Jessie Thomas is a goldsmith and jewellery designer who creates strikingly beautiful and very wearable jewellery. Each piece is handmade, unique and crafted from ethically sourced stones and recycled gold. Jessie learned her trade from the renowned and lauded goldsmith and designer David Thomas, who was a driver of London and the UK’s groundbreaking jewellery scene in the 60s and 70s. The father and daughter now both work from David’s studio in Chelsea and often work together to create incredible bespoke pieces.
Did you always want to learn how to create jewellery, and did your father’s trade inspire you?
Yes, I was slightly terrified by it because it looked complicated and slightly stressful. I actually didn’t work in jewellery originally but he asked, when I was working in my early 20s, if I wanted to come and work at his studio. And I wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity to work with him because he’s such a talented craftsman.
Can you tell us about some of the pieces you’ve collaborated on and how you work together?
In general, if we collaborate on something it’ll normally be quite a big piece like a big engagement ring or something. Often I’ll work with the client on what they want, get the stones for them see and then we’ll do a lot of designs. And then my father and I will usually make the piece together. If there’s a lot of different facets of making it and if it’s a carved piece from wax and it’s all very specific then normally he’ll do majority of the marking out and carving, and then I’ll clean up at the end and have it set. We used to work this way a lot more when I was still training. But now I tend to just make my pieces the whole way through.
And what’s it like sharing a workspace together?
It’s really nice. He is a fount of knowledge because he’s been training in jewellery since he was about 15 and he’s now 82, so he knows everything, all the tips and tricks. It is very helpful and I take a lot of inspiration from him. We actually are quite lucky because we’ve got a shop, and then there are two workshops – his workshop at the back of the shop and me in the basement. So it’s quite nice because we’ve got a bit of separation between the two of us, which works well. Growing up, we used to live above the workshop and in fact he still lives there. I remember coming down to play with all the tools and things. It was fun!
All of your jewellery is handmade, is that quite unusual?
I think it is now. When my father was working in the 60s and 70s, there were a lot of people who thought of themselves as artists and craftspeople, so making, designing and doing everything themselves. Now people tend to design and then use workshops to make their pieces. There is a lot less training for goldsmiths and unless you’re actually an apprentice in a workshop it’s really hard to train properly. I think it is quite unusual to have actually apprenticed, and then be designing as well. You would be pretty lucky to have that experience to be able to get those skills. It’s a shame that those skills are being lost.
Where do you take your inspiration from for your jewellery?
I steal a lot from my dad! He’s a huge source of inspiration. I think my main source of inspiration is really wearability. It always comes back to whether I would wear the piece so I tend to not make really flowery, big blousy pieces of jewellery. I like things that are quite simple. It’s difficult sometimes to maintain the balance between wearability and creativity because sometimes I’ll decide I want to make a piece that is really intricate and mad. But then I realise it’s just not something that would work for my clients.
You’ve also said that a piece evolves as you create it. Can you describe kind of the process of how a piece comes to life?
I’ll normally have a vague idea in my head of something I want to make. Usually, I’ll make it sometimes around a stone or something. But I’ll start carving it out of wax and then, it just takes on a life if its own. I won’t necessarily work to a technical drawing – I do occasionally – but with the pieces that I really like making it’s quite organic. Especially with the pearl pieces and the textured gold. For those, I’ll get a pearl and start putting the wax on it that’s going to eventually be the gold and then I’ll keep going until I’m happy and I think it looks good. I think if you’re making your own pieces, which a lot of people don’t do, you get bored if you have to make the same thing over and over again. So I wanted to make pieces that would be slightly different every time I made them, which is especially true of the gold and pearl jewellery. For each, I’ll pick a different pearl every time and then the amount of gold I add will depend on that pearl.
You use recycled gold and responsibly sourced gemstones – can you tell us a bit about why you wanted these part of your work?
I think the jewellery industry is still not great in terms of ethical practices. It’s quite hard to trace where things come from. Even when I started working about nine years ago, it was really hard to get recycled gold. And interestingly in the last five or six years, all of my suppliers have started using recycled gold, which is really good. Using recycled materials means you know that nothing’s being mined so it’s much better for the environment. I work with one diamond dealer and one semi-precious stone dealer who my dad has always worked with as well so that’s easy and they’re really good and responsible – I know where everything is coming from. It’s definitely changing for the better, which is good, and clients are much more considered about where everything comes from. You do have to pay extra for responsible stones but people are kind of aware of that. If you’re getting a really cheap diamond, there is a reason it’s cheap. I don’t want to work with unethical stones, I don’t want to play a part in anything like that. So I’m trying to keep it sustainable and ethical for my own peace of mind.
What are your ambitions for the future of Jessie Thomas Jewellery?
I’m trying to make a lot more one-off pieces that are my design from start to finish. A lot of my work is commissioned bespoke pieces, which I do enjoy, but it is someone else’s vision and it is fun making pieces that are completely my idea. I’m also thinking about branching into selling more abroad too.
Who are your style icons?
The Olsen Twins – I’m obsessed with The Row – and Phoebe Philo at Céline. I’m obsessed with all the English goldsmiths from the 60s, and 1940s French jewellery – Suzanne Belperron, that sort of thing. Loads of really fabulous people.