Q&A: Sofie Boons, head of teaching and learning, BAJ

Sofie Boons - Portrait with Nose Brooch - photography by Kristof Vrancken

Following the Holts Academy’s rebrand, which included a name change to the British Academy of Jewellery (BAJ), Professional Jeweller caught up with the education hub’s head of teaching and learning, Sofie Boons, to find out more about the company’s changes and plans to evolve over the next 12 months.

What was the reasoning behind the Academy’s rebrand?

Because the jewellery industry is constantly changing and the needs of our graduates entering the industry have evolved over the years as well, the rebrand is part of our aim to continue growing and adapting in response to those changes. Our aim at the British Academy of jewellery is to continue to promote and teach technical jewellery making skills, whilst providing our learners with invaluable design and business skills.

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We aim to be a jewellery school where technical training is not an afterthought. Where technical training is not seen as a hindrance to creativity, but where knowledge acquired by the hands provides inspiration. We aspire to be a school where students do not shy away from originality and creativity, but where the traditional techniques are taught to then be challenged.

Under our new brand, the Academy seeks to inspire and nurture the next generation of jewellers and we will continue to work hard to ensure valuable technical skills are not lost, whilst at the same time equipping our learners with those modern skills needed to survive and blossom in the industry of today.

 

What was it about the name “British Academy of Jewellery” that you felt it was the right change?

In order for our learners to build strong networks and brands we believe it is important to engage with the jewellery industry, not only locally but also globally. One of the goals for the Academy in the next couple of years is to engage with the jewellery scene internationally, and our new name will be a suitable calling card. Proud as we are of being located in London and Birmingham, and ultimately of being British, we feel the new name reflects what we do and where we are from.

 

What will change at the Academy other than the name? What specific services will you be providing?

To achieve our goals we have built a team of talented jewellery educators, who are keen to develop and produce updated content for our qualifications and contribute to successfully merge our technical training with creative design projects and business development insights.

Alongside the delivery of our yearlong professional jewellery courses, which a student can start as a complete beginner, we will also continue to support the trade by providing specialist intensive short courses, offering industry professionals the opportunity to broaden their area of expertise.

Like several other craft disciplines which have been passed down from master to apprentice, jewellery manufacturing is a fantastic skill to learn whilst working, and our apprenticeship programme will continue to provide students the opportunity to train in a new career, whilst earning an income.

 

How important is training and learning in the UK jewellery industry and to what extend do you think these services need improving?

At the Academy we are obviously passionate about jewellery and the skills involved in making interesting and well-crafted pieces and objects to adorn the body. But let’s be honest, you need more than technical skills to be able to find your way in today’s competitive market. Whether you want to secure a job or start your own jewellery business, working in today’s changing industry is challenging. New technologies and methods of production alongside new ways to market and sell your work to a customer are rapidly evolving and this is affecting many brands and businesses. As an Academy we have a duty to train contemporary makers who are equipped to deal with those changes and challenges, and ultimately use them as an advantage, rather than a disadvantage. We want to help form those individuals that will contribute to reinvent our practice and industry, and who are able to find creative solutions to the issues and problems the industry faces today.

We believe the changes we are making to our curriculum, embedding more business and creative design skills will be of great importance to the industry. In providing quality education we seek to provide the trade not only with a skilled workforce, but also with designer/makers that have the aptitude and ability to contribute to and inspire innovation within the industry.

 

How do you see the role of the BAJ evolving over the coming months and years?

We seek to become a cultural centre of excellence that encourages learning, ideas and collaborations within the jewellery industry. Our courses will more than ever before provide students with a wide range of pathways to prepare them to enter the industry. Students will notice improvements to the curriculum of long diploma courses and with a larger team of tutors we will be working very hard to ensure our courses prepare our learners for what comes next.

Part of that preparation will include facilitating international engagement and in order for the British Academy of Jewellery to engage internationally we have been developing partnerships with international institutions, schools and colleges, which will result in opportunities for us to run interesting international exchange projects both for our students and tutors. With these projects we will aim to contribute to research and as an organisation take part in discussions about the jewellery industry, making and craft, and what jewellery is and could become in the future.

The team at the British Academy of Jewellery are very excited about the future and there are some exciting developments in store for 2017 – stay up-to-date with all our news at baj.ac.uk, and by following us via social media!

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