My Day Job: Geraldine Fenn




Geraldine Fenn is a jeweller, and works out of the popular Parkhurst store, Tinsel. She specialises in one-of-a-kind pieces, but also creates beautiful ranges that reflect her fancies and aesthetic. We chatted to her to find out a little more about what being a jeweller is all about.



Please tell us what your official (or unofficial) job title is:

Jewellery designer and manufacturer; and owner of the jewellery shop, Tinsel.



What and where did you study?

I started off studying archaeology and classical history at Wits, which was great, but after that I felt I wanted to do something a bit more creative. My boyfriend at the time was studying at Durban tech so I decided to go down there to be with him, and on a whim I enrolled to study Jewellery Design. I wasn’t sure about it at first, but a few months into the course I started loving it, and knew it was what I wanted to do as a career. When I came back to Joburg a couple of years later I set up my own small studio at home, and I also went back to Wits to study History of Art – I did my Masters in it in 2005.



How did you come to be where you are today?

It’s hard to say, really – all I had ever wanted to be when I was younger was an archaeologist, and then I landed up on a very different path.  Having supportive parents was probably the most important thing that allowed me to pursue a career in jewellery – setting up a jewellery workshop is expensive, and it takes time to build up a client base and have work coming in regularly.



What characteristics and skills does it take to do what you do?

I make contemporary jewellery, which is different from mass-produced costume or commercial jewellery, so it involves a fair amount of creativity – that’s what I love about it. You can’t make this kind of jewellery unless you have traditional goldsmithing skills, which you get from studying at a university or doing an apprenticeship with a fine jeweller, and you also need to have a good eye for proportion, colour etc. It helps too if you’re reasonably pleasant and good with people – jewellery is such a personal, intimate thing that you need to understand a client pretty well before you can design a piece specifically for them.



What do you love most about the work you do?

I love that every day is different and I get to be creative, either making whatever I feel like as stock for the shop or having to design something for a particular customer. Making jewellery is also quite challenging technically, which can be very frustrating but also rewarding when you get it right.



How would you define your design aesthetic, and what factors have helped shape it along the way?

I go through phases of being interested by different things, and that informs my design, so I don’t think I can describe my aesthetic as one particular thing. My jewellery does tend to be quite detailed and layered, and it often incorporates old bits and pieces that I source from antique markets – I like to make things that have a bit of a story, a sense of history, and that are fundamentally connected to people.



When creating a piece of jewellery, what is your design process?

It’s not a very neat or well-defined process: I have a very messy workbench which is cluttered with things I find interesting and that have potential, and I spend a long time looking at them and putting different things next to each other to see how they might work. Sometimes a piece comes together very quickly, and other times I go back to it again and again over many months before I do anything. I get distracted quite easily, and I usually have several pieces on the go at the same time.



Which precious or semi-precious stone is closest to your heart?

Oooh, tough question to ask a jeweller – we see so many beautiful stones. I do love rubies, and tourmalines are also a favourite – they come in so many beautiful colours. I also can’t deny that diamonds have a special place in my heart, especially coloured ones like black or cognac diamonds, and ones that are cut differently from the usual round brilliant cut, like rosecut or heart-shaped.



What is your proudest work-related moment?

Being asked to speak at the Jewellery Indaba (a small part of the Design Indaba conference) in 2005 was pretty cool, and having a piece purchased by the Oslo Museum of Art and Design in Norway a couple of years ago was nice validation.



What did you want to be when you were growing up?

For a very brief moment I wanted to be an air hostess, but from the age of about 12 all I ever wanted to be was an archaeologist.



Do you have any advice to those who might be considering a career in jewellery design?

It is quite a difficult field to make it in, so I would say you should only go into it if you have a real passion for it. Also, get yourself some real handworking skills – these days you can just design on computer, and a lot of commercial jewellery is produced with 3D printing technology, so a lot of traditional hand skills are being lost, which will make them a very valuable asset in the future. You also have more freedom if you make your pieces by hand yourself – the only limit you have is your own imagination.


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You can visit Tinsel at Shop 4, 25 4th Avenue, Parkhurst, Johannesburg, South Africa (entrance in 11th Street)
Or email for more info.


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