Ask the guest editor: Jason Holt gets a grilling


Holt finds himself in the spotlight in his role as PJ guest editor.

As head of a government review into apprenticeships last year out guest editor Jason Holt has been asking the trade a lot of tricky questions. Now it’s time to swap places as our readers put him under the spotlight.

What tip would you have for companies that are dramatically increasing over a relatively short period and may be struggling to keep up with demand?
Lucy Quartermaine, Lucy Q
Obviously this is a nice position to be in so congratulations for bucking the trend. A number of options spring to mind, but first it is essential that you keep a handle on fulfilment, as many businesses have come adrift either from loss of quality or cash flow when their customers pay slower than costs go out. So three thoughts. First, collaboration through your supply chain, see who might support you during this period of growth. Second, funding. Explore options of raising money either through a private investor, bank or public initiative, e.g. export fund. Third, managing your company can be a lonely process and a business mentor might be just the ticket. There is a staggering success with business that have that support. See or

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You’ve said that stubbornness was one of the key attributes in helping you to achieve your success. From your experience what other key skills would you say are essential to help emerging designers get to where they want to be?
Jane Gowans, designer
It is true to say that genuine commitment and tenacity are essential ingredients. It is also true to say that bloody mindedness can be counterproductive. I am guilty of sticking at things which are past their natural end. From my observations, the leap from emerging designer to established business requires the mind-set of thinking beyond oneself. This usually requires bringing in a third party. For instance, is there anyone you trust who has the track record (and potential wealth) to build the business whilst you focus on design and client relationships?

How many times can you get the letters BJA into your January editorial? Simon Rainer, BJA
As you know, I am a member of the British Judo Association, but I have to be honest, I don’t see how it is relevant…?!

I have known you since you were a boy. I admire everything you have done to build on your family business. Taking it to a place that I’m sure makes your family very proud. I most admire the fact that you have done this within the immediate community of the Hatton Garden and Clerkenwell jewellery district, amazing. Would you like to establish the Holts Academy concept abroad? I believe there is massive potential, do you? Stephen Webster
Thank you, Uncle Stephen! Thank you for your kind words. I do hope my dad is reading this issue as I’m not sure he quite sees it that way. I have always said that the Academy belongs to the trade. It has grown through responding to the needs of local and now national businesses. This takes me on to international opportunities. I think you are right and we have had many approaches to set up Holts Academy abroad. I think it is a matter of time before we embark on overseas expansion (and I would love to talk to you about this) especially in India. However, above this priority we are focusing on making sure we get it right in the UK. This is why we are launching retail qualifications and will have a Birmingham presence in 2013.

Jason, you have always been an entrepreneur and a big contributor to the industry. I have been privileged to have worked with you past and present, and I’m looking forward to working with you in the future. You are a very inspirational person and my question would be who inspires you? Fei Liu
Thank you, Fei. Very flattering words from someone I have huge respect for. Above all, it’s been fun working with you up ‘til now! To answer your question, James Dyson. He is not just an inventor but he set up a foundation to support the next generation of engineers and does an amazing job in championing Made in Britain.

What is your vision for the UK jewellery industry, and where do you see Holts fitting into this? Nathan Morse, Hannah Martin London
The answer to this is expressed in my interview with Theo Fennell. As to where Holts fits in, I think there will be a growing thirst for natural precious gems and to interact with the product in a more engaging way. This involves us as gem dealers trying to source more precious and rare gems whilst they grow in scarcity (both stones and gem dealers!). Through Holts Academy educating the public through our Have a Go campaign and working with local schools. Finally, Holition ( which allows anybody in the land to try on virtual jewellery in the comfort of their home. Hopefully, as the technology improves, this experience will engage the masses for any jewellery that they see online.

Why is the British Jewellery business so badly marketed and unglamorous? Theo Fennell
As you have said yourself, we have represented ourselves very poorly. Consequently the values of the consumer are determined by the big brands rather than what is intrinsically special about jewellery in Britain. For a better answer, see your interview with me (p26)!

I’d like to know your views on the Richard’s Report into the future of apprenticeships. Peter Taylor, The Goldsmiths’ Centre
Thanks Peter! That is a brave question. What Doug Richard has done is to set out a vision. One day employers will take the lead on designing and delivering the curriculum. The funding will be channelled through the employer, not the college, and where an apprenticeship is considered as equally valid as university. I agreed with every one of Richard’s recommendations, however we must make sure that big businesses don’t dominate at the expense of smaller businesses that arguably need it most. As you know, the Richards review follows my own review which was specific on how to make apprenticeships more accessible to SMEs. What I highlighted was that over 90% of SMEs are missing out on the apprenticeship opportunity. One explanation is because current provision often informed by big business is too broad for the smaller business. For instance, one of the reasons Holts set up an academy for jewellery was because the qualifications had been set by large institutions and qualification authorities and were no longer fit for purpose for the sector. To conclude, we are living in exciting times. In the next few years we could see taking on an apprentice as normal as taking on any new employee. Many more of us will understand the valuable role they play in growing our businesses.

I recently went to the Design Museum and listened to a debate. The question raised, and which I would like to hear your take on, was: a truly successful design can be multiplied, which then increases the design’s value, but in jewellery does mass production decrease its value and what is the meaning of value when it is used in association with jewellery? Joanna Hardy
In short, mass production does decrease perceived value (unlike a Heals chair). There must be an element that can’t be simply taken and bashed out in China. The closer the craftsmanship is to the article, the higher the perceived value.

What ideas or practices could the jewellery industry take from other business sectors or trades?
Pip Beale, Charles Green
I have mentioned in this issue how the French wine industry is a good example of what we need to become. The best in class. Equally the way the British Olympic cycling team turned itself around from no medals to what we saw this summer. This achievement was not incidental but structural. They strategically allocated resources to where the teams had a sporting chance. I think the UK jewellery industry needs a similar clever plan to boost its global ranking.

You currently have your fingers in a lot of pies – education with Holts Academy, retail with Holts Gems, augmented reality with Holition, manufacturing with Jewellery Innovations. Are there any other areas of the trade, or indeed outwith the trade, that the Holts empire might be setting its sights on? Or any area that you would love to get involved with on a theoretical level?
Rachael Taylor & Kathryn Bishop, Professional Jeweller
First, it sounds as if I do everything. I do not, although looking at my rapid aging process you’d be forgiven for thinking I do! In fact what I have done is found the best in class for each of the businesses I have set up. They and the teams they lead are some of the most skilled people I have had the privilege of meeting. In terms of where my sights are, I tend to do less goal setting these days. This empowers those around me to identify opportunities as they arise rather than be fixed to a predetermined trajectory. However, I can talk generally about future. Three core areas. First, investing in our skills; we currently have three apprentices, next year I hope to take on a retail apprentice for our store and two business administration apprentices to assist our accounts and office management departments. Second, I think there are a number of opportunities to explore, including setting up a watch manufacturing school and a trading platform for precious stones. Finally, I personally want to see through the implementation of my apprenticeship review and make sure the governments toes are held to the fire!

This Q&A was taken from the January issue of Professional Jeweller of which Jason Holt was guest editor. Read the digital version online here.

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