Jewellery designer—it’s got a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? It sounds so arty, crafty, bohemian, and glamorous all at the same time. “I’m a jewellery designer—what do you do?”
But the truth is, unless you want to weave friendship bracelets at Camp Kumbaya, you’re going to have to pick up some serious technical skills. And that’s exactly what Joanne Hart and Andrea Mueller did in the Vancouver Community College jewellery art and design program. Upon graduation, the two classmates decided to start their own jewellery line and call it Luxe Design .
Fifteen years later they’re still in business, and even though they’ve reached a level of success where they can hire people to help with manufacturing duties, those skills have turned out to be pretty darn handy.
“I still come back to them,” says Hart, who sat down with the Straight at the downtown Luxe headquarters—a surprisingly low-key workspace that is both a studio and an e-commerce office all in one. “I train staff to do the production as well, and I constantly go back to what I learned in school and specific techniques like stone setting. I understand how all of those processes work, so it just helps me as a designer.”
Yes, Hart and Mueller could have learned to cast and carve as well as figured out how to set gems on their own in order to make their personalized silver and gold charm bracelets and necklaces. But there’s a speed factor.
“You can learn all of it in time, but not in two years,” says department head Maciek Walentowicz, who founded the VCC program 22 years ago, in a phone interview. “It would take someone probably 10 or 15 years to absorb all of this. It’s quite an intensive program. Also, we’re very well equipped. So many commercial jewellers couldn’t even dream of having studios that are equipped like ours.”
Your chances of speeding things up with credits from another school are slim with this two-year downtown-campus program, which costs $2,745 per year plus textbooks and supplies.
“This program is such a package that we find it doesn’t work to give credits to someone from a different kind of education,” Walentowicz says. “You cannot remove any component out of it because it won’t be complete.”
But if you do have a little bit of experience or education under your belt, you can always apply for the 10-month program, which costs $8,200 plus tools and materials, at the Vancouver Metal Art School in North Vancouver. Founder and head instructor Gerold Mueller has been running the school—which offers a 20-month program as well ($11,500 plus tools and materials)—for nine years now. Whereas technique and design are taught in tandem and are given equal attention at VCC, Mueller puts an emphasis on technical skills.
“With good technique, you can make perfect design,” Mueller says by phone between teaching classes. “My program is actually like a European goldsmith [program].”
Because of his Euro metalwork ethos, upon graduation Mueller’s grads are ready to work in the jewellery-making industry almost anywhere in the world; with the VCC program, students are essentially trained to be independent designers
At the Vancouver Metal Art School, expect to put in about 30 hours a week in the studio. VCC students are looking at 30 studio hours plus 15 hours a week on homework and side projects—something Hart didn’t mind one bit.
“I do remember there being homework, but I loved it, so for me it was totally fun and exciting,” she recalls. “I mean, some things were really hard.”¦like fitting this little circle into this little square and making it fit perfectly flat”¦but you know they’re very important skills.”
How to get in? Both schools are basically looking for the same thing: people who see form in the everyday.
Oh, and before you head into the interview with your portfolio (which can be as simple as a scrapbook packed with interesting photos and observations) in tow, you’d better bone up on the world of design. Or, as Walentowicz puts it, “If they have no idea who David Yurman is, I think they’re getting into the wrong field.”