When did you first start making jewellery and why?
Like a lot of left handed people, I have always been good with my hands and I excelled at art, woodwork, metalwork and other technical subjects at school.
In my fourth year in metalwork, I designed and built a go-kart with a 50cc engine.
Once I had finished that project, everything else was a bit of a bore, but I got on very well with my metalwork teacher and one day I was watching him filing a tiny piece of metal. I asked him what he was doing and he told me he was making a setting for a stone out of silver and would I like to have a go.
I absolutely jumped at the chance and I suppose that's where my inspiration for jewellery making began. I was 15 years of age. I am 60 now.
Do you have a studio space you work from? Tell us about it.
I live in Central Brittany, France, where my wife and I have a four and a half acre smallholding. We have a small farm cottage and I have converted part of it into a studio workshop. It is still a work in progress and I seem to change it almost on a daily basis. My workshop space is very important to me and, as most jewellery makers will tell you, it has to be ‘just so’.
Are there any new mediums or techniques that interest you?
I have been making jewellery for so many years that I have tried all the new mediums or at least quite a lot of them. Now I just want to work with gold and silver.
If I had the commissions or the clients, I would prefer to work solely in 18 carat gold, incorporating precious and semi precious stones.
Having said that, I would like to know a lot more about modern casting techniques for the individual craftsman, and a bit more about setting faceted stones.
What aspect of your work do you enjoy the most?
Without doubt, the thing I enjoy the most is the interaction with clients.
Even back in the day, when I had my own High Street shop and had to make a lot of items for stock, I specialised in private commissions.
I have made jewellery for celebrities and even royalty, but what I really enjoy is designing and making something for people like you and me.
What inspires the ideas for your designs?
I would say nowadays my designs come from nature, and in particular the way that trees divide and how their branches and roots intertwine with each other. I think my latest work reflects that.
Do you have any amusing anecdotes about your work?
I used to work in a complex with about twelve other individual craftsmen. No craft was duplicated.
One autumn evening, I was working in my studio, which had glass windows on two sides. In the windows I had trays and trays of jewellery on show. I noticed a woman who first looked very closely in one of my windows, then moved around the corner to look in the other window. She must have been there a good ten minutes.
Then she entered my shop/studio and, to her right, was a cabinet on the wall, again full of jewellery, and to her left and forward, I sat beavering away. I had a screen in front of my workbenches just to protect the public but you could see through this screen and over it, as it was only lower chest height to somebody standing in the shop. This particular lady walked slowly over to where I was working, looked over the screen and said quite slowly and quite clearly ‘Oh, you must be the leather worker’. I almost fell off my chair and all I could think of to say was ‘Yes, that’s right’.
What has been your favourite piece that you've made?
One of my favourite pieces of all time was probably the first time I was invited to the wedding of a couple for whom I had made the engagement ring and wedding rings. That was such a thrill. I stayed friends with that couple for years until they moved to New Zealand.
It’s very strange coming back to making and designing jewellery after being away from it for so long. I went through a liver transplant which was life changing, and, right now, I am a bit gob-smacked, It’s like me watching me making jewellery. It’s great.
What tools could you not live without?
I suppose I wouldn’t want to live without any of my tools.
Every file I pick up, whether it be 6 inch hand file or small needle file, feels great in the hand.
I really like my new pendant drill. I have always had a pendant drill, but never used it as extensively as I do now.
Discovering new accessories for pendant drills which are available nowadays is very exciting. I have always used buffing sticks with different grades of wet and dry on them to clean up my work before polishing but find I am using rubber silicone polishers much much more than I ever have done before.
I have just bought a Smith Little Torch and an Oxy-Con system. The Oxy-Con is a complete revelation and much much safer than bottled oxygen. As I said, I have only just bought this system and am still getting used to it.
What's the best piece of advice you can give to someone wanting to start up their own jewellery business?
As a curt reply, I would probably say DON’T!
Seriously, it really depends on who you are, what experience you have, what financial backing you have, where you are in the country and whether you feel you could build a client base.
I was very lucky, I lived and worked in the Cotswolds, which is well known for being quite a rich area, and I began my professional jewellery making career when times were a lot better for man and we all had a lot more money in our pockets.
We have to remember, we are dealing with a luxury trade and, although there will always be people who have money, there are probably less of us ordinary men in the street able to spend money on a piece of hand-made jewellery.
What's next for philongold?
Right now I am in the throes of putting together the design for my latest commission.
As well as designing and making jewellery, I also make videos for YouTube under my own name, Phil Stevens, but I call myself philongold.
My videos are about the world of the professional jewellery maker and about the different stages that precious metals go through to become a hand-made work of art.
These videos are not solely aimed at the jewellery trade but at the person who is interested to know how a piece of hand-made jewellery is produced.
I will be working on finding outlets for my jewellery and trying to build a small client base. I don’t want to turn this into a full time job, I just want to make lovely jewellery for lovely people.
Thanks Phil for sharing your beautiful work and your thoughts on the jewellery trade. And what a nice sentiment "Lovely Jewellery for lovely people"
If you'd like to see more of Phil's work, or learn from his tutorial videos, follow the links below to his YouTube channel and Facebook page.
See some of Phil's demonstration videos on his YouTube channel by clicking here.
And browse his wonderful designs on his Facebook page.
For further information or to commission a piece, contact Phil at firstname.lastname@example.org