Interview with jeweller Clio Saskia
Find out how jeweller Clio Saskia has channeled her love of wildlife into beautiful, animal inspired fine jewellery.
What’s your career background?
Before I became a full-time jewellery designer and maker I worked as a freelance sculptor and technical assistant. I studied contemporary Sculpture at Camberwell College and after graduating in 2013 I worked within the same department as an assistant to disabled students.
This was a fantastic way to apply all the skills I learnt while studying, and I loved being able to help students realise their amazing and ambitious ideas. This job was part-time, which meant I had a few hours during the week where I had time to develop my jewellery skills.
In 2016 I moved to the Gemfields in Australia for six months, where I mined for sapphires and zircon in the outback. It was probably the hardest physical work I’ve ever done, but it was a fantastic experience – and I even found some gems, which I now use in my jewellery!
Upon returning to London, I spent a year studying part-time at the British Academy of Jewellery, while working as a Workshop Manager in a fine jewellery store, before starting my business, Clio Saskia. For the past year and a half, I have been designing and creating my own pieces, and working on various exciting bespoke projects.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
As a sculptor turned jeweller I have certain modelling and carving skills which are more unusual in the industry. I have always been curious about animals; my childhood memories involve combing through the grass following ant trails, falling in the pond trying to catch a glimpse of an elusive frog or night-time scuba dives exploring hidden coves.
This has developed into a deep love and fascination for the natural world. Most importantly I want my jewellery to stay true to the animals that energise it, which means wholeheartedly embracing the weird with the wonderful.
How did you move from idea to actual business?
At heart I am a real creative, and I would be happy carving pieces all day every day, but I realised quickly it isn’t possible to run a business that way. I was lucky enough to be selected as one of five jewellers for the Setting Out Program 2019-2020 at the Goldsmiths’ Centre.
This gave me the guidance I needed to understand what was special about my jewellery and design, who my customers are and what they want to feel when they wear a piece of jewellery.
Aspects of this kind of self-reflection can be quite painful, because what I want to make is not always a good idea, but it is essential to building a sustainable business and I now know how to apply my skills to create amazing pieces which are playful, wearable and distinctively Clio Saskia.
What’s your USP?
Weird and wonderful creatures! I am passionate about discovering amazing animals, which are often overlooked, and sharing their fascinating idiosyncrasies with the world. I have developed my carving skills to a level where I can replicate an animal’s features and enhance them within a piece of fine jewellery.
I choose to use ethically sourced gemstones and recycled metal to contribute to positive change within the industry. My designs are joyful and playful, and a real celebration of our amazing natural world.
Who’s your target audience?
My jewellery is designed to empower the wearer and reinforce how wonderful it is that we are all different in our own unique way. These are not creations specifically designed for men or women, they are for anyone who feels a special affinity towards them.
Many of my customers want to celebrate happy occasions, which is reflected in the playful and textural nature of my designs.
How do you spread the word about what you do?
I absolutely love what I do, and I am lucky enough to work in an industry that many people appreciate, admire, have a connection to and want to talk about.
Most people I speak to have their own fascinating stories around meaningful items of jewellery that they have been given by friends or family, or pieces they have purchased themselves at special times in their lives. On social media I like to share what goes on behind the scenes and show all the elements and skills that go in to creating my pieces.
What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?
Making really ambitious pieces and sharing the creation process! I think when people understand the effort that has gone in to creating something and have followed its evolution from concept to final piece, they become emotionally invested and supportive of what you are trying to achieve.
I have also been very honest about my love for what some might consider quite strange creatures – my jewellery is quite characterful and therefore some people won’t like it, and that is fine with me. Don’t lose yourself by trying to please everyone, celebrate what you love.
What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
Business. I am not business minded and I struggled to prioritise making a living over making lovely things. At the end of the day, I want to make jewellery for the next 30 or 40 years, and it has been challenging to figure out a business model which will allow me to do that.
I highly recommend anyone who feels they are facing a similar dilemma to dedicate time to a short business course. It has allowed me to understand pricing, cash flow, how to reach customers etc., which I would have really struggled with on my own.
And your proudest moment so far?
Launching my first collection, Where The Wild Things Are, in November last year. It was the culmination of a full year of immensely hard work, and it is a fantastic feeling to be able to share this with my loyal customers, and my friends and family.
Why is work so important to you?
Because it gives me immense joy. I genuinely enjoy almost all aspects of running my own jewellery business, so going to work every day is a pleasure.
Creating new designs inspires me, and the research I get to do about new animals and their particular habits is fascinating. I also work alongside wonderfully talented craftspeople who I learn from all the time, and I am creatively challenged by exciting ideas from customers.
Who inspires you?
My all-time favourite jewellers are Hemmerle – their designs are exquisite, and the craftsmanship and innovation which goes into each and every one of their pieces is phenomenal. They also choose fantastic textural subjects to recreate in precious materials, such a cabbages, mushrooms and chestnuts.
How do you balance your work with your family?
I like to involve my family in my work and share my ideas and challenges with them. It helps me to work through issues I’m facing by getting a second opinion, and often allows me to sort out the problems faster!
I also personally work better in a structured environment, but I really struggle to create that for myself. So, I often work to my partner’s timeline, so I know how long I have to get certain tasks done, and when I need to leave the studio and go home. This gives me a really nice balance, so I work hard when I’m at work and really enjoy the time I spend at home.
What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?
Take some time to understand your own motivations. Why do you want to follow a certain career? What do you enjoy about it? What are you good at and what do you need help with? What is special about what you do? Why will people like it or want it? How can you improve what you do?
Then I also highly recommend researching people or businesses that you look up to, enabling you to understand what makes them successful. What do they do well? What can you do better? What do you have to offer that is different? How and where do they sell, and why do their customers choose them?
And finally, identify what you need to do to reach your goal and make it happen. Do you need help understanding finances, so do you need to do a business course? Are you lacking certain skills, so do you need to get specific work experience?
Start by setting yourself small, manageable tasks which are easily achieved, rather than enormous mountains of work. And lastly, be passionate about what you do and don’t forget why you are trying to achieve your goal!
Find out more about Clio Saskia.