Ironside studios inside the Younghusband wool store is down a cobblestone laneway in Kensington, where Melbourne jeweller Emily Becher works at her craft. The building houses a thousand stories from years past, if only walls could talk. This converted warehouse is a hub of activity, divided into over 50 different workspaces occupied by creative types. “It always gives me great joy and satisfaction walking into this gorgeous old building,” says Emily, who shares her workshop with one other jeweller and is surrounded by many talented designers and artists.
With over six years’ experience working as a jeweller, Emily moves quickly and efficiently – texturing and forging metal into shape, sketching design ideas for custom wedding jewellery, and meticulously carving designs in wax.
Crafting rings, necklaces, bracelets, earrings and chains by hand is something Emily derives keen satisfaction from, an enthusiasm which can be contagious: more than one customer has requested to watch her work. Instead, Emily made time lapse videos of the various processes that go into her custom, handmade jewellery. She also regularly features the behind the scenes progress images of many of her creations in her blog posts.
From beads to chokers
As a teenager, Emily threaded beads as a hobby, inspired by a visit to the bead shop with her mother to restring some cultured pearls owned by her grandmother. Her mother gave her the pearls and, being the 1990s, Emily refashioned them into a choker complete with Amethyst and Jade.
She studied sculpture and print making in her Bachelor of Fine Arts and studied Jewellery manufacture at NMIT before making the leap into full-time self-employment as a jeweller in mid-2014. Since then Emily has practiced enamelling under the guidance of Dore Stockhausen, stone setting with the award winning Rex Steele Merten and gained invaluable experience working for master jeweller Ken Gray at the Gray Reid Gallery workshop in Melbourne’s CBD.
Emily’s pieces are stocked in over 10 galleries and fashion stores throughout the east coast of Australia, from Byron Bay, to Melbourne and Geelong. She’s also had several pieces displayed overseas at jury selected exhibitions. “I especially love working with jewellery galleries because the staff are passionate and knowledgeable about jewellery so they’re ambassadors for quality craftsmanship and can help educate people on the pieces,” says Emily.
After a few hours working in the studio, Emily takes time out for lunch with other artists from the studios. On sunny days, they sit in Bellair Street Reserve overlooking the railway lines, the Younghusband building and Melbourne city. “It’s a wonderful little community of creative people here at the Younghusband building” Emily explains “when you run a business on your own you can feel isolated at times, so having other creative small business owners around to share the downtime can be a valuable thing.”
Breathing new life into old pieces
A good amount of Emily’s work comes from commissioned pieces made from melting down clients’ old gold jewellery and using the materials to create brand new, stunning pieces.
“Lots of people have jewellery that they have sentimental attachment to, but never wear because they don’t like the style. By reusing the same materials, and perhaps adding new jewels too, people wear these meaningful pieces every day or save them for special occasions.”
The process of creating a custom piece can take up to a month with much attention given to perfecting the design before the process of transforming it into jewellery. “I need to nail the design, with approval from the client, before starting on its creation” says Emily “once the creative process begins I like to put a lot of time and care into each step to ensure that the piece is made to the highest standard possible.”
Some clients commission new wedding rings made from the same materials as their old rings, or incorporate their parents’ old wedding rings into theirs to heighten the jewellery’s significance. “People’s tastes evolve over time. You may no longer love your wedding ring like you once did, decades earlier, though your marriage is still going strong!” says Emily. “People’s tastes are getting braver and bolder. It’s particularly gratifying when someone trusts me enough to take the reins on creating a new design for something as precious as their wedding ring.”
Bringing jewellery to more people
Emily finds most of her clients through Instagram and Facebook, where she shares her designs and a little about her process or stories behind her commissions and designs. “Social media really allows artisans like me to reach far more people from all over the place,” says Emily. “Something as personal as custom design requires clients to verify designers’ abilities and I can showcase this wonderfully through social media, particularly Instagram.”
Her afternoon involves creating at her hard wooden workbench, or fulfilling all the countless behind-the-scenes tasks such as photographing her work, designing and quoting for clients and responding to inquiries. The studio is also where she consults with clients to discuss their needs and aesthetics, talk through their options when it comes to choosing the perfect diamond for an engagement ring, or discussing the intricacies of their bespoke design.
A proud member of The Gold and Silversmiths Guild of Australia, Emily is passionate about preserving centuries’ old crafts, custom, hand-made artistry and ethically-sourced materials. “A lot of people shop for jewellery on price, without understanding that mass produced products from overseas aren’t made well and won’t last. I appreciate that my clients value quality and individual design and hope that they’re as proud to wear their pieces as I am when I make them,” says Emily.
Some evenings Emily and her colleagues welcome their studio neighbours into the old building to share an after-work drink and catch up on what’s been happening in the Ironside studio community. It’s all in a day’s work for this passionate Melbourne jewellery designer.
Credit where credit is due:
Photography by Amanda Clark & Emily Becher
Blog written by Brook McCarthy