Q&A with the award-winning goldsmith
Originally from Glasgow, Sheila Kerr now lives in Prestwick and considers Ayrshire her home. Her business was recently named ‘Independent Jewellery Store of the Year’ at the Scottish Independent Retail Awards. I met with Sheila at her studio in Harbour Street, Irvine, where her beautiful, bespoke jewellery is displayed.
Have you always been a jeweller?
No. I did a degree in business management, then I went into college lecturing. I’ve also got a BA in social sciences in education and I’ve also got a master’s. I was in the final year of my master’s and was about to do a PhD when my job was removed following a restructure. I was offered redundancy but there was an advert at Ayr College for silversmithing. So I went and I thought it was amazing. I loved it and I carried on going.
When and why did you decide to pursue it as a career?
Someone said to me ‘have you ever thought about selling some of your jewellery?’ so I had a wee jewellery party in my house. At that time I was only doing silver earrings and things but I went back and learned more skills. I worked with gold then learned how to set diamonds so it’s been a long-term learning curve. I registered my business and set up my studio in 2011.
Do you specialise in anything in particular?
Originally I was making silver and gold pieces then I started gemstone pieces. But I started doing remodelling and redesigning. It’s become on-trend to do this. For example, a customer came in with a ring with ten diamonds. She had three daughters and two granddaughters and wanted five pendants. So I gave her ideas about what we could do to make use of all of the diamonds. I made a circular pendant with two diamonds and now I have to do the other four. It’s remodelling with a difference.
Do you work with all gemstones?
It tends to be diamonds but I’ve also done sapphires and rubies. It’s usually jewellery that holds sentimental value to the customer.
Are you governed by rules regarding the sourcing of gemstones?
I’m a registered member of the National Association of Jewellers. Everything must be done with integrity so the diamonds are conflict-free, all of my materials are ethically sourced. The fact that I’m making everything myself also means that it’s not being made by people getting paid low salaries in very poor working conditions. It’s all fair trade.
How does your bespoke service work?
I will ask questions to find out what they like, what their favourite piece of jewellery is, if they like something simple or with lots of sparkle, to give me the essence of the design they’re looking for. I’ll do drawings or send similar designs that I’ve done before. It can take two to three weeks to get the design finalised and then if I’m sourcing diamonds or rubies or emeralds, that takes time as well. The customer is kept up-to-date with emails and work-in-progress images.
Do you hallmark your jewellery?
I have my own hallmark from the Edinburgh Assay Office. It’s stamped on every piece that I make. That makes it unique. It also adds value to it and adds authenticity.
Were you surprised to win the award on 10th July?
I’d won it before in 2019 so I thought, maybe they’ll give it to somebody else. When they called out my name I was like, wow! I actually won it two years in a row because the years in between were cancelled because of the pandemic. It’s exciting to win awards but what’s more exciting is working with the customer, finishing the piece and them saying ‘wow!’.
What do you think makes your business stand out from the others?
It’s all about the customer journey. From the minute they come in I make them feel welcome. It’s more than a shop, it’s a welcoming space. I never forget any of my customers.