My mother pulled out a small dark blue pendant box with a golden hinge. ‘I’ve kept the first pieces of jewellery you ever made!’, she said, as she handed me the box. 

I was 17 and had just enthusiastically announced my intended career path of training as a jeweller. I opened the box excitedly, not sure what to expect. The box was of the best quality, without a doubt this was a good sign, maybe I had been a child jewellery prodigy? My eye fixed first on a pendant…of sorts…a single bead threaded onto a plain necklace. It was a sultana on a string!

Thankfully these humble beginnings didn’t repress my hunger for gaining the skills and knowledge needed to make more advanced forms of jewellery.

Originally beads were used as the first forms of trading, dating back tens of thousands of years. Natural materials were obvious choices for early beads. The first beads were shells, stones, seeds, nuts and small hollow animal bones.

As we developed, we became more adept at creating materials and forming items for specific uses. Glass-making enabled beads to be made in a variety of bright colours and patterns and these were highly valued.

As a jewellery designer, I find gemstone beads give me a wide range of possibilities to express my inspiration. When I start a necklace, there is always something in my mind that has inspired what I want to make. It might be a landscape, or a snap-shot of nature – a coastal scene for example, or an apple tree in blossom. The colours are in my mind’s eye, along with the textures and shapes, so the first process is to select beads that reflect this vision.

The beauty of beads and beading is the flexibility that it allows. Successful modern necklaces can be made from outdated vintage pearls for example. And I have designed new creations by mixing new gemstones and gold with a few old, but highly treasured, family beads. Beads can make stunning additions to pendants and earrings such as the swan design threaded with coloured pearls.