study your course?
The HND Jewellery and Silversmithing is unique in that it offers a number of routes for future progression: being craft-based, it can lead directly to employment but it can also lead into our top-up degrees, Jewellery and Silversmithing- Design for Industry or Design Management courses which convert the HND into a BA degree. The range of opportunities available to our graduates is enormous and we have had people end up in everything from the expected jewellery design and manufacture to moving into dental work and model-making for film and television. Our course allows students to not only develop their skills in the direction most suited to their expectations but also puts them in touch with opportunities in the industry.
Where will the students be based in their time here and what will their learning environment be?
Students will mostly be based at the School of Jewellery in the heart of the Jewellery Quarter. We have custom-built workshops and aim to ensure that everyone has a bench of their own to work at for the year. Additionally, there are the fantastic resources of our technical staff and our basement and digital workshops which can be drawn upon to support and enhance the learning experience. The HND Jewellery and Silversmithing is taught four days per week with optional additional industry visits, fieldtrips and workshops. We align our teaching closely with our industry partners and with live competitions and design briefs to ensure that students have the most relevant experience while they are here.
What can students do to help prepare them for the course?
The course assumes that students have had no practical experience and within a period of the first eight weeks of the course builds up their skills to a level where they are quite capable of making jewellery, albeit fairly simple work. We do like people to have had some metalworking experience but what is most useful is to develop a practice of making notes and sketchbooks and developing visual research so that the teaching here can concentrate more on the technical teaching. If a student comes to us with a clearly-defined sense of the kind of work that they want to make, we have the opportunity to work with them to develop skills specific to their ideas. Drawing and making visual notes is essential.
It is worth visiting galleries and exhibitions which feature jewellery and really looking at the way in which the work is put together: trying to work out the technical details, for example. This can really play into the sketchbook and notebook practice, too.
What’s your favourite element about working at the School of Jewellery?
The School of Jewellery offers a whirlwind of opportunities and it is brilliant to be able to enjoy these with the students and graduates. By far my best experiences here have been when my students have won awards, competitions or have been commissioned to do something exciting. This has included designing the medals for the International Athletics Federation games, which were held in Birmingham, winning the Goldsmiths’ Craft and Design College Trophy and having this presented in Goldsmiths’ Hall in London, working with the local businesses in the Jewellery Quarter to run Open Studios, designing jewellery for sale in the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, and our annual Industry Evening where we invite all the local businesses to see what the students have been making and to present prizes.