Like a kid in a sweetshop. I think any jeweller can relate to feeling like that when it comes to shopping for tools, supplies and materials!
Melanie Hamlet of Kokkino Jewellery certainly feels like this about enamel colours, which you can see from her beautifully colourful designs. I love the vibrant colours she uses, as well as the beautiful delicate sculptural pieces she creates in silver and gold.
Find out how she’s inspired by travel, how she juggles the different aspects of her business and how she never takes working for herself for granted…
How would you describe your jewellery?
Contemporary yet timeless, I like to use a simple, minimal aesthetic to create pieces that are elegant and easy to wear.
What materials do you use?
Mainly silver and vitreous enamel, but also gold and various gorgeous gemstones.
What first drew you to enamel?
I wanted to be a textile designer originally, and have always been drawn to colour texture and pattern. Enamelling was intriguing as the colours are so beautiful. There are so many possibilities with how it can be used and the effects that can be achieved.
Where do you create your jewellery?
I have my own workshop in Leicestershire which I’m sitting in now with my cup of tea – it’s a lovely sunny space and I love spending time here.
Your pieces all feature such sumptuous colours – how do you choose which ones to go for?
It is a very real problem! I have a cabinet full of enamel colours, whenever I buy any I have to buy a few extras – like a kid in a sweetshop! Sometimes I think I should slim down the range of colours that I have available, as too much choice is not always a good thing – but then I can’t bear to get rid of any – I mean which one could I remove?! I try to choose colours that sit well together tonally, so they mix and match.
Your workshop always looks so tidy on Instagram – what’s your secret?!
Move all the mess to one side and shoot the other way! Hehe! I have to admit I am not a naturally tidy worker so I find this question really funny!
I like to start with a clear bench and then as the day or week goes on I get an accumulation of…creativity! I have to stop and clear the decks every now and then though and that always seems like a good time for a photo, but maybe some mid chaos pics would also be interesting to share!
What’s the favourite piece in your jewellery collection?
I don’t have one particular favourite piece. At the moment I’m working on some double colour drop earrings so I am really enjoying playing with the effects of putting two colours together, whether they be harmonious or clashing. It changes though, so I don’t know what my favourite will be tomorrow.
What’s the piece you’re most proud of creating?
I made a large Shimmer collar necklace made of hundreds of textured strands blending from silver to gold and it was chosen for the publicity for the Jewellery Show at the NEC one year. To see my necklace on the catwalk and on super huge posters was definitely a fun moment!
What’s your favourite part of being a Jewellery Designer?
I’ve always been a maker of things, I just love working with my hands and the process of starting with nothing and ending with a tangible object – whether that be clothing, something for the home or jewellery.
The special thing about jewellery is the personal connection. It’s wonderful to be able to create pieces that are special and meaningful to people – given as gifts or to mark an occasion. To be part of that is really a privilege.
What’s your proudest moment of being a Jewellery Designer?
I have started to teach classes, only on a small scale for the moment. When students come in and are convinced they’re going to be a disaster, but they leave with a new shiny ring that they made. They’re beaming and happy and wanting to make more. That’s a great moment!
Do you work directly with customers? Or sell your work to galleries?
Both. I sell my work through select galleries and jeweller’s around the UK plus amazing galleries in Dublin and USA. I also have my own website and love to work directly with clients on bespoke commissions.
What’s your design process?
It varies, and depends what I am designing. I do have sketchbooks and scribble ideas down all the time, but I’m quite hands on and process-based when it comes to making. I also have a box full of bits and bobs – little experiments and tests that I’ve worked on throughout the years. Usually, I prefer to play with things until they look right, rather than producing a detailed design first.
How important is jewellery design to you?
Honestly I am not a big jewellery wearer. I love design in general and I love making. I do love a sparkly diamond as much as anyone, but I’m always drawn to more unusual designs, more experimental materials and things that are a bit different.
What do you love about jewellery?
I love how there’s such a wide variety of jewellery, made from all sorts of materials, and even within silver jewellery, the variety is amazing. The creativity of people is wonderful and beautiful.
How did you start creating jewellery?
I went to do an art foundation course, having never made any jewellery and convinced I was going to be a textile designer. One of my tutors was a jewellery designer using found materials and suggested I have a go. I loved it and went on from there to do the BA Jewellery and Silversmithing in Birmingham.
I used to love making jewellery from all sorts of materials – dying nylon fishing wire and strimmer tape, sewing copper, fabrics and rubber to create some very large scale and theatrical pieces.
Why did you fall in love with jewellery design?
Jewellery is so personal and sentimental, (not always just pretty). It can be used to make a statement, tell a story or be a reminder. Also as I maker, there’s always something new to learn, or a new skill to tackle and try.
What are your aspirations for your business?
I would love to make more precious pieces, more one-offs and bespoke pieces and spend more time designing and learning new skills – hand engraving and CAD would be next on my list I think – two opposite ends of the spectrum!
It’s so easy to get caught up in day to day aspects of a business, that actually designing jewellery can become a real luxury! Also thinking back to the theatrical nature of my jewellery beginnings, it would be great fun to create some larger scale pieces – I’d love to create a piece for film or theatre.
Where do you feel most inspired?
I always feel inspired when I travel. I take a sketchbook wherever I go and seem to have so many more ideas when I’m out and about. Sounds like a good reason to book a holiday soon doesn’t it?!
What inspires you?
I get inspiration from all over – architectural details, the natural world – a pattern, texture or form anywhere might spark an idea and then be pared down and morph into something completely different.
How do you juggle all the different aspects of the job?
With difficulty at times. I now have plans and schedules so I fit everything in and batch work together so have making days and admin days.
What advice would you give to people looking to buy jewellery from independent makers, but who don’t know where to look or how to go about it?
Read the Jewellery Spot! Also social media is a great place to find designers and makers – find what you love and then get in touch. I for one am always happy when people get in contact and want to chat about jewellery!
A jeweller has to be very multi-skilled – i.e. web designer, photographer, tea maker etc! How do you find that?
I really enjoy a challenge and learning new things. Whether that be the best way to photograph the jewellery, or how to build a website. So I really enjoy the many aspects of the job. However, I do now realise it’s not wise for me to try and do absolutely everything myself. So there are a few things I’ve decided to delegate and get help with – for example, accounts. It’s so much better not to have to think about them any more!
Jewellers often have to work quite flexible hours, how does that fit in with the rest of your life?
I consider myself very lucky! Having worked in an office before I started my business and having part-time factory jobs growing up, I never take the flexibility and freedom for granted. But it’s always a balancing act. Having your own business of any kind can be very hard work. But being able to fit around life and wellbeing is such a bonus. I try to structure my day with wellbeing in mind. That way I can fit in some yoga and a walk outside away from the workbench and laptop.