Jess Newby, working on the tiny details of her Seaworn Jewellery
Read Time: 4-5 minutes
Jeweller Jessica Newby: from Daisy chains to silversmithing
Hope: What’s the very first thing you remember making?
Jess: I always baked with my mum from when we were tiny children. We had a big garden in Herefordshire on the Welsh border. I made nests of cut grass. I made loads of Daisy chains. My parents were quite relaxed – I painted on my ceiling, doodled on the walls and pretty much drew and painted on all of my furniture while I was growing up.
H: There’s a lovely connection with Daisy chains and being in the garden and what you put into your Tiny Book. You’re still still playing!
J: Yeah, we always made stuff, always. Birthday, we’d make something. We’d make our cards, we’d make Christmas cards. Handprints and photographs and remnants of Christmas and birthday cards. We were always reusing stuff to make something new.
H: Did you have your idea in mind for the Tiny Book Collaboration when you signed up? How did it develop?
J: I’ve always liked creative things that you can get involved with and I was just intrigued about what I could do with a Tiny Book. Ages ago, I went to a Cyanotype workshop and I bought a set of my own. I was playing with it and just seeing what I could make. Then I remembered the little book had turned up. There was loads of stuff in my garden – lots of weird and wonderful shapes. So I made a snapshot of my garden in the sunshine.
H: It’s the perfect medium for the sunshine, right? Tell me about the process.
J: I had to take the book apart and I only had a little space that I could keep them dark and flattened in. I did both sides, so I had to do one side, let it dry and then do the other side. I did two or three at a time.
H: When did you start making jewellery?
J: Jewellery entered my life a lot younger, a lot further back than my business and the jewellery I do now. Daisy chains as a child, friendship bracelets, cheap beaded jewellery – stuff like that. I was always playing and making bits and pieces. It wasn’t till I was living on the Isle of Wight running a couple of castles that I booked on to a weekend silversmithing course.
H: Running castles?! Tell me more!
J: In 2016, I was working for English Heritage, and helped run Carisbrooke Castle and Yarmouth Castle. My work was quite stressful, and I just needed something different to do to relax. I signed up for a weekend of making silver jewellery at an arts venue in Newport. I thought it’d be something to pass the time – a bit of fun. I absolutely lovedit. I immediately booked on to their evening sessions. The weekend course was quite prescribed, but in the evenings, you could pay for the materials, make whatever you like and use the equipment under the supervision of the tutor. You just got to play. I started making pieces, trying stuff out and making jewellery for friends. They ended up with quite a few pieces! I took part in a couple of Christmas fairs and I helped organise some of the first Christmas fairs at the Castle, with a stall, of course. I really enjoyed it. It combined some of my favourite things – making stuff and chatting to people!
H: (laughs) That’s the dream job, right?
J: After those first sessions in Newport, I did the odd classes here and there. Last October, I booked on to the Jewellers Academy Diploma in Fine Jewelry that ran through until July this year. It was a very practical course. Every week for three terms, we had a project and submitted everything we’d made. Some of the skills I knew a little bit, but most of them I didn’t, which was really exciting. I got to play with a lot of new ideas, techniques, and methods of making. I had to buy a shed load of new tools – there was a required tools and materials list. I got a lot of shiny new things and I passed with 91% overall. It really was hard at times, and there were some techniques that I don’t ever want to use again, but that’s part of the learning process.
H: Do you work exclusively with sea glass?
J: Yes, my work is pretty much all sea glass now. I used to do a lot of beach combing and as I said, I started making jewellery on the Isle of Wight. Alongside using gemstones I played with sea glass in my jewellery. I don’t use gemstones anymore. Gemstone mining is a good source of income for a lot of people around the globe but there’s a lot of hazards that come with it and a lot of people are exploited, including children and women. You might pay a couple of quid for a bit of quartz crystal at a market. That’s probably been through multiple sets of hands before getting to you. The person who mined it gets almost nothing for it. People work in awful conditions, very often with no health and safety and no medical care. It’s not something I feel comfortable with.
I’ve always used sea glass, and when I started asking more questions, I just stopped using mined gemstones. I’ll just keep collecting sea glass and finding different colours and more exciting bits of sea glass and sea pottery.
H: You talked about doing a workshop as a welcome break from the stress of work. Have you always done creative things to relax? Now that making jewellery is a business, what do you do to relax?
J: Other crafts! I’m making a patchwork leather bag, knitting a jumper, and making small Coptic books. And the jewelry making can be relaxing in its own way, even though it is a business. When I’m just playing with ideas, it can be quite relaxing. It can be quite frustrating, too. (laughs) Some of the pieces take quite a lot of hammering and fire to make. It can be great when you’re frustrated and hammering something over and over again. Best of fun! I love it – as soon as I’m at my bench my mind just goes “Oh, this is our good place.”
H: What are you working on now?
J: I’ve got a few quite a few more sea glass rings in production, because they are always quite good fun to make and people love sea glass – they are always unique. Sunrise & Sunset are my new mixed precious metal collections. Sunrise uses recycled sterling silver & recycled 9ct yellow gold, and Sunset uses recycled sterling silver and recycled 9ct rose gold. It’s a new thing for me, playing with gold. It’s been fun. I’m developing some Christmas decorations in precious metals based on a traditional festive treat that can hang on trees for years to come. Research is ongoing!