Sterling Effort

Speaking to Craig Smith, jeweller Julie McLaughlin reveals the secrets of her craft

Jewellery designer Julie McLaughlin has exhibited both nationally and internationally and her obvious talent and innovation has resulted in her work being purchased by the National Museum of Ireland.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work.

‘I'm 27 years old and like many people, trying to make a living out of something that interests and inspires me. I graduated from the National College of Art & Design in 2000, specialising in Craft Design – Metals.

'While silversmithing and jewellery techniques were a large part of the course, during my final year I specialised in designing tableware and produced a range of pieces from napkin rings to salt cellars, using materials including silver, wood, polypropylene, scientific glass and industrial components.

'I enjoyed the scope of design and the experience of seeing a piece through from a scribbled idea on a page to a fully finished article. I've worked on a variety of commissions since university, both independently and collaboratively, including lighting design, award design, corporate gifts and jewellery.

'Most recently, I exhibited at the Crafts in the Walled City 2005, Derry City, with a collection of silver jewellery and accessories entitled "dotty".’

I understand you lived in Japan for 6 months. Did your experience there have an impact on your work?

‘Definitely! Japan was an extremely interesting place to be for a while. From a design and fashion point of view, the Japanese aesthetic is so completely different from anything you see at home or even Europe or the United States. I took hundreds of photographs during my time there and made quite a few sketches.'

Which artists/craftspeople inspire you?

‘When I'm working in my studio, I love to have loud rock music so I suppose that has to influence me!. Since living in Japan, my designs have definitely become more influenced by nature.

'I enjoy the work of any artist/ designer who can show a sense of humour in their work. US jeweller Thomas Mann comes to mind.'

What are the design elements that form your unique style?

‘My work is mostly sterling silver. My motifs and patterns are fairly stylised and clean looking. I work in gold only for specially commissioned pieces. I know platinum is all the rage - but I think it can be a very dull metal.'

Tell me about your favourite piece of work.

‘This would have to be a small tea tray, which was bought by the National Museum of Ireland while I was still a student at the National College of Art & Design. That piece was influenced by the Art Deco movement and I was studying the work of designers such as Eileen Gray.

'The piece has inlaid silver circles in lovely silky cherry wood (ethically sourced, of course!). It's on display at Collins Barracks, Dublin.'

How did you go about creating these works, and what's involved in physically creating them?

‘A bit of silversmithing, woodwork, woodturning, casting acrylics -  a lot of experimentation is involved.’

What are you working on now?

‘At present, I'm designing a series of hair ornaments for a bridal party. It's all top secret.’

What plans do you have for the future?

‘Handsome husband, big house and gorgeous kids . . . and
continuing to make a living from doing cool jewellery.’

Have you ever kept any original pieces for a memento?

‘My parents have my first silver piece. It's a tea caddy and it
took 12 weeks to complete.’