In 2021, after five years spent honing her skills as an in-house jewellery designer at Astley Clarke, Genevieve Schwartz launched her own eponymous jewellery brand, boldly pursuing the path of an independent artist in spite of the continuing Covid-19 pandemic.
Within a year, Genevieve’s tri-coloured tourmaline rings had gained popularity and acclaim on social media, the eye-catching, gently juxtaposing shades of pink and green quickly becoming a signature feature of the new brand.
Unabashedly colourful, with the clean lines and symmetry reminiscent of the art deco era, the pieces featured in Genevieve’s latest collection Watermelon Sugar are not only striking and beautiful, they are also imbued with messages pertinent to the era of lockdowns and social distancing, commenting on relationships, connectivity, and the nation’s collective hopes of better days ahead.
Welcome Genevieve. What first attracted you to a career as a maker, and how did you get started in the industry?
I was always very academic at school, and so I was pushed into pursuing academia and into completing a degree in art history. Although it was very enjoyable, from a young age I always got more satisfaction from creative pursuits, or from objects that I had made myself. I’ve always been a very indecisive person, and as a child, I’d seek other people’s opinions and approval, but my mum claims that I was never indecisive about art, design and making things; although I’d ask her for help, as she started advising I would quickly realise I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and she would leave me to it. That’s why I found myself in a creative job because it’s always been the area where I’m happiest and most confident.
I started as an intern at Ingle and Rhode. The internship itself was only a day long but it had a profound effect, as they advised me that if I wanted to enter this field, the best way would be to start at the beginning. They suggested that I train as a silversmith so that I could gain a basic understanding of how things are made, and then from there I could go into design or making.
So, that’s what I did. I spent a long-time training at the British Academy of Jewellery, which was formerly Holts Academy. There I learned everything about manufacturing, and I got to try my hand at enamelling, engraving and wax carving with all these amazing people.
At that time, I wasn't confident enough yet to try to start my own business. A lot of people around me were encouraging me, but I felt like I needed some experience in working for a jewellery company first. For me, the best decision I could have made was to go on to work at other brands including Vivienne Westwood and Astley Clarke where I became their designer for almost five years in total. I just learned so much about the general day-to-day running of a jewellery business, and got to work alongside so many talented designers and that's really put me in good stead for starting my own. So that's how I've arrived here, and now I feel really excited about pursuing my own brand.
Can you tell us a bit about the collection you’ll be debuting at Shine 2022?
The group of work I'm going to be showing is a collection which to me speaks about relationships. I have decided to go with the name Watermelon Sugar.
I think over the last few years, we have been disconnected from each other. We've all experienced our regular relationships as something completely different, and have had to work out new ways of interacting. For me, all of the pieces that I'll be presenting make a comment on relationships in one way or another, be that our relationship with our partners and friends, or our relationship to the places we live in.
I’ll be exhibiting some men's engagement rings and some women's engagement rings, but also my Golden Futures rings to express how people connect with their surroundings. I’m from London originally, and you’ll be able to see the London hallmark through these bright and colourful stones, and that’s to represent the idea of returning to what we’re familiar with, reconnecting to the places we love and the people we love - the golden future that lies ahead.
If you know my work, you’ll know that my rings have become very central to what I do. I use bi-colour tourmalines, which are half pink and half green, and occasionally ametrines which are half purple and half yellow. What I find really interesting about these rings is the relationship of the colours within the stone itself. The colours - pink and green and purple and yellow - they’re complimentary, but they also exist on opposite sides of the colour spectrum, so you don’t expect them to go so well inside the same stone, but they do.
The fact that they work summarises how relationships work within society. How two people can be so opposite, yet be attracted to one another, and co-exist in close proximity. For me, the title Watermelon Sugar, as well as being a very familiar cultural reference, also just sums up exactly what I was trying to do in this collection - bring people together.
So in the process of planning and developing your own collection, what have you learned about yourself as a designer?
The thing I've learned most about myself in designing this collection has been what my style is. Coming from an established brand, it was challenging to work out where the brand’s style ended and mine began because I was always thinking as the brand. Over the course of designing this collection, I have been surprised to learn how important colour is to me, because prior to this experience, I never really appreciated quite how much I love it.
Every time I design a piece, I always try to get in as much colour as possible, including different colours - I love putting colours together and harmonising with them. I try not to have just a singular colour, it’s always got to be a rainbow or my classic pink and green. So I’ve learned so much about myself through this, and I've been really surprised by, in terms of themes, my interest in relationships, and the inspiration I’ve taken from the clean lines of the art deco movement.
People see things that are art deco now and they send them to me and are like - “you’ll love this!” And I had no idea that it would be something that would interest me, but it does. I’ve also always been obsessed with Matisse, and his Paper Cut-Outs. My mum cut them out of a calendar when I was young and put them all up in my bedroom, and I think because I grew up with them, they have had a massive effect on my work.
Has this collection enabled you to explore any new techniques or materials?
Creating the collection has improved my CAD skills. Before, I was designing in Adobe Illustrator, for factories to produce the jewellery. Now, I have a much more holistic approach - I have to do the designing and the presentation to clients and then the CAD, though sometimes I also outsource the CAD depending on how much work I have on at the time. Still, from start to finish I’m in charge, from organising the production to coordinating my suppliers. What's been so amazing about designing this collection is re-establishing connections with different people, finding new engravers in particular.
I've been really lucky to find a few freelance engravers that I now use and that's really exciting, building relationships with them. I used to make my own jewellery, but took a break when I was designing for brands, and now I'm back and re-establishing those connections with suppliers. I'd say that every day I'm learning new things, but more in terms of running a business, as opposed to maybe the techniques used in creating the pieces. Technique-wise, I am actually probably utilising a lot of what I learned over the last few years working for a big brand.
Do you have a favourite piece in the collection?
That's a great question. My favourite piece in the collection would have to be my new Watermelon Sugar earrings or pendant, they’re new products and I'm really excited about showcasing them.
I never expected these pieces to be so popular. When you design something, I don’t think you ever expect something to take off or become what you’re known for. The first piece I designed was a ring in my trademark watermelon colours. I made it for my mum when I first became self-employed, she was trying to show support and commissioned me. That the first ring I designed is now the one that's, in a sense, carrying my business will always be really important to me.
What do you most enjoy about being a designer/maker?
More than anything, I love getting to know the clients and working with them in such a close way. I've been really lucky in the last few years to design and produce a lot of my friends' engagement and wedding rings, in addition to working on commissions for people that I don’t know. I think getting to play a part in that, in something that’s so momentous for a couple or for an individual, is just so special. That feeling you get when you see the final piece and you're like; I can't believe that it's here, it's ready, I love it, and I hope the customer will love it too. There’s just something so satisfying about creating tangible things. I don’t think I would get that same satisfaction from other career paths, so I really, really love that aspect of my work.
What kind of person do you think is most attracted to your collection, and to your design style in general – do you have an ideal client in mind?
My ideal customer is someone who is brave, in a way. My cocktail rings are quite big and colourful, they're quite out there, they’re conversation starters, so they’re for people that want to have a piece that says something about them. That's not to say that they aren’t for someone more reserved, but they’re for a client that, I hope, appreciates art and colour as much as I do.
Having said that, I think that you never know who your work is going to speak to, and it can be quite surprising. I'm also trying to work out how I can make my jewellery for both men and women. At the moment, a lot of my pieces are probably aimed at women, but by launching my men’s engagement rings and having more pieces aimed at men in future, I hope that men will also feel as if they can come to my brand and that I have something to offer them. So that's what I'm working out at the moment.
What’s next - what are your professional and creative goals for the next two years?
I’m quite big on having a business plan - I love prepping in advance and having a roadmap for the coming year. I guess that's maybe due to my training at the brand.
I would love to get stocked soon in a shop or department store of some kind, and that’s what I’m working towards, because the internet is a very crowded place these days. Although you can find clients using social media, it’s getting harder, so I'd love to have a physical space somewhere where I can meet customers face to face. I’m also moving my studio at the moment, so my aim is to get into a good workflow in my new studio, and just to keep producing, keep making, keep finding new customers, and keep finding new suppliers. As I said, finding stockists is a big focus in particular at the moment.