I came across Isla’s amazing work online, after she won a jewellery industry award for being ‘one to watch’.  I immediately loved the playfulness and fun of her designs and how she’d approached designing with gemstones in a totally unique way! 

It made me wonder about her influences and where she gets her original ideas in such a crowded marketplace, so I really wanted to interview her on The Jewellery Spot.  I love that you can hear her enthusiasm for her craft throughout the interview.

How would you describe your jewellery?

Precious with a playful twist!

What materials do you use?

I mostly use an array of delicious gemstones and gold vermeil. Most of the stones I use come from gem fairs; I love to choose stones in person and feel like I’m in a sweet shop. Since my work is centred around the tempting and enticing nature of gems, it seems natural to choose them in this way – selecting the stones that I’m most tempted by and editing them down to the most delicious. I came away with a lot of South Indian moonstone recently and love how they flash different colours.  

What’s the favourite piece in your jewellery collection?

My favourite piece changes all the time! From my own work it’s currently the bitten rose quartz ring – It looks just like a sweet! I’ve recently just made my first bitten pendant too so I think that’s also one of my favourites at the moment. From my personal collection, it’s a peridot and diamond ring that my family gave me for my 18 birthday.

Isla Gilham’s Bitten rose quartz ring

Where do you create your jewellery?

I grew up in Somerset so began designing and making there, before studying jewellery design at Central Saint Martins in London for three years. After graduating, I moved back, worked in a garage for a while to afford all my tools and set up a small workshop.

What’s your favourite part of being a Jewellery Designer?

I think my favourite part is when you first see a finished piece. There are many parts of the process where the piece definitely doesn’t look elegant or beautiful and you have to use and trust your imagination. Like when the metal turns black during soldering or when the bite mark is powdery and white after carving. It’s often hard to believe it’ll ever get there. However, when you see it all finished, it’s a real sense of achievement.

Isla at work

What’s your proudest moment of being a jewellery designer?

Probably winning the Theo Fennell Best Design award for my graduate collection. It was the first piece of recognition my work received and from a jeweller like Theo Fennell was amazing, I remember crying a lot.

What’s the piece you’re most proud of making?

Probably my own version of my Great Granddad’s ‘Jelly Tot Tiara’ – over half a century ago, he created a silver filigree tiara adorned with Jelly Tots for my Great Aunts birthday. I love the story and having never seen the piece, had envisioned it for years. To be at a point where I could create my own was really special. It sat proudly in the centre of my graduate collection amongst pieces that the story had also ignited the vision for.

Isla Gilham’s Jelly Tot tiara

What’s your design process?

My design process nearly always begins with a stone that I can’t resist; Tempting, juicy and indulgent. I rarely design without a certain stone in mind.  Gemstones are integral to my work and straight away, in my head, they begin to inform the details of the design, the carving and the composition. I also love quickly sketching out ideas using pen.

Isla Gilham creating her signature ‘Bitten’ collection.

What do you love about jewellery?

I love that jewellery often carries its own narrative. One of my favourite examples of this is the jewellery created by a workshop on the Isle of Iona, that I came across around eight years ago whilst on holiday there. The pieces reflected and told stories of the island; Celtic patterns, Serpentine pebbles, coastlines and simplistic beauty.

Where do you feel most inspired?

I think places where I’m around people who are as excited by jewellery and gemstones as I am. Central Saint Martins and The Goldsmiths’ Centre are places I’ve left feeling really inspired.  As is Gem-A in London where I recently did a week long diamond course.

What inspires you?

I’ve always been inspired by jewellers such as Boodles and Van Cleef & Arpels who create the most enticing, mouth watering pieces of jewellery; igniting the narrative to my own. I remember watching ‘The Million Pound Necklace: Inside Boodles’ which featured their Greenfire Emerald necklace and being absolutely in awe.

How do you juggle all the different aspects of the job?

I’m learning!!!!

What advice would you give to people looking to buy jewellery from independent makers?

I think blogs, like The Jewellery Spot, are great at giving independent makers more recognition. So I’d say keep an eye on a few of those. And also events such as Goldsmiths’ Fair and The Jewellery Cut Live are a great way to discover new designers and work.

You can find out more about Isla and see her latest work on her website here.