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How to be a...

How to be a jewelry designer

Eliza Mills Nov 19, 2018
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Polly Wales, center, at her studio in Los Angeles.
Courtesy of Polly Wales Fine Jewelry

Everyone has a dream job growing up: doctor, vet, ice cream taste tester. But how do you actually get the gig? Marketplace is looking into how with the occasional series How to be a …


I’m Polly Wales, I’m the director, founder and designer at Polly Wales Fine Jewelry. 

I did a degree. And then I did a master’s at the Royal College of Art. You’re with other artists and designers for that two-year intensive period, and everybody is just geeking out on whatever it is that they love. Prior to training as a jeweler, I had studied sculpture. I felt like it wasn’t a very direct way to communicate with people, and one of the things I love about jewelry is that mostly jewelry is given as tokens of love for commemorations. It has a sort of much more immediate connection with people.

I know a lot of designers who design collections, find manufacturers, put their vision on paper and have those pieces produced. And they make some really, really amazing work. That’s not an avenue that I sort of know very much about, because I went to college and got the training to do it. And I mean, I think that’s really the way to go about it, set up a little bench somewhere, get yourself some lessons. Keep going and try to do something that feels true to you and different from other people. 

This sapphire, diamond and gold monkey ring was listed for $39,600. 

Tenacity and commitment and passion I think are really important. And attention to detail and and patience. The way that I’ve gone about building my business was not by designing a collection and getting a backer and getting some money and getting somebody else to make it. Every single piece that I made then funded the next piece that I made until it grew and grew and grew.

I’m at the bench about three days a week, and I love it. It’s just a very direct, meditative way of working. And that’s what I’ve always loved doing … it really is idiosyncratic, so every time you try to make piece, you look at it, and it’s never going to be the same as another one. And then once it’s gone into the cast and it comes out in gold, we all kind of gather around the table and look at it and ooh and aah, and it’s, it’s like Christmas Day. 

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