I set up my business with a loan from the Prince’s Trust
I graduated with a first class honours degree in Jewellery Design from Central St Martins in 1988. I went to The Prince’s Trust, which gave me an initial loan of £4600 to invest in my first collection of enamelled silver cufflinks. Paul Smith [the fashion designer] was my first customer. I then went on to sell the collections worldwide to leading luxury stores and galleries.
I love the small scale and fineness of making jewellery
I love putting detail and meaning into my work. Jewellery has an emotional connection, as it is often given to mark an occasion or as a token of commitment. So I get great satisfaction in creating items which will be worn and treasured for many generations. I love sitting with my customers and listening to them to understand what they are looking for. It’s my aim to exceed their expectations.
I fell in love with enamel for its unique qualities
For me, it’s a way of painting on metal. Vitreous enamelling is a very labour-intensive process. It involves fusing ground glass onto metal by firing in a kiln at 780°c. It is a traditional craft, centuries old, and it isn’t very forgiving if the conditions aren’t perfect. I might spend many hours working on a piece, only to find that the enamel refuses to stay as I intended it. I’m always learning, even with my many years of experience. I must be adaptable and understand my medium in order to be able to experiment with it.
Taking on my wonderful team has been my best business decision
They allow me to concentrate on my strengths within the business, and help me where I need support.
Not taking deposits at first was my worst decision
In the early stages of my business, I took commissions without understanding how important it is to take deposits. I learned the hard way that it was too easy for a customer to change their mind when I had already invested time and money in the materials.
It is important to take yourself out of your comfort zone
I need to do that to continually strive to develop and enhance my business. In 2013, I had the wonderful opportunity to exhibit at Buckingham Palace for the Coronation Festival. It was an honour to be exhibiting alongside all the established Royal Warrant-holding companies. But, as a small business, it was a challenge to orchestrate an exhibition to such a high standard.
I have been supplying HRH The Prince of Wales with items for his official gift range since 1994
As a small business which has the privilege of being able to display a Royal Warrant, I am committed to strive at all times for excellence of service and quality.
Having started my business with a loan from the Prince’s Trust, I have been extremely fortunate to have the Prince’s support. I am so grateful for the initial loan, without which I couldn’t have afforded to invest in my first collection. As a young female craftsperson back then, I know how difficult it is to be taken seriously by banks and other sources of investment.
My products are all entirely handmade in the UK. It is extremely important that we value these skills as part of our cultural heritage and pass them on to the next generation. This is something that the Prince takes a great interest in, and we were lucky enough to have had the opportunity to show him personally when he visited our workshop last year.
I am a Trustee of QEST
The Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust is the charitable arm of the Royal Warrant Holders’ Association. QEST was established to help support craftspeople of all ages and from all backgrounds at a critical stage in their careers, and so sustain traditional British craftsmanship. As a craftsperson myself, I understand how difficult it is to fund this without help and QEST’s support for the scholars is invaluable – it has been life changing in many instances. I have been involved in the selection and interview process for scholars and apprentices for several years.
The secret of success is being involved in every aspect of the business
I am continually striving for perfection and it’s very important to build relationships with your customers, who will be the best advertisement for your company’s product and services. You need commitment, drive and determination. It’s also important to be flexible, adaptable and open to opportunities when they arise.
Find out more about enamel jewellery maker Fiona Rae.