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Paul Spurgeon, 'The Goldsmiths' Goldsmith'

by Helen Johnson

Published: May 2013

Paul Spurgeon has won many awards for his jewellery in precious metals and stones, and is now involved in training jewellery makers abroad.
Paul began as a trainee setter with Soude Jewellery, and later took an apprenticeship with David Pearce. He says, “I can thank my Mum for that – she heard from a friend of a friend that he had a place.”
Paul says, “We often use the word genius, but David absolutely was one of life’s geniuses. He had many skills, and he had a child-like approach to what he created. For instance, he made ‘Fairy Galleons’. One had a hull made from a nautilus, another was made from an eight-million year old fossil. They were mythical galleons, with gold, rubies and sapphires set in them.”
“My training with David was not formal, it was more abstract.  Sometimes it was bizarre – we scrabbled round the workshop to find bits of metal to melt down to make things.  There was never any money.  Many people – dealers; retailers; clients, would say that this guy could be rich, with all his talents.  But they missed the point of this man.  To David, talent and creativity were wealth.”
“He used to say that a person’s talents were limited only to their imagination.”
After learning with David, Paul worked with Frank Kenney.  Paul says, “With Frank, I learned more traditional skills, such as how to do a coronet cluster.”
From there, Paul founded his own business, “In a boxroom in Westcliff-on-Sea, in Essex.” That was many years ago, and Paul has since built a reputation. However, he says, “I don’t see myself as the efficient businessman – I’m led more by heart than head.  But I’m able to sell my product, and we’ve been blessed with the customers we’ve had.”
As well as making private commissions, Paul sells collections to retailers. He says, “We had some great opportunities, for instance supplying precious metal jewellery to ‘Next the Jewellers’. That enabled us to build a nice house and workshop. Unfortunately, ‘Next’ didn’t carry on, but we did. We do new collections each year, under the umbrella of our look and brand.”
Asked to define ‘we’, Paul replies, “I hate using ‘I’, and anyway, it’s nonsense. Staff, friends, family, mentors, people you meet – they all go together to create ‘I’. I pretty much do all the designing, but I’m influenced by others, the environment, the places I’ve been to.”
“Recently, for instance, I visited the Jantar Mantar in Jaipur, India. It’s a wonderful 18th century creation by Prince Jai Singh II. I was there with students, sketching snapshots of the architecture and implements used to learn about the cosmos.”
With inspiration coming from such a wide-ranging environment, how does Paul hone his creations to produce his personal style, a recognisable ‘brand’?  He considers: “That’s one of the most difficult things to explain. I wish I could say, but it’s like an evolution process – incredibly slow. It comes fragment by fragment. I can sketch nothing for six months, then can pick up again where I left off. I don’t know why, but it seems significant.”
Nowadays, Paul has influence from South Africa, where he has a partnership in a training enterprise.  It all began in 2009, when he was invited to a jewellery workshop. He says, “At that workshop, I met Nqobile Nkosi. He was very passionate, and we became friends.”
Nqobile wanted to make jewellery, and had begun training in 2007. He funded himself by selling cakes and drinks on the streets of Soweto, and set up a workshop in his mother’s backyard.
Led by heart rather than head, Paul says, “I just said to Nqobile, why don’t we open the first jewellers’ in Soweto?”
They were both enthused by the idea, and Paul says, “I came home and mentioned the idea to contacts, and they were generous in donating tools, etc.”
Thus, ‘Cornerstone’ was born.  Paul’s aim is to help South Africans to gain skills, jobs and a sustainable income. He says, “My old boss said that it was my duty to pass on the skills I’d learned. I’m not a natural teacher, but as a goldsmith, I feel I’m helping to improve the lives of those who’ve given us the resources for our work. South Africa is rich in gold and platinum, but unfortunately the benefits have eluded some of the indigenous people.”
“We opened our first jewellery business as a partnership. It’s in Vilakazi Street, near the Mandela House Museum.”
Initially, Paul made designs for Cornerstone, starting with simple ones that could be made as the workers developed skills. He sells them in the UK, with profits going back to Africa.
The ultimate aim, says Paul, “Is Jewellery made by South Africans, and bought by South Africans. But presently we’re supplying UK customers with some jewellery that we have manufactured here and abroad – the staff get decent money – but it enables us to sell it at the right UK price points, and a percentage goes to Cornerstone projects. It’s because in South Africa, they’re limited in skills.  South Africa are selling what they can make, but you can’t make a goldsmith overnight. Over time, their skills will get greater.”
So far, Cornerstone has been, says Paul, “Sometimes a social project, sometimes a business, sometimes a charity,” supported by donors, sponsors, and, increasingly, sales. Now, says Paul, “We want a co-operative, a viable business, with the workers as stakeholders.  It’s been split into two businesses. In the UK, it’s Cornerstone Creations Ltd, and in South Africa, it’s NQ Design Services, but both have the same three directors: myself, Nqobile, and Jerry Nkeli, a South African investor.”
And, says Paul, “We’ll have the Cornerstone School of Jewellery, which will be a not for profit social enterprise. We aim to take half a dozen or so youngsters, proven to be keen - we’ll do a test period to prove how keen they are – then train them to a level when they can leave the school and join the business.”
Meanwhile, Paul’s contacts have helped Nqobile to pursue his passion in jewellery making. “For instance,” says Paul, “Nqobile has visited Weston Beamor, a respected casting and complete jewellery solutions company based in Birmingham. He has spent time with them, and now taken the knowledge he has learnt back to Soweto. So he’s building networks and help.”
Nqobile is also developing his own designs, with Paul as a mentor. Paul says, “He’s been making bespoke commissions for a private client. And he makes a lot of big chains with chunky links that are very fashionable in South Africa at present. They’re a bit urban, a bit edgy.”
“We want to create a brand, but you can’t develop a brand overnight, it’s not just about packaging.  It’s about philosophy, about developing a look, a feel, a style.”
In the UK, the Cornerstone brand has a brochure featuring Paul.  He says, “That’s fine in the UK, where I’m known.  But we took it to a South African PR firm, and they made a salient point: who is this guy?  He might be known in the UK, but in South Africa, we don’t know who he is.”
However, says Paul, “Nqobile has become a celebrity in South Africa - he was asked to release the lottery balls.  He’s won awards, and Cornerstone was chosen for a South African TV documentary following the development of black entrepreneurs.”
Therefore, Nqobile is the face for the South African marketing campaign, and Paul says, “We’ve done as much groundwork as possible, getting publicity, giving interviews and so on.”
In the UK, Paul says, “We don’t need to go to a PR agency- we have a great story, and people love the product. I’ve just done Desire, the Jewellery & Silversmithing Fair in London.  I had Cornerstone in one cabinet and Paul Spurgeon Designs in the other, and Cornerstone did brilliantly.”
Next, Paul has been asked to help ‘Future Brilliance’, a project to train jewellery makers in Afghanistan. He comments, “Afghanistan is estimated to have $3 trillion dollars’ worth of gemstones.”
The time that Paul has invested in Soweto has, he says, “Been counterproductive to my own business, and lost me money.” But, like his old boss, Paul doesn’t measure his wealth in money. He says, “I’m getting back spiritual satisfaction, rather than money – and that’s rich beyond rich.”

Paul Spurgeon Design:
T: 01223 891181


"So long, and thanks for all the fish"

After very many years of craft&design we've decided that we'd like to retire and so in 146 days we will close the craft&design website, including craft&design Online and the craft&design Selected Makers and Craft and Design Month websites. We've had a brilliant 35 years and would like to thank all our readers, advertisers, writers, contributors and website visitors for their support throughout that time. Our very best wishes to you all for the future - Angie and Paul.