Q&A: Naomi Newton Sherlock, Weston Beamor

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If multitasking were an Olympic sport, Naomi Newton-Sherlock of WB the Creative Jewellery Group would be the clear front-runner for the gold medal. As the creative director of Domino Jewellery and the director of Weston Beamor, she’s at the forefront of new product development and technical innovation. BenchPro sat down with her to find out more.

Naomi Newton-Sherlock joined WB the Creative Jewellery Group seven years ago, describing herself as the “first acquisition” of managing director Andrew Morton.

As a skilled designer, she was part of Morton’s initial push to develop the design prowess of Birmingham-based manufacturer Domino Jewellery, and she quickly became head of the team. From there, Newton-Sherlock’s position evolved at a rapid pace and she was named head of national accounts, something which tapped into her natural adeptness at organisation and management.

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The mantle of creative director of Domino soon followed, but it was the announcement that she was to become director of sister company Weston Beamor – alongside her preexisting position – that really turned heads earlier this year. Having spent just a few short months in her expanded role, BenchPro discovers what Newton-Sherlock’s plans are for the business and what she hopes to achieve in the next 12 months.

BenchPro: As creative director of Domino, how do you ensure your collections are as on-trend and forward-thinking as possible?

Naomi Newton-Sherlock: We do this in many different ways. We monitor blogs and spend a great deal of time on the road visiting different towns, cities and tradeshows around the world researching jewellery but also other design disciplines and product categories. Sometimes we will have a conscious sense of a trend, but often it is a fusion of lots of different sources.

I recently returned from the Vicenza show where I picked up the latest TJF (Trends Jewellery Forecasting) book. It breaks anticipated trends down into macro and micro and includes stone and colour trends, as well as aesthetic direction. The one published this year forecasts trends for 2016 and beyond, which is invaluable because we plan our launches up to two years in advance.

For us, it normally takes around nine months to take a project to market. We always start by looking at the existing collection’s sales figures to understand how it is performing, what’s working and what’s not. We also gather information from our customers and our sales team so that we can formulate a plan and establish our brief. The skill is in filtering and interpreting the information gathered to ensure product is not only fresh and different but also relevant and commercial.

BJ: Tell us more about your experience as head of national accounts for Domino.

NNS: Larger customers often want designs tweaked, developed, sourced or created especially for them. At Domino, the national accounts team controls everything in this process; from initial concept all the way through to setting price points. I would say about 30% of the team’s time is spent designing, while the rest is spent liaising with the workshops, costing, doing market comparisons and developing new concepts. Our customers trust us to be their eyes, developing new products that help them to stand apart from the competition.

BP: How have you managed to combine your responsibilities at Domino with your new role at Weston Beamor?

NNS: As a business we place great importance on growing new talent from within. Before I left for maternity leave last year there was a targeted plan to ensure that my new product development and national accounts teams had the skills, knowledge and confidence to run their departments with greater autonomy in my absence. The success of this has now given me the freedom and time needed to expand my remit and take on a new challenge.

There is great synergy between the three separate elements of my role; Domino creative director, head of Domino national accounts and Weston Beamor director. All entail design, manufacture, CAD and RP, as well as commercial vision and customer service, while beingprocess and system driven. The next step is to recreate in Weston Beamor what I’ve achieved at Domino in terms of team building and making processes slicker and faster. This will give us the ideal platform from which to grow further.

BP: Is there an area of business that Weston Beamor is determined to develop over the coming months?

NNS: Weston Beamor has grown significantly in recent years with the bespoke side of our service offering becoming ever more important. Whether an independent or a multiple retailer, the ability to offer a tailor-made design is essential in order to cater to those customers demanding an element of personalisation. We will CAD, print, cast, mount and set customer designs, enabling retailers to offer a bespoke design service without the need to run their own workshops.

BP: You’re now overseeing systems, operations, and manufacturing at Weston Beamor. What are the most crucial things you’ve noted about this side of the trade?

NNS: As in any business the basic principals remain the same: ensure you have the best possible processes and best possible team to deliver consistent, reliable service to your customer base. At Weston Beamor many of our customers rely heavily on us to guide them when it comes to CAD and RP and we pride ourselves in having knowledge that is second to none.

BP: How important is discovering and investing in new technology at Domino and Weston Beamor?

NNS: We’re constantly looking for new technology on both sides of the business, and have several key individuals [in the team] who live and breathe technology and who are passionate about innovation. It’s all about finding the right people with the passion to bring new ideas to the table. Rapid prototyping machines are evolvanding quickly and there’s a huge breadth of different machines in the market, all with different strengths and weaknesses.

A desktop option can cost a couple of hundred pounds, whereas a top-of-therange machine can cost £250,000. At the moment we have three different machines building in four different materials. We use our knowledge and our understanding of a customer’s requirements to decide which is the most suited to their needs.

BP: In terms of innovation, what is Weston Beamor doing to make sure its rapid prototyping offer is still at the forefront of the industry?

NNS: There’s a great deal that goes on behind-the-scenes and it is the knowledge that we’ve built up over the years that makes us so successful. We invested in our first 3D print machines 15 years ago and were one of the very early adopters of the technology. I would like to think that we are still very much ahead of the game in terms of embracing new developments. We are currently in the process of testing two further machines to decide if we should add them to our ‘family’ later this year. Innovation is a continual process for us and one we live and breathe every day.

Looking to the future there are exciting times ahead. It won’t be long before weare able to use rapid prototyping to produce waxes on a volume scale for manufacturing and therefore replacing the need for traditional production moulds. Even further down the line, using laser sintering in a wider production capacity is where we would like to end up, but the technology is not there yet.

BP: Can you give us a quick rundown of the technology currently being used at Weston Beamor?

NNS: We currently have three different rapid prototyping machines building in four different materials, including wax, a ceramic- based material and a photosynthetic resin. Some are more suited for moulding while others work well for direct casting, depending on the design being made and whether it is a one-off or a repeat pattern. We have plans to invest in a further machine this year, which will give us a fifth material to offer our customers.

We also have a 3D scanner which allows us to scan physical objects, creating virtual 3D files for manipulation. We are frequently sent engagement rings which we scan tocreate a 3D virtual model. This allows us to then CAD a matching shaped wedding ring with a precise fit. However, the possibilities of 3D scanning are endless and we’ve created models of everything from strawberries to bones to toy cars.

BP: What sort of time frame can Weston Beamor customers expect?

NNS: If we receive CAD files from a customer we will typically build the 3D models overnight, so when we come into work the next morning they are ready. This means we can then mould or cast them the next day. It’s a speedy service.

BP: When it comes to investing in machinery to what extent do you expect teething problems to occur and how do you overcome that?

NNS: There are some machines that have been out in the marketplace for a number of years and are very reliable, while many of the newer machines are still not 100% proven in the jewellery sector. Experience has shown that we often end up being the testing ground for these new machines. It is not just a simple case of printing a ring.

The model has to be supported so the material can build correctly. We risk undermining the feasibility of the process if it takes too long to create the supports for a piece. Rapid prototyping machines need to be efficient, practical and user friendly in equal measures. We’re also continually testing new materials from which to build models. It is not uncommon to find a material that casts well in gold and silver but poorly in platinum.This can be due to an adverse reaction with the investment powder, leading to a dull casting or porosity, or the material may not burn out properly during the casting process.

While technology is developing all the time, finding a machine that builds well with minimal operator interaction in a material which casts well, across all alloys, is the Holy Grail. We’re not there yet but it’s not far away.

BP: With this in mind then, how long do you set aside to ensure a machine is working effectively and reliably before offering the service to customers?

NNS: We might test a machine for as long as 12 months if needed to make sure that it is production-ready. We have a vigorous testing process to ensure we know exactly what each machine’s capabilities and limitations are. At Weston Beamor it’s all about fine tuning and understanding the detail to make sure we deliver what the customer needs first time.

BP: How have your first few months at Weston Beamor been and what are your short-term goals?

NNS: I already knew the team and understood the processes, but the first few months were about spending time with them and looking at the dynamics. I was focused on finding ways to make time savings and become more efficient. This first stage of my role is about trying to sharpen-up and fine tuning the processes we use to ensure they are as quick and as cost effective as possible. Following on from that, the ultimate aim will be to grow the business.

BP: What are your long-term goals and how do you expect Weston Beamor to develop in the coming years?

NNS: I believe there is massive potential for Weston Beamor as many businesses still don’t know about us or how we can help them. We also want to ensure that our existing customers are fully aware of our all-encompassing service, including casting, CAD, rapid prototyping, 3D scanning, stone sourcing and finishing. Customers can use us for one, several or all of these elements. Our strapline is ‘Complete Jewellery Solutions’ and that is exactly what we do.

This article originally appeared in the third volume of BenchPro in Professional Jeweller‘s March 2015 issue. Read it online here.

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