Creative Resources for Creative People
Silver spiral jewellery by Daniela Dobesova, winner of the Craftsman Magazine Newcomer Award at bctf 2006. (Photo Simon Rowe).

Daniela Dobesova

by Angie Boyer

Exhibiting at a trade fair for the first time can seem a little daunting, but with the right preparation and support, can be a positive experience. Sarah Franklin of Women in Rural Enterprise (WiRE) considers the experiences of six women she took to the British Craft Trade Fair (bctf) in April this year and uncovers the key to successful showcasing.

“When I’m working, all my energy goes into my jewellery and everything else stands still,” said Daniela Dobesova, winner of the Craftsman Magazine Newcomer Award at bctf 2006. It’s easy to appreciate Daniela’s dedication to her work as she talks about her determination to establish a successful small business making contemporary precious metal jewellery. “I know that I probably spend too long ensuring that everything is perfect,” she reflects, “but I am not prepared to compromise on the standard of design and making in my work.” Even from an early age Daniela knew that she wanted to do something creative. “I love music,” she told me, “and I’ve always enjoyed singing and playing the guitar; when I was as young as eleven I was considering whether I might pursue a career in music, but later realized that it’s an incredibly difficult field to make a living in - much like jewellery making, I suppose!”

Daniela first started designing and making jewellery in 1990 at the Design School in her home city of Prague. “I spent four years at Design School, specializing in 3D Design and Jewellery at the earliest opportunity.” After Design School, she attended a Language School in Prague to study English further and “bring it up to standard”. Daniela then took up employment in the IT industry. “I was accepted for the job because my English was good and I was hoping to save enough money to be able to set up in business as a jewellery designer-maker. However, after a couple of years, and having researched the market, I realized it would be a struggle to get a business like this off the ground in such a small country with its limited economy.” Daniela also realized that working in the world of IT was not for her “I just thought to myself, ‘hang on, I can’t do this’, I really want to do something creative.” Then, with ‘the fall of the iron curtain’ in 1989, came the opportunity for the first time to travel overseas. “I decided it was time for me to make the most of it, to see the world and further my English studies.”

She had a complete change and combined travel and work - working at summer camps in America where she taught arts and crafts and jewellery making. “At one time I was in Maine, a very wealthy area, so it was possible to use precious metals even with young children when I was teaching, which was quite unusual. It worked out that I could teach for a couple of months and then travel for a couple of months,” she recalled. She would return to Prague periodically, but then it would be back to America, perhaps California, to teach and travel again. It may appear to have been a rather haphazard existence, but when she looks back on it Daniela is confident that this experience in ‘the land of opportunities’ helped to confirm in her own mind her ambition for a career in jewellery design. “This time away from home was a real confidence-builder, helping me believe I could achieve what ever I set out to do.” In 2000 she decided to move to the UK. “I first studied English for ten months then, whilst supporting my studies by working part time, I took up an HND jewellery course at Richmond College of Art.” Three years later, having completed the course and achieved a Distinction, she was offered an artist residency at the college for a year. It was when she was working on research for a college project that she first came up with ideas for jewellery designs based around a spiral. “The spiral theme, which has become my signature-style, evolved from several influences coming together, having structure and function of many natural and man-made objects, things as different as the structure of DNA and the slinky toy. I felt it had so many unique qualities, both functional and aesthetic, which hadn’t been really explored in contemporary jewellery. The resulting collection reflects the desire to reveal the spiral’s full potential through ongoing exploration of the form.

“I believe that it’s the quality of design that sets a thing apart and good design needs to go through a long process. For a long time I needed to focus on one concept, the spiral, for it to develop. I now have several different ranges, all revolving around that one idea, giving my jewellery the distinctive style and ‘signature’ that is so important in becoming recognized. I believe that good design is not about blindly following fashions; but about creating something with lasting appeal.” Created using a coiling technique that she developed herself, the current collection is based around spiral forms, which are distinctly tapered. “I also experimented with the spiral’s physical properties, such as tension and elasticity, to create innovative technical solutions, including the original clasps and fittings on many pieces, which seamlessly integrate form and function. I still constantly find new applications for the techniques and ideas I’ve developed. I’m currently working on two new ranges, one incorporating more precious and semiprecious gems, the other giving the spiral theme a slightly ‘new twist’. Introducing new work keeps the collection fresh, and appealing through continued innovation, rather than being overtly fashion-driven.” Although Daniela is rich with ideas for new designs, she tries to discipline herself in her work. “I need to focus on my current work and not be distracted by other inspirations and ideas,” she said.

“I know that there’s no point in coming up with fantastic ideas for a new range until I’ve successfully marketed and established the first one. The last twelve months has been spent concentrating on the marketing aspect of my business - now that I have the products, I need to earn a living from them. I’m proud of the work I’ve developed and feel that it’s ready to be actively marketed now.” Daniela’s business is still very young, she considers that the past eighteen months or so were a bit of a ‘test’ period, to gauge reaction to her work. It seems that her jewellery has passed the test - her ‘Inspiralled’ collection has caught the eye of several award judges as well as ourselves. Daniela first won an award in 2001 from the Victoria and Albert Museum. “The V&A runs an annual award scheme called ‘inspired by the V&A collections’. I was still a student at the time and to see one of my pieces displayed in the museum’s silver collection was simply fantastic.” Since then she has gained two silver awards from the Goldsmiths’ Craftsmanship and Design Awards and took second place in the 2006 Kayman Awards with the British Jewellery Association.

“I am equally proud of all of these awards as they each relate to different aspects of my work, illustrating that it appeals to a wide variety of judges with differing judging criteria.” This recognition has come as a result of hard work and dedication, not only as a jewellery designer maker, but also from a business point of view. Nothing comes without a degree of effort and, although marketing is not Daniela’s favourite task, she astutely recognized the potential publicity that awards could gain her. “I have very little budget (if any) for marketing,” she told me. “Trying to compete against the big companies, with large advertising budgets, is extremely tough. I simply couldn’t manage it, but I realised that one way to get publicity is to enter for competitions. They all have different aspects and are looking for different things, something you have to be aware of when applying.” Being a designer maker and running a small business requires lots of different skills and Daniela readily admits that she doesn’t find it easy to switch from business to the creative side of things. “My biggest problem is time management, really, I always want whatever I’m working on to be perfect and I find letting go and accepting quite hard to do.” She is wise enough, however, to realise that she needs to look at different markets for her work. “It’s not easy to earn a living solely from supplying galleries, so I need to also develop a slightly more commercial range. I have learnt that ‘commercial’ doesn’t have to mean a lower quality or standard, being commercial is all to do with time management and you have to learn to work more simply and produce something with a different price structure whilst still being innovative.”

To a certain extent Daniela’s partner, Simon, has been able to help her with the marketing aspect of her business, especially with the development of her website. “Together we have put a lot of effort into PR and at last feel that we’re getting somewhere,” she said. “I recently had a whole page interview published in the Bracknell & Ascot News, which was excellent publicity for my jewellery on a local basis. Precious metal jewellery is the one discipline that’s really overcrowded, so marketing and promotion is an ongoing task, really. Sadly, the UK jewellery market is dominated by low-cost mass produced imports and it is a big challenge to help customers understand, appreciate and value individually hand crafted designer jewellery.” Daniela considers that it is the design and unique quality of handcrafted jewellery that gives it a value, not the amount of metal or the size of a gemstone used in it. “I believe that good design gives value to the materials used in a piece, not the other way around. Knowing who designed and made a particular piece is special, the passion that they have for their work reflected in what they make gives an added dimension that cannot exist in mass produced items.” Daniela is a member of the British Jewellers Association and a member of ‘Design Protect’ run by Briffa. Pieces from the Spiral Collection are available in silver and 18ct gold and can be purchased direct from Daniela (a trade price list for retail buyers is available on request). Daniela’s latest achievement, which she only found out about literally days before this issue of Craftsman went to press, was to win the the ‘Gift & Fashion Jewellery’ category of the 2006 Gift of the Year, presented by the GA. “I’m really thrilled with all the successes and appreciation for my work this year, it’s a great confidence builder,” she said.

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Craftsman Magazine - Issue 182
Crafts at Blackthorpe Barn

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