My Interview with Jessica van Zanten, The 23 years old founder and director of the London Jewellery School, the largest independent jewellery-training provider in the UK.
Hope you enjoy the interview
Hey Jessica, It’s nice to have you here with us today, how are you doing?
I’m good! Great to be here, just a bit tired, been teaching a 5 day jewellery class teaching people how to set up their own jewellery business! It is very rewarding sending them off on their way and watching their
So tell us about yourself? What do you do?
Well, my name is Jessica van Zanten and I am 23 years old and I am the founder and director of the London Jewellery School, the largest independent jewellery-training provider in the UK. The Jewellery School runs 100’s of jewellery making classes throughout the year, which includes everything from beading and wire-work
to gold and silver jewellery.
My role is running the school along with my trusted staff and tutors, I also teach some of the classes and make sure the school is a friendly, safe and professional place to learn the lovely skill of jewellery making.
What’s your entrepreneurial story? How did you start making jewellery?
Well I started making jewellery around 6 years ago when I was 17 but got serious about it around 3 years ago. I have always loved buying and wearing jewellery and so one day it hit me that making jewellery would be such a fun thing to do, I could make it for friends and family and maybe even make a business out of it.
When I was 20 I decided to take the leap and leave my job to set up making and selling jewellery full-time. I didn’t do a degree or lots of fancy training in jewellery; all of my training has been done through short courses just like the ones we run at the jewellery school. So I am a real advocate of learning through short courses.
I ran my own jewellery business for a few years making and selling jewellery in shops, fairs, online and through friends and family. In the meantime I started teaching jewellery mainly as a side-line initially. Once I began teaching I realised that that is what I really wanted to do.
The jewellery school started just over 2 years ago from a community hall in Dulwich, South London and to begin with we ran one class every month. This was very popular and one class turned in to ten and we now run over 50 classes every month throughout the year. In January 2010 we moved to our current venue in London’s famous jewellery quarter, Hatton Garden and the school is going from strength to strength.
Why did you decide to start London Jewellery School? What is the purpose behind it?
The main reason I decided to set up the London Jewellery School is because when I was doing my training for jewellery making there were so few, high quality jewellery courses in London. There were lots in Birmingham, York, Cornwall and over the UK but barely anything in London. This, combined with the discovery of how much I enjoy teaching and introducing people to the joys of making jewellery was what fueled the drive behind starting the school and I haven’t looked back since.
The purpose of the school is to provide, high-quality, fun and professional jewellery making classes for people of all ages and abilities. Our motto is ‘everyone can make jewellery’ which we truly believe. It is such a fun and rewarding activity which many people think will be too hard or that they are not creative enough, the jewellery school welcomes everyone who wants to learn and have a go.
How is it going so far?
Really good. Its been lots of hard work but we are now happy at our venue in Hatton Garden, have over 16 world-class tutors and an ever growing list of classes. It is such fun being able to come in to work everyday to a jewellery school where people are enjoying their time, there is lots of lovely jewellery being made and it is such a comfortable and friendly environment. I wouldn’t change it for anything!
What are some of the key lessons that you’ve learnt along the way?
Planning! I do tend to jump in headfirst and get very excited by everything, sometimes I forget to plan ahead and make sure everything is going to work. Also to appreciate the people around you, your support networks and don’t forget how valuable they are. And finally not to be too hard on yourself, when you are running your own business there is know one telling you how well you are doing so every now and then you have to give your self a little pat on the back.
How did you raise money to fund it?
I worked for a year before I set up and raised some money through that. I also borrowed a similar amount and the rest has all been done through growth. For the first two years nearly all the money that was made was ploughed back into the school so that we could grow.
What’s your inspiration for the design on your jewellery?
That’s a difficult one, when I am designing my own jewellery my inspiration comes from lots of sources. Everything from art, music and fashion to looking at other jewelers work and even everyday things such as nature and of course materials. But mainly I make things that I enjoy wearing. I also make to commission so that means working from the customers designs, this is a great way of broadening your skills.
What jewellery designer do you most admire?
Wow that really is a difficult one – I can’t just choose one there are 100’s. I like most of the jewelers on Astley Clarke as well as lots of metal clay artists such as Julia Rai and Celie Fago. Also some of our past students such as Emma Hadley and also lots more.
What’s the most expensive item you have sold?
Most of my jewellery is not that expensive, but I did once sell a necklace for £500. That was quite a lot. It was a butterfly necklace made from lots and lots of silver and gold butterfly’s – it was beautiful and looked stunning on the lady that brought it.
What makes a piece of jewellery timeless?
Timeless jewellery would be made with high quality materials and instead of following recent trends it would be something classic that has lasted through the ages such as pearls, gold or silver. Other than that I think it is a very personal thing, what may seem timeless to one person may be junk to another. One of the great things about jewellery is everyone is different and has their own style, jewellery can be a way of expressing this and is unique for everyone.
How has your work developed since you first started designing?
I think it has developed in that I have learnt new techniques and worked with a range of different materials, I have also seen a lot more jewellery from different designers, which has an influence along with lots of experimentation and trial and error. I still haven’t decided where I will land but and just enjoying playing for now and seeing where my own designs take me.
Is jewellery essential?
No. But it is really, really nice!
What kind of person would come to the Jewellery School?
Well anyone can come to the jewellery school and we welcome all ages and abilities, I think that is one of the things that makes us special. But generally specking we have lots of women (some men too) aged between 18-65. So it is quite a range. We also have children’s jewellery workshops in the summer and in holidays.
Most people come because they either want a fun activity to do in their spare time, because it was given to them as a gift or they are starting up a jewellery business and want to learn skills.
Which celebrity would you love to wear your jewellery and why?
Probably Florence Welch from Florence and the Machine, because I think her music is great and love her style. Also she is a great, young British talent.
What has been the most memorable moment in your career so far?
Moving to Hatton Garden, It really is the center of jewellery making in London and is just the perfect place for us to be. The school has grown so much since we moved and it is something I will never forget.
Who do you go to for your business advice?
I don’t have one particular person, if I have a question I tend to ask lots of different people for their opinion and then decide based on what they say combined with my thoughts. I think relying on one person for all the answers could be tricky, going to lots of different people gives you a wider perspective on things. Although ultimately the decisions are yours to make and take the consequences of, whether they be good or bad. – Hopefully good!
What is your favorite trend of the moment?
Big floral necklaces and statement pieces with lots of colour. I love them! Bold jewellery covered in flowers – I am actually working on a piece like this at the moment.
How do you relax outside work?
I go salsa dancing! I used to be a dancer so love to dance so I try and go at least once a week, it is really fun, relaxing and much better than the gym.
What should we be expecting from you in the future?
That’s difficult to say – did I mention planning ahead wasn’t my strong point!
Just playing… the jewellery school will be continuing to grow and developing and we are also now selling jewellery-making supplies which we hope to expand on as well as developing our children’s parties and gift certificate programmes.
I think once the jewellery school is running its self, I will spend more time focusing on my own designs and jewellery range, so who knows you may see it in your local shops one day!
Any advice for anyone looking to get involved in the jewellery business?
I think it is the same as any business if you want it enough go for it! It is lots of hard work but also well worth it, it is the best thing I have ever done and if I can do it anyone can. Oh and come to our ‘5-day intensive set up your own jewellery business course’ ;) Its great.
Thanks for your time Jessica.