Jewellery and Gemmology students at BCU have many exciting opportunities to undertake work placements and industry experiences as part of their studies. These are a great way of gaining real world experience before graduating and can help you to stand out in the job market. We caught up with BA Jewellery Design for Industry student, Prapasri, who told us all about her role at Toye, Kenning & Spencer.
Can you tell us about your role?
I'm currently working part time at Toye, Kenning & Spencer (TKS) - a company with over 200 years of history, making mainly regalia jewellery such as CBE medals for Her Majesty, honour medals for different associations and cuff links. It's great to be working for such a well regarded and established company as a student.
I entered TKS as a Junior Hot Enameller and worked full time during the summer break for three months. Then when I returned to uni in September I changed to part time, so that I could balance the role with my studies, which is also when I asked to experience the mounting shop department in order to expand my skillset.
What are the most valuable things you’re learning at TKS?
Enamelling wasn't a core part of my course, so I'm learning a lot of hands-on techniques and getting plenty of opportunity to practice. It's small things - such as which metal to use or not use when prepping for enamelling pieces, how many times I should wash the enamel, what water I should use to keep the enamel shelf life longer after washing, what tool to use in each step - that make such a difference to the outcome of the piece.
It's also interesting to hear about the varying approaches to techniques across the industry, for example, TKS uses an open fire method to do their enamels, whereas others will use the kiln. It's teaching me to be adaptable and open to learning new skills.
In the mounting shop I get to exercise the bench skills I picked up from my HND in Jewellery and Silversmithing - saw piercing, filing, soldering and quality assurance. The bench fixed torches at TKS are amazing, so I'm getting used to using high-standard industry equipment too.
Working in industry is totally different to the experience you get at university, where the focus is usually on self employed business, creative product design and the processes of making singular pieces. TKS is a fast paced environment, where it's really important to work quickly and effectively to ensure the best standard of work and meet deadlines. Being employed within the industry helps me understand and able to see, compare and use what I have learned from each place.
What are the highlights of your role?
I'm learning so much from others. My peers are always giving suggestions on techniques and what they find useful when they are working on a similar piece. As for the company, it's like a museum! There are shelves and shelves of stamps for medals! It's a really interesting place to work.
Are there any challenges to your role?
In my role I need to be able to make a lot of similar pieces, and each needs to be of the same or better standard than the piece I just put down. It's difficult to not spend too much time on each piece, as they all have to be perfect. It's also hard to stay alert to the details on each piece if you're making so many of one kind, but our team leader is always there to check the pieces before they go onto the next step, which helps a lot.
What are you looking to do once you graduate and how do you feel this experience has informed your plans?
I'm not 100 per cent sure what exactly I want to do straight after I graduate, so I'm keeping my options open. Working at TKS has been one of the most important experiences in shaping my future plans, especially alongside the last year of my course. This role gives me the confidence to step into the industry. On weeks where I get less time on the bench, I get to exercise those skills when I go to work. I really enjoy working at TKS.
Do you have any advice for students considering working alongside their course?
I'd definitely recommend it! Always keep an eye on the job ads for your area of interest and don't be afraid to network or seek the support of the industry professionals on hand at BCU. Figuring out where you want to be can take a long time, but don't waste your time imagining! If you are interested in a certain company then contact them, reach out to them. If they are local, pop in and have a chat with them. It's so important to put yourself out there and make the most of all the opportunities we have on the doorstep in the Jewellery Quarter!