I treated myself to a copy of Alex Monroe's book 'Two Turtle Doves' A memoir of making things. A dull brown Amazon box was opened to reveal a bright blue book with a strong graphic cover with just a hint of gold.
I was interested to read this book for two main reasons... I had heard that the tiny items that Alex uses in his jewellery cast in silver or gold, don't come from found objects, or wax carvings, but are infact constructed by Alex himself, cut, filed, soldered, textured and engraved in solid silver. I was intrigued.
Now I like to cast tiny items to use in my jewellery, but they are often things I find, or small treasures I have hoarded over the years, not things I have constructed myself. I loved reading about Alex's bee necklace. The way he carved the bee from a bit of solid silver rod, the way he applied the texture, and the way he soldered on it's little wings and legs. Reading about that has inspired me, and as well as a couple of found objects that I am in the process of casting, I have in mind something new, which I will make myself from scratch. The construction will definitely test me, as it's going to need a multitude of solder joints, but I will give it a go. A new way of working. I have to try.
The other main reason I wanted to read this book was because lets face it, Alex Monroe is really successful! He sells a lot of jewellery.
These days, we are bombarded by pretty base metal fashion pieces that can be picked up at a teeny percentage of the cost a piece of hand made, solid silver or gold jewellery. So I worry, will people understand my work is laboriously hand made in precious metals? Will they understand the price of a piece because of that? Will they part with their hard earned money for it?
I think Alex Monroe's customers and mine have a similar mindset. They don't want blingy over statement. They don't want mass produced, base metal, high street finds; they want something more special. They want subtle. Pretty and delicate. Precious metals. Thought about packaging. That's what I do.
As a maker, I often question myself and my work. Who exactly is my customer? what should I be making? At the start of each year especially, I like to sit down and focus on where I think I'm going. Each year I seem to come back to the same thing. I make what I love, and I make what I like to wear. I couldn't make something that wasn't me. Subsequently it's quite subtle, quite pretty, quite delicate, not cutting edge, and dare I use the word... quite 'commercial.' Back in the 80s it seems Alex was pondering the same thing. He didn't fall into the category of glitzy Bond Street jeweller, nor did he wish to make jewellery as art to be displayed in a gallery. Real jewellery, for real people. I can relate to that.
The book also taught me about Alex's approach to building a collection. It was an eye opener that an initial idea could become a collection, ready for press launch, in the space of two months. Sometimes I return to things I scribbled in a sketch book, two years after I first drew them. I think I need to get faster. There's part of a new collection that's been in my studio for two months now, going nowhere. I learned that around 30 samples may be made for each collection, and then they are whittled down, concentrating on shapes that have sold well, or upping the number of rings, reducing the number of earrings etc. I don't over produce then edit, but it is something I will endeavour to do in the future. Skimming the best cream off the top of the milk.
Alex has a busy workshop, with staff who file, and polish, and add tags. My studio is just me, and maybe once a year my dad comes to help. (Perhaps I need to pay him more than tea?) I balance my working hours with my main job as mum. In reality a few hours a day, and not five days a week. That time is not just making time, it's admin time, social media time, wrap, pack, and post time. There are never enough hours. I couldn't afford to pay anyone to help, but equally I am still at the stage where I say 'Handmade by Charlotte Bezzant' because it is exactly that and I'm not really ready to let that go yet.
Ideas, and manufacture are the starting point, but Alex taught me it's PR, relationships with buyers, press launches, and shows that elevate your reach to a whole different level. It's no good just waiting for a lucky break.
Let's not forget, added to all this was a twisting narrative about Alex's life. (Afterall, not every one is as fascinated by the making and business bits as me.) His childhood in The Old Parsonage, building bombs and getting into scrapes, go-cart builing, moving house, growing older and moving to London.
So... I enjoyed the read, and learned some things along the way. Alex Monroe has shown me that it is possible to have a successful viable business making things you love, but there's a lot of us out there making lovely things, and not many as successful as him. For now, I shall carry on doing what I love, hoping that my business grows and I can keep on following my dream.