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25 years of designing & making jewellery

Australian jewellery designer Simone Walsh is celebrating 25 years of designing and making unique handmade jewellery. Here's a rundown of Simone's jewellery making and business history.

It feels a tad indulgent to be writing up a 'history of me', but after 25 years of designing and making jewellery, I think a rundown of how we got to where we are is probably a good idea.

One of my oldest and dearest friends recently came across a letter I wrote to her when we were still in high school. In it I was expressing frustration with school and said that what I really wanted to do was live in the country and make jewellery. I can't remember writing this - or even having those thoughts when I was a teenager. Yet all these years later, here I am ... living in the country and making jewellery. So how did I get here?

It was way back in 1993 that I spotted a piece of jewellery in a store in Melbourne which really intrigued me in terms of its construction. It was an eye-catching necklace which was ‘chunky, clunky’ and brightly coloured as things were at the time. It had been handmade from wire wrapped around discs of coloured glass.

When I got home I kept thinking about how it was made: for some reason it felt like a puzzle that I wanted to solve for myself. Eventually I found myself some cheap wire, pliers and old marbles and started experimenting with ways to put the materials together and turn them into something wearable.

Soon enough I became hooked on the idea of making contemporary jewellery and was very keen to learn more.

Making a start

Initially I made very simple pieces using wire wrapping, beads and manufactured components. I made mostly for my own enjoyment, but also started selling pieces at markets in Adelaide, Australia, primarily to help fund more materials.

At the time I was working in the music industry, but I didn't feel very happy or fulfilled creatively so I was already considering a new direction. After making very simple jewellery for a year or so I made a decision to pursue this work more seriously and to devote some time to learning how to make '‘real’ jewellery'.

Getting an education

Fish pendant in sterling silver and titanium by Simone Walsh (circa 1994). The first piece of metalwork jewellery I designed and made: a fish pendant in sterling silver and anodised titanium (1994).

I resigned from my job and started full time study in 1994, when I began a Visual Arts diploma with a Jewellery Major at a technical college in Adelaide.

During my first year of study I learned an incredible amount in terms of the core technical jewellery making skills that I continue to use to this day.

At the end of that year I was proud to be presented with The Most Outstanding Jewellery Student award at my college. The award was a big confidence boost and it helped me feel as though this sort of work was well suited me.

At around this time I established my first wholesale relationship with a retail store: Urban Cow Studio, which was a relatively new store for handmade and indie design products in Adelaide. All these years later my jewellery continues to be sold there.

Living in Europe

After another period of full time study the following year, I decided to pack up and go travelling while I was still young enough to make the most of the opportunity. I went travelling around Europe and ended up living in London for a couple of years.

While there I was only able to do a very small amount of jewellery making with a few basic tools, but I was able to soak up a lot of ideas and inspiration.

Eventually I returned to Australia with the intention of continuing my studies.

More education

When I returned to Australia, I moved to Sydney so that I could study full time at Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney. There I completed a Bachelor of Visual Arts with a Jewellery and Metal major, graduating in 2000.

While there I was able to put my established technical skills to work (and learn new ones) while developing creatively.

Hand that Feeds cutlery in sterling silver by Simone Walsh (circa 1999)
The Hand that Feeds cutlery in sterling silver (2000).

The artworks I made as part of my studies were more conceptual in nature and there were only a few wearable pieces of jewellery. You can find some examples of them here. I also exhibited artworks around Australia during this time - even winning an art prize in Sydney for the cutlery pictured here.

However, during this time I also continued designing and making wearable production jewellery which I sold through a small number of retail outlets around Australia.

After I completed my degree I continued making jewellery part time while living and working in Sydney, never feeling sure if I would ever be able to make a full time living doing what I loved.

Selling jewellery online

In 2006 I decided to experiment with selling jewellery online. At the time I really wasn't convinced that jewellery could be sold successfully online. I was sure that people would need to see it, feel it and try it on in person. However, within a very short time of launching a trial shop on a new online venue called Etsy, I realised I was wrong: my designs started selling almost as soon as I started listing them.

After being featured on a few key indie design and handmade blogs, my sales took off to the point that they became a major part of my income. This allowed me to change to part time employment while running an often more than full time business.


Some of the earliest jewellery designs I sold on Etsy back in 2006.

At this point the majority of my customers were in the United States. Australians still weren't confident about shopping online, but Americans were big online shoppers and at the time many were eager to buy unique and especially handmade goods.

Gaining my independence

Within a couple of years I became very disillusioned with Etsy and the way it was being run. I also generally disliked that my own business was so heavily dependent upon another business that could pull the plug on me at any time. 

I decided to set up my own independent online jewellery store at simonewalsh.com. It was a good move and this has been the primary venue for selling my jewellery ever since.

By then Australians were shopping online in far greater numbers and I started to establish a good local customer base. Which was lucky, because not long after launching the new online store, the GFC hit. The economic impact in Australia wasn't so bad, but it was devastating in the USA and customers there mostly stopped shopping.

After a few years of selling online I finally took the plunge to become creatively self-employed in 2009 - and I haven't looked back.

Growing pains

By 2014 I had moved back to the Adelaide area to be closer to family. I still live here in a rural part of the Adelaide hills, where I also have an office and jewellery studio.

Back in January 2014 I wrote a blog post about the need for change in my business. It was, quite frankly, killing me. 

At the busy end of the year I'd find myself working 100+ hours a week, my hands were falling apart and I felt like a wreck by the time Christmas rolled around and it would take me months to pull myself back together. 

I was still personally making every single piece of jewellery I sold: I couldn't possibly work any harder and yet my finances were still stretched. My business was successful, but it simply wasn't sustainable.

An old friend had recently come to visit me and we'd spent the entirety of New Year's Eve drinking wine and talking about this dilemma. He applied his business acumen to the problem to come up with suggestions for resolving it. This conversation led me to the realisation that change had to happen.

Growing!

Mehndi mandala jewellery components handmade in sterling silver and created by Australian jewellery designer Simone Walsh.
Mehndi mandala jewellery designs in sterling silver from our 2017 jewellery range.

By the next year I had visited and established a relationship with an ethically run jewellery workshop in Indonesia that could make high quality components using my designs in far greater numbers than I could by myself.

I continue to partner with this workshop and they continue to produce beautiful pieces for Simone Walsh Jewellery, most of which we hand finish and assemble in house (while I still continue to entirely handmake a number of jewellery designs). This has allowed the business to grow - without killing me in the process, which I think is probably a good thing!

By the following year that old friend - Colin - had become my husband (true story) and he has played an extensive role in the business ever since. We recently turned Simone Walsh Jewellery into a partnership so that his role in the business is now an official one.

In 2017 we launched a brand new online jewelry store in the USA, going back to where my designs first found a market online.

The end (so far)

So here I am, a whole 25 years after spotting the necklace which first made me curious, still designing and making jewellery, but rather than being just a passing interest our jewellery business now consumes most of my time.

I'm not sure I'll make it another 25 years, so I've decided to make this one my Gold Anniversary. Stay tuned for some brand new gold designs to celebrate.

A heartfelt thank you

Celebrating 25 years of designing, making and selling jewellery.

I definitely wouldn't have made it to 25 years without the friends, family, teachers, retailers, market organisers and others who have helped me along the way: thank you to all of you.

And - most importantly - a huge thank you to every customer Simone Walsh Jewellery has ever had, wherever you might be in the world and however long ago our paths crossed. Without you and all of the rest of our lovely customers (who embrace shopping small, handmade and/or local), our business would be impossible.

Simone Walsh is an Australian jewellery designer and maker who has been creating handmade jewellery in sterling silver, gold and gemstones for over 25 years. She lives and works in the beautiful countryside outside Adelaide in South Australia, where she's surrounded by vineyards and rolling hills. Simone is the Founder & Creative Director of Simone Walsh Jewellery.


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