Jewellery design

The creative jewellery design process of Australian designer GillyB Design, from inspiration to creation.

Pearl Jewellery

Gillian Smith - Monday, October 10, 2016

Last year a friend invited me to a class on knotting and stringing pearls. Now Im always up for learning a new jewellery technique especially if it involves hammers or torches but pearls?  I thought I would probably rather stab myself in the hand with one of many pointy tools available in the studio.

I had visions of tangled string and scattered pearls in my frustration and lack of patience.  Instead I actually enjoyed it.  I found it wasnt nearly as complicated as I imagined and the process was quite cathartic. It ignited in me a new found appreciation of the natural beauty and lustre of these aquatic gems

I found myself amassing a number of varieties as I realised they come in an endless diversity of colour, shape and value.  Baroque, coin, white, black, grey, pink, gold.  

As one of the worlds oldest gems pearls have been admired for their beauty and magic reaching mythical status.  They were a symbol of wealth and social standing to the ancient Romans and the Egyptians desired to be buried with them. Knights wore them into battle for protection and the Greeks associated them with love and marriage a tradition that continues today.

These iridescence beauties are a wonder of nature, born of oysters with their natural shimmering glow and with the arrival of cultured pearls they are accessible to everyone.  Unlike natural pearls which are now considered amongst the rarest of gems being found very occasionally in the seas off Bahrain and Australia.

Kokichi Mikimoto is credited with creating the worlds first cultured pearl in 1893 by manually introducing an irritant into an oyster. The son of a noodle maker was accused that his pearls werent real but science proved the contrary. Cultured pearls have the same properties as natural just with a helping hand to get the process started. Mikimotos  Akoya pearls are still used today and are famous for their fabulous lustre and colours.

 As it is with the fickle world of fashion and jewellery pearls have fallen in and out of favour. Coco Chanel made them famous in the 1920s mixing real and fake strands and wearing them with casual daywear. Jackie Kennedy and Audrey Hepburn where also fans of the pearls but somewhere in the 1980s they gained an old lady reputation worn with twinsets and their popularity declined.

Today the pearl is back in all its glory. The white and creams continue to be a favourite adornment at weddings in an array of jewellery, gown decoration and hair styles.  More excitedly they are mixing it with other gems and incorporated into contemporary jewellery designs and featured in collections.

Their glowing warmth has also found a place in my creative heart and although I rarely find myself sitting, stringing and knotting they are now part of the growing variety of materials that inhabit my studio. 

Designer Earrings handmade for you

Gillian Smith - Thursday, September 22, 2016

"Des boucles d’oreilles”.  
I just love the French for earrings – loops or curls for the ears.

Earring have been a part of our adornment for thousands of years.  The oldest found being jade earrings that have been around for over 8,000 years!

Popular with ancient Egyptians and throughout Asia, earrings were predominantly a male ornament.  This started to change in the 13th century when the Catholic Church forbade the piercing of ears and only the likes of thieves and pirates continued to wear earrings.

Yet our love for earrings have continued throughout history and today are worn by both men and women across the globe.  Some for cultural significance, rites of passage and special ceremonies but many simply as part of our adornment.

Handmade earrings are available in endless shapes and lengths and created from a breathtaking variety of materials.  For this reason, they are a jewellery designer’s delight and offer an endless selection for you the wearer.  

Creating handmade earrings has been an ongoing passion for me and I continue to find inspiration from both exploring and visiting other cultures and the wonders of nature. The creative ideas for designer earrings are endless. 

So what should you look for when finding that perfect pair of earrings?

Usually when you try them on you will know instantly if you like them or not.  I encourage you to go out of your earring comfort zone and experiment with shapes and colours you may not have tried before.  I am always amazed when clients tell me that long or dangly earrings don’t suit them and yet when encouraged to try they fall in love.

Of course with the wonders of online shopping trying them on isn’t always an option so here are a few tips to help you look for earrings to suit you:

Oval Face – you are lucky most shapes will suit you but keep them to scale with your head and body dimensions. So experiment and have fun in finding a style that you enjoy.

Diamond Face – Earrings that are wider at the bottom like tear drop shapes and triangles work well as do ovals and studs.

Rectangle Face – You are looking for soft curves and width and depth. Tear drops will suit and ovals and hoops.

Oblong Face – You need more width then length choosing big earrings in tear drop, round and fan shaped or three dimensional earrings to add fullness.

Heart Face – You need earrings that add length to your face.  Tear drops, rectangles and triangles.

Triangle Face – You need to go for longer earrings like large ovals or earrings that curve at the bottom.

Square Face – You need to wear earrings that are longer than wide with round and angular edges, long drop earrings or multi-tiered dangly earrings.

Round Face – You need earrings that are longer than they are wide, elongated shapes – oblong and rectangle.

Basically avoid earrings that mirror the shape of your face but most of all have fun choosing a design that expresses your individual and unique self.

Coin jewellery

Gillian Smith - Monday, April 06, 2015
Inspiration comes in many forms when making handmade jewellery and this 1945 coin with a convenient hole in the middle simply said ring.   It was amongst some coins my sister had lying around and before I started creating I thought I’d best find out its history. 

The coin is a holey shilling from Papua New Guinea (my sister was a school teacher there years ago).  They were issued in the 1920s by the Australian Government for circulation and were quite common as legal tender circulating together with Australian shillings in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. 

They have the crown and crossed sceptres on one side but I was attracted to the side that looks like what are New Guinea artefacts.  

As to the hole, that enabled the coins to be hung on string and they were often worn as necklaces so seemed fitting to turn this one into a piece of wearable art. 

I dapped the coin and made the hole slightly larger so I could tube set a 5mm olive green tourmaline.  The coin was mounted on sterling silver base and has ended up an interesting silver ring that makes a statement and doubles as a conversation piece too. 

Pearl Jewellery

Gillian Smith - Monday, March 02, 2015

pearl jewelleryAfter attending a pearl stringing workshop last year I have come to love the lustre and beauty of pearls and started to incorporate them into some of my jewellery designs. As an Australian jewellery designer I am inspired by our local beaches often picking up shells and coral to incorporate into or inspire my handmade jewellery designs. Pearls just seem a natural fit and enhance some of my contemporary pieces but they do need a little care to keep them lovely.
To clean your pearl jewellery, simply wipe them with a soft, damp cloth to remove excess oils and dirt. There is no need for cleaning solutions as your pearls will respond naturally to a gentle, chemical-free clean. Keep your pearls away from hairspray, cosmetics, sun screen lotion and perfumes as these can damage the nacre (outer layer of the pearl). Best to put them on last before you are going out.
Pearls can be worn every day but it is advisable not to swim, shower, sleep or play sport whilst wearing them.
Keep them stored in a soft cloth so they won’t come into contact with jewellery that may rub against them and mark their surface especially anything hard like diamond jewellery. If you pearls are knotted on silk or nylon cord it is best to get them restrung every couple of years. Silk in particular can perish in our hot humid climate.

Jewellery photography tips

Gillian Smith - Saturday, January 31, 2015


 jewellery photography tips

If you are selling handmade jewelry online, you probably know how important it is to take great pictures of your pieces. You also probably know how impossible that can be, especially if you do not have an expensive camera or lighting set up. Fortunately, you don’t have to spend thousands on lights, filters, diffusers, or a camera in order to take great pictures. In reality, a standard digital camera or even the camera on your smartphone can take great picture, if you follow these simple tips:

Build a simple light box. All you need to build a simple light box is a cardboard box and some white spray paint. After spray painting the interior of your box white, try to direct as much light into the box as possible. Try to position the lights so that most of the light reflects off the back of the box and down onto the handmade jewelry below. For a more advanced version, cut out the two sides of the box and tape white muslin over the holes. Then, shine light through the muslin to create diffused, but direct light on your pieces.

Consider taking pictures outside. Most people try to take their pictures on their workspace or kitchen table. Unless your workspace or kitchen table is surrounded by windows, you’re probably not getting the best light. On a cloudy day, take your jewelry outside and set it on a clean, non-reflective surface to get great pictures, with diffused light. Direct sunlight can also work, but it may leave your pieces looking washed out or overly shiny.

Play around with your ISO or white balance settings. If you’re not getting clear, luminous pictures of your jewelry, the problem may actually be your camera’s settings, not the camera itself or your lighting set up. Even if you’re not familiar with what all these settings do, try changing one setting at a time to see if the pictures improve in quality. Keep adjusting your settings until you capture enough light and color. Even smartphone cameras have these settings!

Try a different background. If the colors of your jewelry are not showing up properly on camera, you might consider switching to a different background. Something as stark as white can often wash out the stones and metal. Especially if there is white wire or stone in the piece, try picking a beige or gray background to really make the colors pop. A little bit of texture in the background is never a bad thing!

Give a comparison shot. One of the biggest problems your customers will have when buying online is not being able to see the real size of your piece. If you have a way to demonstrate its size, either by modeling it on a mannequin or on a real person, this will make it easier for buyers to determine whether or not a necklace is long enough or a stone is large enough, etc.

Take advantage of natural light. Whenever possible, try to take advantage of natural light. It’s free, and if you have a window that faces the sun, you don’t even have to go outside. Try to use white cardboard or cardstock behind the piece (so that the jewelry is in between the cardstock and the source of light), to reflect as much light as possible down onto the piece. If the light is too direct, try hanging some white fabric or piece of white paper over the window to diffuse the light. Daylight is also better for getting true, crisp colors in your photos, as incandescent and fluorescent lights can cast a yellow or blue pall.

Consider a tripod. You can either buy or make a tripod for your smartphone or camera fairly inexpensively. This can make all the difference when taking clear pictures of your jewelry, as having the camera still and absolutely shake-free is the best way to great pictures. The sturdier the tripod is, the better your pictures will be. Even if you don’t have shaky hands, the motion of taking a picture, either by tapping a screen or pressing a button, while holding the camera or smartphone, is often enough movement to create a slightly blurry picture. Don’t be afraid to get up close and personal with your items, either. The closer the photo is, the more detail your customers will be able to see.

You don’t have to shell out serious money to get professional looking handmade jewelry photos. Follow these tips and you can take great pictures of your own pieces, with whatever digital camera you have. Many sellers take great pictures just with their smartphones!

In saying all of that if you truly want awesome pictures of your products it is worth spending time with a professional photographer in your area which can help take your photography to an entire new level.


Gillian Smith - Wednesday, December 17, 2014

amuletsI find the concept of amulets quite fascinating.  Maybe because they are so ancient or maybe they simply satisfy the creative urge to bring elements together to make something new and special.  I don’t always start with a specific design but create and gather objects that appeal and fit together in harmony and balance.

I love the form and shape of an amulet and I like the idea that it protects the owner from danger or harm.  Unlike talismans amulets draw their power from nature rather than a spell or incantation from human hands.  

 Amulets can include gems, statues, coins, drawings, rings, plants, animals and words.  Anything that is believed to repel evil and bad luck and negativity

The word "amulet" comes from the Latin amuletum; the earliest extant use of the term is in Pliny's Natural History, meaning "an object that protects a person from trouble"

Amulets where particularly prevalent in ancient Roman society, being the inheritor of the ancient Greek tradition with thinks like the evil eye.

Egyptian amulets were worn by both the living and the dead. Some protected the wearer against specific dangers and others endowed him or her with special characteristics, such as strength or fierceness. They were often in the shape of animals, plants, sacred objects, or hieroglyphic symbols. The combination of shape, colour and material were important to the effectiveness of an amulet.

The amulet pictured is a mix of a red copper leaf/or feather and features a lovely green chyrsocolla. In Chinese tradition the leaves of the Cosmic Tree represent all of the beings in the universe and the colour red is a warm and positive colour and excites the emotions and motivates us to take action. 

Chyrsocolla is first and foremost a Stone of Communication. Its very essence is devoted to expression, empowerment and teaching. The serenity of its turquoise-blue color discharges negative energies, calms, and allows truth and inner wisdom to surface and be heard. A peaceful stone, it emphasizes the power our words and actions have on those around us, and encourages compassion and strengthening of character.


Why buy handmade jewellery?

Gillian Smith - Thursday, September 18, 2014

handmade-jewelleryBuying handmade jewellery gives you the opportunity to share in the creative process with the maker, to discuss how a piece of artisan jewelry came into being.

By purchasing handmade products you are supporting independent designers and artisans who have worked hard to develop their skills and knowledge.

Your piece of jewellery or other handmade product won't have been mass produced in a factory, but created by hand by a real person, often working in their own business.

When you buy handmade you get unique jewellery, an individual piece as handmade items are often one of a kind making your purchase even more special.

You are also supporting micro businesses who add diversity to the business world and can be more creative, fresh and flexible than larger businesses often are.

So seek out quality handmade goods created by independent designers whenever you can and support the handmade movement!



Designing jewellery

Gillian Smith - Tuesday, June 03, 2014

I learned the important of composition from my painting days and find that the same importance of balance applies to the design and creation of jewellery. Drawing the eye in naturally and creating a feeling of spontaneous creation and combining elements and shapes that appeal.

Working with heat and chemically coloured metals gives me  opportunities to explore design and technique in my handmade jewellery pieces.

I often work with random scraps of metal, playing with different shaped pieces until something “clicks”.  Then following through to an overall design, maybe adding gemstones or other objects as I go. 

These “experiments” are not necessarily perfect in technique and finish but are simply 3 dimensional ideas that I will use parts or all of the concept to create other jewellery works.

For me it has always been about the metal – mixed metal, coloured metal, and textured metal. Gemstones and other found objects are just an addition to the overall composition of the piece.

I think working this way has given me a greater creative freedom in my work and if you are used to working around a stone perhaps try something different. Pick up a few bits of metal around your studio and have a play.

This piece is a recent experiment combining a new heat coloured technique on copper "Hido"with some red brass, yellow brass, and chrysoprase setdesigning-jewellery in sterling silver.  






Amber Jewellery

Gillian Smith - Monday, January 13, 2014

amber-jewelleryThere is something almost magical about prehistoric tree sap that has been around for some 30 – 90 million years.  Apart from the incredible age amber is simply a beautiful material to work with and combine with other elements to create unique jewellery.  

Amber jewellery has been around for centuries being called the “Gold of the North” by the Romans and can come with the extra bonus of insects and even small animals trapped within.

 The Baltic region holds 90% of all the world deposits of high quality amber and it is these natural sea worn pieces I love the best.   The colours range from cream to red and even blues and greens with my favourites being the orange and gold which work well with copper and silver.

The amber used in GillyB Design handmade jewellery is authentic Baltic amber from Latvia and has a wonderful warm quality.  

Over the centuries amber has been credited many healing properties and today it is still worn for healing as well as beauty.   Amber has an ability to produce negative ions that can ease pain and activate healing.   It is also good to rebalance the body and alleviate stress. It strengthens your memory and intellect and helps with emotional calming and transmutes negative energy to positive.

Amber necklaces are often worn by babies as a teething remedy. 

For me I simply delight in the colour and feel of amber jewellery and the way this organic substance brings yet another dimension to my designs. 

A friend also told me that the colour intensifies if you wear it constantly and I’ve found this to be true with the pieces I wear myself.


Ant suspended in amber


Copper and amber bracelet


  sterling silver and amber bracelet   



Creativity - simply a way of life

Gillian Smith - Wednesday, October 02, 2013

I never tire of the creative process.  No matter how many times I design and produce a tangible piece of jewellery from the image in my head I still marvel at the process.

For me creativity is simply a way of life and yet I often hear others exclaiming that they don’t have a creative bone in their bodies.   This of course simply isn’t true – everyone has the ability to be creative.   I came across this wonderful article on creativity this morning and thought I would share to encourage you all to find your creative selves.

* Required

Subscribe to newsletter