INTERVIEW: Naomi Newton Sherlock

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WB Group’s first female board member on driving design at Domino.

Earlier this year Naomi Newton Sherlock was named creative director of WB The Creative Jewellery Group, becoming the company’s first female board member. She tells Kathryn Bishop about her route into jewellery, developing Domino’s offer and why it is time to give back.

There has been much evolution of late within WB The Creative Jewellery Group, in particular the appointment of its first female board member Naomi Newton Sherlock, who heads up the design team at Birmingham jewellery manufacturer Domino.

Newton Sherlock has been with Domino for five years and in that time has watched the company grow, with Domino evolving to become a leading provider of fine bridal and gemstone jewellery in the UK and Europe.

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When we first meet at BaselWorld earlier this year Newton Sherlock talks eagerly about her past and present design projects and proudly of her eight-strong design team, a group that has grown in number under her leadership.

Newton Sherlock originally studied languages, travelling to Japan and Italy where she lived for some time, learning about their cultures, design styles and of course their languages, gaining a first class degree. After watching many of her friends fall into jobs she knew the time had come to pursue a career in design, something that had been a long-term interest. "I loved the idea of the jewellery world so I moved back home to Cambridge and worked for a year to save up money to study jewellery design."

Cambridge jewellery retailer Cellini took Newton Sherlock under its wing and allowed her to learn basic metalwork skills in its workshop. "They started me off at the bench with a 2p piece, cutting out the Queen’s head over and over until I got it just right," she recalls.

Soon after, Newton Sherlock moved to Birmingham to study jewellery and somewhat serendipitously, while she was looking for a new home in the city, she knocked on the door of a house for sale and it happened to belong to jeweller James Newman.

After learning of their similar professions he offered her work experience in his workshop. Her time spent studying, meeting others jewellers and working in Birmingham made Newton Sherlock realise that it was jewellery design, rather than making, that she enjoyed most. "I loved making at college but the design side interested me more as it’s so much more varied," she explains. "Possibly because I went into jewellery a bit later in life I was really focused; I did evening classes in gemmology and entered more design competitions."

After a few competition wins and a stint at fine jeweller David Marshall in London, Newton Sherlock took on a role at Downey Designs, the company that provides bespoke work for Signet Group. "Then a job opened up at Domino," she explains. "I spoke to Sian Hindle, their then designer, about it and she said that they had a new MD and it sounded like an exciting time." Newton Sherlock applied, was offered an interview and two days later got the job.

Five years on she was this year appointed creative director of WB Group, a role she holds alongside her position as head of new product development and national accounts for Domino. "I am the only female board member so my addition to the board and point of view will be important," she states. "Age-wise I’m in my 30s so I can also offer a younger viewpoint, and the creative element is really important as well. I think it’s important to have that creative input at a board level."

In her role to date Newton Sherlock has grown the design team at Domino and no one has left the department in five years. "Now there is design and product development and a total of nine of us: myself, three designers Kelly Hart, Natasha Bagnall and Siobhan Maher, CAD designers Alice North, Anna Carter and Dave Roberts, model maker Stuart Crandon and Kate Wall who is my admin support," she says. This group, and its varying personalities, has helped to develop the Domino’s more trend-led collections. Bagnall, for example, is inspired by architecture and Greek design patterns, Maher is a little more edgy in her design repertoire while Hart has a penchant for feminine, prettier jewellery design.

While diamond ring mounts and bridal designs remain Domino’s focus, the company has broadened its product offer in recent year to match its evolving customer base. "Customers are much more adventurous than they use to be," explains Newton Sherlock. "The costume jewellery market has pushed people in to different areas so we have strengthened our investment not to make bridal less important but to increase our trends, fashion and seasonal products."

Such collections include Domino’s Sienna range of neckwear and its Rosabella collections. Dress rings set with coloured gemstones and its fashion-led line Sassolini have provided alternative fine jewellery offers for retailers.

Trends research has also become a key part of the Domino design process and is even applied to its bridal jewellery collections. Products such as its new bridal line with a honeycomb theme are the fruit of in-depth trends research and the team regularly ravels to international jewellery and design shows to keep ideas fresh and relevant. "We’re continually observing and monitoring trends, which works better with a bigger team," Newton Sherlock explains. "It also means we can be more adventurous with bridalwear as I think we sometimes we don’t give end consumer the credit of being that little bit more adventurous, which they are."

Newton Sherlock says the focus on developing trend-led product has left some retailers apprehensive as to whether the jewellery will have a shorter shelf life. "So we’ve started to share the trends’ research with our customers and host training days so they can understand what’s behind the collections, rather than each piece just being a number in a catalogue. Manufacturers these days have to move from being just a manufacturer; we’re thinking more of the end consumer, working with retailers to give them the background stories to boost sales."

Looking ahead, Newton Sherlock will continue to work on Domino’s product development and says some completely fresh and directional lines will launch later this year. She will also take on additional roles that will allow her design team to work more independently. "It will be gradual evolution, more like a dovetailing of ideas as we move forward," she notes. "I’ve been given a fair bit of freedom to shape and grow the team and myself, [WB Group MD] Andrew Morton and [chairman] Patrick Fuller are there to encourage them."

As a result Domino has set up an internship program within its design team, following a similar initiative in its workshops. "Our first intern joined us in February for two months full-time and it was a great experience," Newton Sherlock says. "She invested a lot of time and energy and left with a fantastic portfolio and in return we got some fresh design ideas and a new perspective."

If there is one thing Newton Sherlock feels strongly about it is giving back to the industry after her years of studying and learning. "People in the industry were generous with their time [when I was learning] so if we want the UK jewellery industry to thrive we have to put time back in again, whether it’s having interns in the workshop or business admin apprentices." It is these young people that she hopes will gain the skills to get better jobs in the jewellery industry and one day, when the business comes to expand, Newton Sherlock hopes they will want to work with WB Group, treading the first steps in their own path of achievement.

To read the Jewellery Girls Rule July issue in full online, click here

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