Karen McKinley

Karen McKinley

Course studied at BCU: BSc (Hons) Gemmology and Jewellery Studies 
Job: Self-employed Jewellery Designer

Please describe your industry and the role that you do.

I am working as a self-employed jewellery designer and distance learning gemmology tutor. This involves working with clients, creating designs, and making the pieces that they choose. I design, make, set and finish most of the pieces of jewellery. My tutor role is online for Gem-A, supporting and encouraging students through their course. I am an exam marker for Gem-A.

I have also taught Gem-A diamond and gemmology courses for BCU, and BCU gemmology optional module courses.

What other Gemmology/Jewellery industry related jobs have you had?

I trained as a bench jeweller, and then became a diamond mounter, and worked for the same company for 13 years before deciding to go out on my own as a self-employed jewellery designer.

Did you take a course for jewellery making/ designing or train on the job as an apprentice?

I was apprentice trained - thrown into the deep end on high value pieces.

What attracted you to become a bench jeweller?

I have always been artistic and loved (and still do) the fact that I can create a piece of jewellery from a piece of stock silver/gold/platinum. I also love the technicality of the work - the fact that metal can be hammered or moulded into shape.

Could you explain what a diamond mounter is?

Diamond mounters are specialist jewellers who make the framework of a piece of jewellery in precious metal in which diamonds (or any gemstones) can be set. They are usually given the gemstones to measure against and check the fit as they work.

Which particular elements of your BSc (Hons) Gemmology and Jewellery studies degree is utilised most in your job?

As I completed the ’top up’ third year of the degree, I would say that the opportunity to deepen my understanding of gemstones and the laboratory equipment has helped greatly. The intense practical aspect of the course was invaluable and built on what I already knew.

What particular strengths of yours help you to succeed within your job?

Organisation skills, creativity and understanding exactly what my clients are looking for.

Can you tell us about something memorable, exciting or challenging that you have experienced at work?

I feel that every commission is a combination of all those things. The most rewarding is when I remodel a client’s old or inherited jewellery into a new design. Having extensive knowledge of gemmology helps with understanding what designs can be possible with the gemstones I am presented with. These gemstones are not always what the client thinks they are…!

If you were to interview, a candidate to perform the same jobs as you do what essential qualifications, experience and character traits would you look for?

For the jeweller position, I would say that determination and the ability to work methodically through the process of design and making, and to take great pride in each piece that you create. This, alongside an apprenticeship or equivalent experience would be what I would look for. I would expect the candidate to have the intent to study gemmology courses if they have not completed them already.

For gemmology teaching, a comprehensive understanding of the courses and a fundamental desire to always keep learning about gemmology. Enthusiasm and a sense of humour are also essential for both jobs!