Elsa Tierney of etad jewellery has been one of our favourite jewellers for a long time. Initially designing in fabric, and working at Spitalfields, before evolving her unique style which draws upon architectural schools in essence, Bauhaus, Brutalism and even traces of Art Deco. It was great to have Elsa chat about her career and inspiration and... Whatever, as these things go...
Gemstons Cabochon: Is there an online place where can people see your work?
Elsa Tierney: My website is www.etadjewellery.com. I don’t have a website shop yet as I find a lot of people are impulse buyers so I worry about returns and keeping up with consumer demand. I like people to see my work in person so I prefer if they just get in touch through email which they do firstname.lastname@example.org. I have set up a big cartel shop http://elsatierney.bigcartel.com/. And people can follow me on twitter and instagram at @etadjewellery for latest updates of my jewellery making straight from the workbench!
GC: Where is your business located?
Elsa Tierney: My Studio is in Stratford, which I share with 3 other jewellers. It’s a beautiful and light open space that I am so lucky to have and this is where I am creative. I like to take the Overground there and have that quiet space away from home. I live in Stoke Newington and have lived in the hackney borough for years. I love the creative atmosphere here and find lots of opportunities to sell at craft fairs and Christmas markets and like to organize pop-up shops and temporary exhibitions of my work in this area as I feel there is an appreciation for handmade work.
GC: How long have you been making jewellery?
Elsa Tierney: In a romantic way I’ve been making jewellery since I was 10 years old. I’ve always had a passion for jewellery. At museums I would stare through the glass cabinets of Anglo Saxon and Egyptian adornments and always be trying to figure out how they were made so I could make them for myself. I would fashion African style necklaces out of colorful, discarded telephone cable wire that my mum would bring back from her art workshops. Professionally though I think it was in my early twenties that I started to realize that this was what I wanted to do! I was studying textiles and making jewellery out of fabric, which I sold at Spitalfields market. When I finished my textile course I decided I wanted to refine my jewellery making skills using precious metals. I started a course at London Guildhall Sir John Cass University and it was here that I also discovered my love for East London.
GC: How did you get started?
Elsa Tierney: After many years of working on Spitalfields market, freezing my butt in the winter for not a huge income I decided I needed to be more realistic. Still very inexperienced in managing my finances and not seeing it as my sole income, about 6 years ago I decided to take the plunge and become self employed jeweller and that I needed to direct my focus at selling in shops and craft fairs where my efforts were appreciated more and people were happy to pay the amount the work was actually worth. I was no longer underselling myself. I was making jewellery in my bedroom up until then so it was when I got a studio that it all took off.
GC: What is it that you like about gemstones?
Elsa Tierney: Colour has always been a feature in my work. I started out making jewellery from old buttons setting them in silver like gemstones so my progression into using gemstones was a very natural one. I prefer cabochon and unusual shaped natural gemstones. I think that comes from my love for Anglo Saxon jewellery, which celebrated the rich colour and sometime irregular shaped cabochon, combining semi precious stones with what we called precious stones. For them they were all precious as they contained the energy and history of their travels from exotic lands that only some at the time could afford. I like semi precious stones for this reason and it’s the shape and colour of a stone that inspires and dictates every new range of jewellery I make. I could look through stones for hours cooking up all kinds of ideas, like rummaging through button boxes or finding a casket of buried treasure.
GC: What's your favorite gemstone and why?
Elsa Tierney: I love emeralds! I think it’s the intense green that recalls my love for the film the Wizard of Oz with its Emerald City. I’ve watched it many times growing up and that twinkling, intense, Technicolor, emerald green city even though it was only a backdrop was so mesmerizing, of course then there was the ruby slippers.
GC: What's the most frustrating thing about the jewellery making process?
Elsa Tierney: It has to be polishing and finishing. The making is the best bit, but making it neat and tidy takes so long and is so messy. I’m sure ever jeweller would agree with me in saying that the bane of any jeweller’s life is something called fire stain. Subtle, but over time noticeable darkened patches on the surface of a jewellery piece a cause and effect of heating the metal when soldering. This needs to be polished out and on a small fiddly or textured piece this can be a nightmare as it’s not good to over polish.
GC: What is the most pleasurable thing about the jewellery making process?
Elsa Tierney: I think its just having the ability and privilege to just immerse yourself in something tangible, that you love. Its very much like being a child when you would go into your room with a piece of paper, string and glue and you’d come out and hour later with a dress or hat to show your parents. It’s that feeling of achievement that is so rewarding and I still love to show my mum and dad all my latest designs. Of course now even I am even proud of my own work as I get better at it, I used to get so frustrated with what I was making because I knew it could be made better. Practicing gives me so much pleasure, its that process of trying to figure out how to make what you want to make, work around all its limitations which often leads to new discoveries, possibilities and ideas.
GC: Do you have a favorite piece of equipment in your workshop?
Elsa Tierney: Ha! I love tools! New tools are like new shoes, you never have too many! I like to find old tools at car boot sales, often finding things that I could fashion into something useful. My most recent purchases were three collet-making punches. These are amazing as I can now make cone and square setting really easily and professionally for that reason they are my favorite studio tools. On the other hand I would also have to say that my favorite device is my card reader! This has been the best investment so far and I never tire of it! I would say at all the markets and fairs I have done in the last year 95 percent of my sales were card payments all of which I most certainly have lost as there were quite often no cash machines nearby! I looked around and had tried a few different ones from friends, but finally went with iZettle. They all pretty much offer the same deal but this one is Bluetooth, I see so many people struggling to get a good wireless connection, but this one doesn’t need it so your not faffing around panicking, the customer feels more assured and it looks professional.
GC: From where do you draw inspiration?
Elsa Tierney: As I mentioned before I love colour so I think first and foremost the Deco period influence me most with its composition of shapes and use of colour through gemstones, enamel and bakerlyte. I also take inspiration from art. My mother is from Austria and is a painter and I think this early introduction to modernist art movements like Bauhaus, abstract arts and Brutalist architecture in Europe strongly present in my work.
GC: Who is your favorite type of clients?
Elsa Tierney: I really enjoy doing commissions. I have recently thrown myself into this field and love the process of designing and making something that I wouldn’t usually make. Quite often I meet people who have liked and seen my work in a show and can see that I could perhaps make what they want. Surprisingly I like doing wedding rings. Sometimes this field can be a bit uniform and pretty, but I get so much enjoyment out of making something really unique and individual to the customer knowing that it has that special significance that I am allowed to be part of. Its all about love I guess I’m a hippy at heart.
GC: Do you have any jewellery making or customer horror stories that you can relate to us without putting yourself out of business?
Elsa Tierney: Yes. Repairs! So many people ask me if I could fix a chain or make a ring smaller. Its so much more hassle than it worth plus you have the responsibility of ensuring it doesn’t go wrong. I met a girl once in the street, she had heard me talking about jewellery on the phone so asked me if I could size a few rings for her and reset a stone in her “favorite” ring. I said I don’t do repairs, but said I could take it to a professional for her. There were five rings and she didn’t know what size she wanted them and they were all for different fingers. Anyway when I got the favorite ring back from the setters I noticed he’d just glued it in and it wasn’t even straight so I sent it back and had to go back again. Then the rings that were all resized were done really sloppily and of course this now reflects on me. I could sense she wasn’t 100% happy and I also think that some of the rings didn’t fit on the fingers she wanted them. Anyway she was polite and thanked me and even offered to take me for dinner for my troubles as I didn’t charge her for taking them there, I wanted out as soon as possible and I vowed to myself I will never do repairs again.
GC: Your final thoughts on jewellery making and your relationship with the art.
Elsa Tierney: A lot of people including myself are looking for their direction in life. That thing that the can be good at and wouldn’t be great if you could making a living from it. But many of us especially in the creative industry are multitalented and there is always something else you keep meaning to try and learn, but always fail to do so and thus never do what your already good at. I do think there is often something right in front of you that you are really good at and its just that simple decision to concentrate on that one thing that will lead you to enjoy it more than you ever imagined. I don’t have time to do all the different things I want to try, but I make time for this willing. When people used to ask me what I do I used to say I was an artist, then one day my friend introduced me to someone as this is Elsa she is a jeweller and that sounded so much cooler. So here I am.
GC: Elsa thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions. I'm sure my customers will find them and your work inspiring.
Elsa Tierney: Your most welcome Ricky. Thanks for the opportunity.