The School of Jewellery course director on inspiring students.
As part of our Jewellery Girls Rule issue for July, Professional Jeweller heard from 21 females leading their sector of the UK jewellery industry about the challenges of today’s business, making their mark and their inspirations. Zoe Robertson, course director for jewellery at Birmingham School of Jewellery, shares her thoughts.
Professional Jeweller: Tell is about your path to becoming the jewellery course leader at the School of Jewellery?
Zoe Robertson: I love making things and discovered this whilst growing up. Blue Peter was my catalyst for invention and fairy liquid space rockets became a lifelong quest for creating things using random objects and materials. I trained on HND and BA in Jewellery and Silversmithing and developed a passion for using my hands. I’m a tale of two halves. I’m a designer maker who controls all aspects of the design process by designing and hand making my work. I make one-off or limited edition pieces and these are sold through galleries or by commission. I also create jewellery for specific exhibitions within an international arena.
I’m also a course director for the BA (Hons) Jewellery Design and Related Products course at the School of Jewellery at Birmingham City University. I work with more than 100 students and my main aim is to encourage them to enjoy the making process and to be passionate about the discipline. The course helps students to make highly innovative work that has never been seen before and cross boundaries of other disciplines such as fashion, theatre, product and fine art. I feel privileged to be based at the School of Jewellery, for me to be working amongst talented students and my colleagues is a pleasure.
PJ: What kind of challenges have you faced during your career in the jewellery?
ZR: One of my greatest challenges is working against the assumption that my work is not proper jewellery as it does not use traditional processes and precious materials. However I have a qualified knowledge and understanding of these, and it is my choice that I choose not to use these; instead I opt to explore and express my ideas in other non-traditional materials.
PJ: What do you think is the secret to success after graduation?
ZR: Be courageous, be confident, be positive, take risks, don‘t give up, be open to opportunities as they can lead you down paths you never imagined.
PJ: Where do you see the jewellery industry going in the next few years?
ZR: This is difficult to say though my main observation relates to the following: our course is primarily centred around a creative approach to the discipline, encouraging students to design and make work which has never been seen before. It’s very experimental in terms of asking ‘what is Jewellery?’ and has a forward looking approach with innovation at the heart, underpinned by technical knowledge and craft skill. Therefore our graduates are working beyond traditional conventions, which is really exciting for the contemporary art related side of the discipline. However places to exhibit and sell work of ground-breaking, experimental jewellery appear to be diminishing within the UK in contrast to a surge in Europe. So exhibitions such as Collect are crucial in championing this sector of the field and I would love to see some of the successful European Gallery models pop up in the UK.
PJ: Who do you consider inspiring female figures in the UK jewellery or luxury goods industries?
ZR: It would my students and colleagues that I work with on a daily basis. I’m surrounded by exceptionally talented colleagues who balance successful teaching careers and jewellery practice. Most importantly it’s my students, to see their confidence blossom and to observe the plethora of difficult circumstances some individuals encounter through their studies and for them to successfully achieve their final collections is very rewarding, it’s this that motivates and inspires me to offer the best educational experience I can.
To read the Jewellery Girls Rule issue of Professional Jeweller in full online, click here.