It takes courage to recognise that something isn’t right in your life, and to risk following a radical new path. Jeweller Camilla West took that leap.
Camilla was a successful city lawyer but increasingly she realised that something was missing. “It was academically challenging and the problem solving was fun,” she says, “but there was a lot that it didn’t fulfil as well”. As part of her degree she had done an art foundation course at Salamanca in Spain which was “wonderful” and opened her up to all sorts of new ideas.
“As a lawyer I just didn’t have any time for that,” she says. “I was pining for being able to express myself artistically and it was making me sad. I thought, well I can either suppress it now and look forward to a mid-life crisis, or I can follow my heart. So six years ago I decided to give it a go.”
She decided to focus on jewellery. “I knew that I wanted to express myself personally and artistically and I thought that jewellery would be a good way to channel it into a business. As I’ve learned more about the jewellery and the techniques and the metal and the stones it’s gathered momentum.”
Another thing that is important to her is that jewellery is very personal and connects her to the people she makes it for. “When someone buys a piece of jewellery I have made there is a sort of overlap between us. I feel that I am sharing something about myself, or how I feel about the world with another person. A lot of my work is about authenticity and those connections.
“My jewellery is quite different from mainstream high street jewellery,” she says. “Often it is very textural, weathered and the metalwork is not always conventionally beautiful. I suppose I’m trying to get closer to a lived reality, that life isn’t always perfect, always rosy and polished but there is still beauty in that.”
Camilla sells her jewellery in various ways: through the Artspring Gallery, wholesale stockists, craft fairs, Open Studios and also by doing commissions.
“I enjoy doing commissions, she says, “because you get to know that person and create something that is really special and unique for them. Recently, for example, a husband asked me to design a twentieth anniversary ring and coordinating earrings for his wife, that had references to the couple’s experiences built into them. He sent me photos showing the colours in their home, and the jewellery and ceramics his wife already had. That helped me to build a picture of the person the jewellery was for. It was very special.”
Six years on and Camilla has no regrets about taking her brave leap into the unknown. “It always pays off to be adventurous,” she says, “I love what I do.”