Interview with Jewellery Designer Benjamin Hawkins

by: Nazanean Shirani

21-Apr-17

After completing the Foundation Programme here at the Goldsmiths’ Centre, Ben Hawkins went on to do his apprenticeship before setting up Benjamin Hawkins London. Now Resident Jeweller at Sarabande: The Lee Alexander McQueen Foundation, we caught up with Ben about his experiences and future plans.

Lovely to have you here Ben! Tell us a little about yourself, including what you have been up to since graduating in 2014 from the Foundation Programme at the Goldsmiths’ Centre.

Lovely to be here! My name is Benjamin Hawkins, I'm a 22 year old Londoner and the founder of Benjamin Hawkins London. Straight after I graduated from the Foundation Programme, I went into an apprenticeship in a bespoke workshop in Hatton Garden. It was there I started to hone my skills in making and designing fine jewellery, as I’d go straight from speaking with a customer and drawing in front of them, to making the piece by hand. The jewellery I made there was a fantastic start, but it was focussed mainly on wedding and engagement rings and was quite commercial so I quickly started itching to make something more creative and I had lots of ideas of my own.

The Goldsmiths’ Centre made me aware of an opportunity to work alongside one of the most respected craftsmen in Hatton garden as a freelance mounter. I accepted it without hesitation. The role allowed me to work on my own and the customer base I had grew organically.  I also continued to develop my own ideas as well as some of his immaculate pieces. I wanted to absorb all the wisdom I could, so I went from an amazing open planned, state of the art workshop into a small little workshop where I bumped my head on every light fitting!

Shortly after this I was contacted by Shaun Leane to apply for a place at the Lee Alexander McQueen Foundation, Sarabande, to be a resident jeweller in the building. I was offered a place and it has been an amazing experience to go from a very traditional workshop in Hatton Garden, learning how to make things with immaculate accuracy and with classic beauty, to working next to people creating skirts out of fibreglass and catwalk pieces. This really broadened my understanding of what could be done. So I set up a design studio in the Sarabande building to do all my drawing and kept my traditional goldsmiths bench in Hatton Garden. This is when I set up the company, Benjamin Hawkins London and here we are.

How would you describe your current work? And where do you find your inspiration?

My current work is mostly bespoke fine jewellery. This covers the whole continuum of what can be made. I make time to get to know each customer as best I can in order to produce something that is not just unique but utterly tailored around the end wearer. Clients come with a initial idea or give me freedom to make a piece. So for this work the customers are the inspiration behind each piece. However, I have a collection on the way, and inspiration is never solely found in one place, but for this one, music has definitely been my main stimulus. I tend to daydream a lot and when music is on I drift off immediately. I find my best ideas in these moments.

How has the bench skills you learnt on the Foundation Programme helped you start your own business?

The more I'm submerged into this industry the more I value my bench skills. If you know how something is made you know much more than just what order to assemble the pieces. You have the understanding to go and produce master works that look amazing inside and out. Anyone can draw a car but it won’t work unless you can build the engine! - That’s the best way I can describe it.

During your studies you won the Catherine Jones of Cambridge competition and the Benvenuto Cellini Award for Craftsmanship; and last year you were listed as one of Retail Jeweller’s Rising Stars 30 Under 30. Tell us more about these awards and what they mean to you.

These awards all came as a surprise! It’s been a rollercoaster few years and it’s only the beginning! They mean a lot as one was for design, one for making and the other recognised my endeavours. I tend to overthink, so to have this sort of recognition really affirms my ability in my own mind. Hopefully there will be many more to come!

In your opinion, what attributes do you need to enter a career in jewellery design and manufacture?

Curiosity, excitement and aesthetic appreciation is all you need! To have the curiosity to attempt things you haven't been shown or to dream about a goal that seems out of your reach at that time - be that a design or a complex piece you wish to make. Excitement is imperative as people will carry you if you are excited to learn and improve. You won’t get anywhere if you are looking to go through the motions. Also excitement when you are designing something, to free your mind and really create something stunning! Finally, an eye for aesthetics… You may not be able to draw a perfect portrait or make a complex necklace from day one, but as long as you have the ability to see things like symmetry and proportion, the rest can be learned! That’s when the first two attributes come back into use.

What advice would you give to anyone who is thinking of applying for the Foundation Programme?

Do it! The jewellery industry allows you to design and create anything, be that a drawing to making something by hand! It’s an outlet to let your creativity flow, and people can wear and love the things you produce. Jewellery is art with sentiment; it can mean so much and look however you want it to. As long as you can drape it on your finger, ear, wrist, toe, ankle or anywhere you feel fit to - it’s jewellery. The industry has so many facets so everyone is valued for their skills. The Foundation Programme is the ultimate start because you touch upon so many of these facets, and you are able to learn more in that one year about some things than many people do in their whole career. It allows you to see the potential of what can be done. Not only that, but the course is taught by experts and run by people who genuinely want to get the best out of you. In my opinion it’s the perfect start to a career with no limits.

You can see more of Ben's work online:

Instagram @benjaminhawkinslondon

www.benjaminhawkins.co.uk

Aged 16 to 19? Click here for more information and how to apply for the Foundation Programme at the Goldsmiths' Centre.