In the first of our career pathway stories, we chat with Jenna Watson, graduate of Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design and Goldsmith at Hamilton & Inches to discover the journey that inspired her career as a maker.
Founded in Edinburgh in 1866, Hamilton & Inches (@hamiltoninches) is a premiere destination for fine jewellery and hand-crafted silver in Edinburgh. Since moving to their current location on George Street in 1952, Hamilton & Inches has housed a number of workshops above their showroom, where Jenna Watson and the Hamilton & Inches team of talented craftspeople work in specialisations ranging from polishing and engraving to silversmithing and goldsmithing.
Jenna in the Hamilton & Inches Workshops
Why did you decide to study jewellery?
I would say that it was with fate and a little bit of luck that I was fortunate to find my profession. From a young age, I have always been creative. Leaving school, I knew I wanted to go down a more creative path, but I wasn’t aware of what options were available. I had the opportunity to undergo an NQ qualification in Jewellery and Silversmithing at Cardonald College in Glasgow. I really enjoyed the course– it was practically led with lots of hands on experience. I stayed for a further 2 years (3 in total) and completed my HND qualification in Jewellery and Silversmithing.
Tell us about studying at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design. What drew you to select that course, and what did you enjoy most about studying there?
Cardonald College and DJCAD had an articulation agreement and I was fortunate to be offered a place to continue into the 2nd year Jewellery and Silversmithing course at DJCAD. (Cardonald College, now Glasgow Clyde College, Cardonald Campus, and DJCAD hold an articulation agreement which allowed Jenna to complete her HND Qualification in Jewellery and Silversmithing at Cardonald and then progress onto the degree programme at DJCAD in Jewellery and Silversmithing.) After I graduated in 2016, I wanted to further my knowledge within the industry working within a goldsmith workshop. I loved how practical the course was and their ties with the industry.
During my third year at university, we came on a tour of the Hamilton & Inches workshops, and I left with an aim of working at Hamilton & Inches one day. The atmosphere and level of talent within the company opened my eyes to the options that could be available to me if I applied myself.
Tell us about your training at Hamilton & Inches, including key skills you have learned during your time there.
My training at Hamilton & Inches under Master Jeweller Chay McClory, Goldsmith Alan Sewell and the wider team has been exceptional. Not only have I been taught by some of the best artisans in the country, I have been given the freedom to explore my creativity and push myself. My most recent project has been overseeing the design of The Hamilton & Inches Engagement Collection, a range of of solitaire and three-stone rings and wedding bangs, inspired by the landscape of Scotland.
I have learned to be patient. I have learned the business of jewellery. I have learned countless technical skills that help me to continually improve. That is the wider attitude at Hamilton & Inches; we never stop learning.
Why did you decide to focus on goldsmithing?
I wanted to create beautiful, unique pieces. When I was given a small insight into the world of Hamilton & Inches, I knew instantly I wanted to work in the workshops with the exceptionally talented team. I don’t think I had appreciated that it takes years and years to perfect the skills that it takes to become a goldsmith. There is no quick fix–it takes a lot of patience, blood, sweat and tears but it is all worth it in the end when you start to see the hard work pay off.
Jenna and her parents at her graduation ceremony earlier this year at Goldsmiths Hall, Edinburgh
Tell us about your work at Hamilton & Inches. What is your day like?
The workshops at Hamilton & Inches are like a different world. From the moment you step in the door in the morning, you are greeted with busy people, all with an incredible attitude. The pieces I work on range massively; from smaller intricate repair jobs, design projects, working on our exclusive 22ct Scottish Gold pieces–every day is different.
Not only do I love my job, I love my workplace. With around 50 of us based at George Street, I have a great relationship with my colleagues. We learn together, have fun together–there is a fantastic sense of camaraderie. Even during the recent times, which have challenged us all, it is comforting to know my Hamilton & Inches family will always be there to help and support me.
The workshops are extremely unique within Hamilton & Inches–it is rare to see a workshop creating pieces from the beginning to the end within a company and under one roof. Having the workshops above the showroom is another distinctive aspect of Hamilton & Inches.
Jenna designing The Hamilton & Inches Engagement Collection
Describe your design process. How do you begin creating a new piece?
Working as part of a bigger team, we begin by creating a comprehensive brief. Often, much of the design will depend on things like metal, structure, security, etc… When working on any new item, we identify key USPs and each department in the business will feed in with their requirements. From this initial meeting, my brain has already started working on what the finished result might look like. My design ideas, coupled with the technical excellence of my colleagues, Chay and Alan, are then developed and presented back to the wider team; it is a truly collaborative approach. Whilst I tend to be inspired by nature and the world around us, every colleague is inspired differently. For example, one of our silversmiths, Ruth Page, is inspired by urban landscapes and railways. That beautiful blend of inspiration works brilliantly at Hamilton & Inches.
What is your favourite piece you have made at Hamilton & Inches?
Our 22ct Scottish Gold Holyrood Palace Cuff is undoubtedly one of my favourites. it was a huge privilege to be able to create this piece and be involved with the full process from beginning to end. This was my first opportunity to create fine jewellery at a larger scale and it challenged different aspects of my skill set.
With thanks to Sarah Donaldson on our sales team, I met the lovely couple who purchased the cuff and talked them through the making process, showing them photographs at different stages. I was so ecstatic to see it going to a good home where they were as passionate about the process as the finished product.
However, in 2020 I have been incredibly lucky to work on and design The Hamilton & Inches Engagement Collection. I truly believe this collection of rings is special. Inspired by the natural landscape and the beautiful views from our workshop, each piece carries a little bit of Scotland; each tells a unique story of our jewellers.
Jenna inspecting a finished ring from The Hamilton & Inches Engagement Collection
What are your hopes for the future?
I hope more young people have the opportunity to discover and excel in a craft that has seen such a decline in numbers over the years. For years and years goldsmiths have been using the same processes, tools and techniques, and as long as they are still being passed on they will hopefully continue to be used. I hope our craft will continue to be aided by the digital side of things–with Computer Aided Design (CAD) being used a lot more within the industry, it allows the customer to see a fully rendered image of their design before they proceed. I think this aspect will continue to evolve and be used as a tool alongside the traditional techniques.
But the true skills of a goldsmith cannot be enhanced by technological advances. It needs people full of passion and talent to help grown and sustain our precious craft. It is also vital that spaces such as the Hamilton & Inches workshops continue to foster and develop future generations of craftspeople to ensure these skills are passed on from one generation to the next.
I think schools need to make their students more aware of the variety of creative industries that are available–I wish I had been given more knowledge at this stage of my life. Through social media we can make young people more aware of the craft and what it entails. Inviting groups of students to tour the Hamilton & Inches workshops will give them an insight into what we do and possibly plant a seed when considering their future studies and career.
Our thanks to Jenna Watson and the team at Hamilton & Inches. To learn more about Jenna’s work at Hamilton & Inches and their new engagement collection designed by Jenna, click here.
Images courtesy of Hamilton & Inches.