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March 22, 2021 —

Meet the Maker: Clare Elizabeth Kilgour

Clare Elizabeth Kilgour creates minimalistic jewellery from recycled silver and brass (including unwanted jewellery and industrial items)
jewellery in a ceramic dish
Shelley Welti
91 Magazine online content editor,
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We spoke to the Wales-based jewellery designer to hear about her journey so far, the inspiration for her collections and why she encourages other makers to start thinking ‘what if it all goes right?’…

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Hi Clare, why and when did you decide to start your jewellery business?

September 2017 after leaving a job that was taking its toll on my mental and physical health. In the initial few months, I worked as a housekeeper at hotels and took on wedding work with my floristry design to support my income whilst I built up my collection and attended independent makers markets and slowly started to sell my work online.

What had you done previously? 

Since graduating from a contemporary applied arts degree at university eleven years ago, I had been designing and making work on a sale and return basis for galleries during the evenings and weekends alongside various job roles. The collection I was designing and making back then was a different collection to what I design and make today.

I have been a jewellery technician at a college in Wales, then went on to be a workshop coordinator at a college in Devon managing a large jewellery workshop. Here, I supported students with technical support through their degrees in contemporary applied arts, jewellery and silversmithing.

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How would you describe your business’ ethos?

I am passionate about designing and making considered, affordable and wearable items that are both sustainable and made to last, which can be worn and enjoyed everyday. I use recycled materials rather than extracting from our world’s depleting natural resources, calculating only the amount of materials I need and reusing any waste and off cuts within my designs, and consciously seek new ways to continue to develop a sustainable working practice.

Can you tell us a little about the processes used to create your work?

Each of my items are made by hand using either recycled silver also known as eco silver (which has been made using discharged items, off cuts, scraps etc.)  and brass sheet or rod/ wire formed metal.

Each item is measured and cut by hand either using a hand-held piercing jewellery saw or metal die punch for anything that starts as a disc shape.

Depending on the thickness of metal or which item I am making the metal is either shaped without being heated first  or annealed, which is the process of softening the metal using a jewellery torch making the metal more malleable enabling the metal to formed it into shape.

Any joins or earring posts are then soldered by hand using silver solder. Each item is then sanded either on the electric sander or by hand. This softens any rough edges created at the cutting stage and neatens any edges or adds definition to an item, before they are polished ready to be packed and wrapped.

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You’re passionate about using recycled silver and brass, why is this important to you?

Like with many materials, there are so many that get discarded that can be reused so rather than extracting more from our world’s every depleting core, I believe in reusing those items to extend the materials’ life.

The recycled silver I use is produced from 100% recycled scrap, unwanted jewellery items, as well as discarded industrial products, including old medical equipment and electronics. A surgeon once told me that some of the equipment they use is made out of platnium. These are all items that, in time, become discarded and can be reused.

I believe that reusing and recycling waste items such as these to make hand-crafted jewellery, can in time help prevent our world’s depleting natural resources.

Which is your most popular product?

Since I first launched it back in January 2019 at my first trade event Top Drawer, my brass hair set has been one of my best sellers. It’s been lovely to hear the different feedback from customers; the main one being a plastic free alternative to a hair tie, and other messages that have said they find it a gentle alternative to keeping their hair back without the pull on their head that using an elastic hair tie can cause, as well as being adaptable to a range of styles.

91 Magazine interview with Clare Elizabeth Kilgour
91 Magazine chats to jewellery designer Clare Elizabeth Kilgour

Do you have a favourite?

My favourite pieces seem to change. If I were to choose one other than my hair pin set and the new brass hair clip,  I would say it would be my minimal D ring  as it was one of my very first items I designed and sold when I first became full time self-employed and is still a core item in my everyday collection three and a half years on. It’s a product that I have continued to develop and adapt, most recently as part of my new Nerth – Strength collection.

What does a typical day look like for you? 

Each day starts with breakfast, I have a rough routine I follow each day, but I’m trying to learn to be less harsh on myself when things go off track as there are things that can crop up that need to be solved or worked on more urgently than other jobs on my daily and weekly job list.

I try to set out my weekly job lists generally on a Sunday evening, then daily jobs for the next day at the end of each day so I know where I’m up to when I start the following morning.

Apart from when I’m standing to pack orders, I am mostly sat down so I head out for a walk each day. I love the light around sunrise and later in the day before the sun sets. There’s definitely something calming about being out at these times; before and after the hustle and bustle of the day.

I would be lost if I wasn’t able to head outdoors each day. It’s been my life line over the years, I find it just as an important part of my work as the other other aspects – especially if I’m struggling to solve a problem that I need to work through. Having that time outside can help me process and work through it.

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How do you approach PR and marketing?

Nervously, but it’s something I’m slowly building my confidence with! I find is hard to articulate what I would like to say sometimes but I really enjoy the visual side of social media and am grateful for the kindness and support of the Instagram community.

I enjoy being able able to give customers an insight into my work and workshop through the use of social media platforms, in particularly Instagram – and being able to get instant reactions to new products and build connections that I may not have been able to make if these digital platform did not exist.

I really enjoy face to face contact with customers and promoting my products in person. I’ve really missed going to markets and shows over the last year and I’m looking forward to seeing and meeting customers in person again soon.

What’s next for you?

My aim for the year is to hopefully take on an extra pair of hands to help with production. I am also working on a series of mini exclusive collections with the aim to be launched during spring, summer and autumn.

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91 Magazine Clare Elizabeth Kilgour

If you were to share any words of wisdom with readers looking to start a creative business what would they be?

Never wait until you think an item or product is 100% perfect. We can be our own worst critics. It’s better to launch it,  than never to launch at all. I’m trying to learn to say to myself more: ‘what if it goes well?‘ and not ‘what if it goes wrong?’.

What’s been your highlight so far? 

One of my aims at the beginning was to attend a trade event with my collections. Attending Top Drawer in London in 2019 and Maison&Objet in Paris in 2020 have both been incredible experiences where I’ve been lucky enough to meet new independent stockists who now stock my work, both here in the UK and further afield including Switzerland, Denmark, Belgium, France and Italy.

91 Magazine Clare Elizabeth Kilgour

How does your location inspire you?

The natural environment and the materials I work with are an inspiration to me. My recent new additions to my everyday collection (the trio and single oval drops) were inspired by the honesty seed pods, I came across on one of my daily walks. The environment and shapes found in natural and urban landscapes and the materials I work with continue to inspire me.

Quick-fire questions

Describe your work in three words…

Recycled, minimal and everyday

What are your creating rituals?

Music and podcasts when I’m making. Quiet when I’m writing, typing or designing.

Tea or Coffee?

Hot water and lemon.

Mountains or sea?

This is such a hard one to choose. Early morning sunrise mountain walk followed by an afternoon swimming in the sea!

Night owl or early bird? 

Early bird.

See more from Clare via her website and on Instagram.

All photography by Carolyn Carter

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