Jewellery designer on Fairtrade, the beauty of gemstones and Shintaido

Jewellery designer Jon Dibben was recently unveiled as a Tresor Paris Trendsetter in the Professional Jeweller Hot 100 2012 in association with The Company of Master Jewellers. He speaks to us about why Fairtrade gold is hugely important, why he is constantly taken aback by the beauty of nature and how he overcomes his obsessive work drive with a Zen Buddhist martial art.

Professional Jeweller: You have been one of the first designers to work with Fairtrade Fairmined gold. Tell us a bit more about your experiences.
Jon Dibben: Fairtrade and Fairmined gold has been a great experience to be involved in. We’ve met a lot of interesting people. The ethical community is very friendly – there’s a lot of empathy and a sense of a mutual cause. It’s just a positive thing to be involved with, and that positivity is healthy to a business during this difficult time. The idea that we can complete the line from source of materials to finished fine jewellery, and account for all materials and work that has happened to each piece is a powerful story.


PJ: How do you feel about people in the trade who feel that Fairtrade is too niche?
JD: Some people say that it can’t do much to help – that it’s too small scale – but why should that stop you wanting to do it? If it can help even a few people have a slightly better life, then it’s worth doing. I’m also convinced that the numbers it will help won’t be that small. There’s an appetite and a momentum for Fairtrade.

PJ: How has your brand fared in the recession?
JD: Obviously the economic climate is extremely challenging. It makes you have to review everything you do, but our response has been to remain confident in what we are doing. Sitting towards the higher end, creating a lot of one off pieces, is not a bad place to be. There is less competition and our customers are looking for something unique. Ironically it has brought us full circle. We are doing much more bespoke commission work again, which is where I began. You have to be more aware and open minded in this time, open to what comes your way and making the best of it.

PJ: You were accepted this year to exhibit at The Goldsmiths’ Pavilion in June and the Goldsmiths Fair in September on your first application. How did this feel?
JD: We hadn’t applied for any Goldsmiths’ events before, so I was really pleased to be accepted to exhibit in the Pavilion as well as at Goldsmiths’ Fair in the autumn. I’ve visited Goldsmiths’ Fair over the years and always aspired to show there, but never really found the time to apply, so this year feels like a goal achieved.

PJ: Have you hit any personal milestones this year, outside of jewellery?
JD: A personal highlight, other than watching my children grow and develop, was playing music in front of people. I have dabbled with various instruments all my life, but have never played before an audience. It was terrifying but fulfilling and luckily it went down well with everyone watching.

PJ: You have some beautiful designs in your collections – where do you draw your inspiration?
JD: I am inspired by everything and anything really, but not so much in an obvious cause and effect way. I work more instinctively than that; ideas and shapes just come. The frustration is not being able to make all the ideas that do come, though that is down to the size of company we are, and having the time to do it all.

PJ: Your work often uses colourful gemstones as the hero of the design. What is it you love about gemstones?
JD: I love beautiful stones, and will often wait till the right idea comes for each stone. Nature always affects me. I can’t quite get over the way it combines function and beauty so perfectly, and it’s something we try to recreate in the jewellery we make.

PJ: How would you describe your approach to work?
JD: I’m a bit mercurial. I’m an ideas person, so I can get ultra motivated when I’m inspired but I really value the support of my brother and the people I work with, who steady me and help to take things through to conclusion. I have a strong entrepreneurial side but I am also a real perfectionist, which has benefits as well as drawbacks. It has become our trademark, in the form of a really high standard of craftsmanship and finish, though it does sometimes mean I become a bit obsessive.

PJ: As a small operation, do you tend to work round the clock?
JD: Work does still tend to take over, and spills into evenings, weekends and holidays. But I am better than I used to be. I remember a few occasions when I would roll in from the workshop on the morning we were leaving for holiday, having worked all night. Unfortunately my wife remembers all those times too. The issue is that when you are a creative person in a creative career, you never quite switch off. Even though I take time away from the workshop, I am thinking about designs and work most of the time or on my phone, emailing and Tweeting.

PJ: Do you ever find time to relax?
JD: It’s only in the past five years that I have properly realised the importance of spending time with my family, as well as making time for myself. My time out is spent playing music and practising Shintaido, a Zen Buddhist martial art that’s more about listening than fighting. Oh and lots of cooking and eating with friends and family, life doesn’t get much better than that.

PJ: How do you plan to keep the Jon Dibben brand moving forward?
JD: We are going to refresh our website, to show the jewellery to better effect and to give people more information about what we do. I have ideas for developing the company, though I feel we need to wait and see which ones feel right as the moments arise. Exhibiting in London will definitely be on the cards. Our work is good and I want more people to see it. Overall, my gut feeling is that the coming year will be an important one for us and I want to make the most of it.