Every week we focus on one of our talented makers and this week is Jen Cunningham, who is based in Edinburgh and is renowned for her landscape designs and attention to detail. Here we learn a bit more about Jen…
What is your background?
I studied jewellery and metalwork design at Dundee University the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design. I graduated in 2007 with a B(Des) Hons. I have always loved making things, and when I was little I would spend time after school at my grandparents’ house making things from buttons, toilet rolls and sweetie wrappers!
How did you get started in the jewellery business?
After graduating I was lucky enough to be asked to provide work for a few exhibitions around the country and had a successful time at the New Designers show in London, and everything kind of snowballed from there! I soon discovered that my strengths lay in bespoke pieces, wedding bands and special items both based on landscapes and not. I did take a full-time job for a good few years with the Edinburgh Assay Office but have recently left to concentrate on my jewellery full-time.
How did you start your own business?
After leaving university I moved home for a while and worked out of my dad’s garage. No heating, one horrible strip light and a jewellery bench made from an old kitchen worktop. I like to think that’s how every jeweller starts! It was freezing during the winter, and I couldn’t wear gloves to keep my hands warm so it was difficult to make pieces. A real test of endurance
Who is your typical customer?
Lots of people like my work for different reasons from hill walkers wanting to capture a favourite climb, couples who want a special engagement spot forever on their wedding bands and those who just like the style and don’t mind which landscape is featured. Obviously they all have excellent taste too!
Can you give some interesting statistics?
Around 57% of my business comes from word of mouth. I think that’s amazing, in today’s super fast – everything at your finger tips type of world that someone telling a friend about my work is still the best advertising! It’s also very heart warming to know that people like their jewellery so much that they tell people all about it!
What is unusual or unique about your business?
I think the unusual thing is that I am very happy to tweak designs so that clients can have a totally unique piece. People often ask if they can have their own landscapes or skylines, then they ask about changing the way pieces look, they often combine finishes or styles from different pieces to get what they want. Being an independent jewellery designer means I can do that, all my rings are hand made to size and therefore anything can be changed from the landscape, the stones and type of metal to the finish on the rings.
How would someone external describe your business?
An independent jewellery designer who has a passion for Scottish landscapes, a keen eye for detail and gives a personal touch to the whole experience.
Is there a customer experience you are most proud of?
A couple of years ago I met a client who wanted to propose to his girlfriend while they were out walking. So we agreed on a design and style of ring based on the hills they would be able to see from the proposal spot. He had said to me that he would be back in touch at a later date to sort out his wedding band.
I made the ring and he proposed to his girlfriend, she said yes. He had told her all about the ring and our planning. A week or so later I got a call from his fiancée, she wanted to get him back! We came up with a design based on what I had discussed with him previously and I made the ring. In the meantime, he was phoning me asking about making his wedding band telling me it had all gone well and asking if I could draw something up for his wedding band. I had to be quite vague and not send him designs or get back to him for a while. So a few weeks after I had sent his wedding band off to his fiancée at work she then presented it to him on another hill walk.
Edinburgh’s Arthur’s Seat is the inspiration for lots of Jen’s work
How does it feel working for yourself?
My business was formed straight out of university and it’s still me who meets customers, designs pieces, answers emails, makes all the jewellery, polishes pieces and goes to the post office to send items out to customers! It’s a great feeling working for yourself!
What are some of your greatest challenges in your business?
The greatest challenge, I think for any self-employed creative person is keeping a good balance between making pieces and doing all the other business things that come along with it! Also keeping a work and home life balance is very important.