Rae Gellel
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An Interview with Setting Out Participant, Judith Peterhoff

Judith Peterhoff worked in the Hatton Garden Jewellery trade for years before realising a long-held ambition to start her own jewellery business. In 2019, she graduated from our business incubation course, Setting Out, and spoke to the Goldsmiths’ Centre about how the programme has bolstered her confidence at this pivotal point in her life.

Can you tell us a bit about how you got started in the industry? And what made you want to start your own business?

I’ve loved making jewellery since I was a little girl. I used to root through craft shops in Germany where I grew up, playing with colour, texture and finishes - it’s always been my passion. I studied Jewellery Design in the Netherlands where thankfully, I was encouraged to experiment and gained a love for the unusual, the curious.

I moved to London and worked in the jewellery world of Hatton Garden, exploring, learning and honing my skills as a maker for some of London’s top jewellers for 6 years. I always knew I wanted to start my own jewellery business, but actually making the leap was scary - a huge step into the unknown. Eventually, I asked myself, what am I doing here? It wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life. So, one day I simply quit and started looking for a part-time job that would enable me to start working on my business. Now I work for two other jewellers two days a week, and the rest of the time I design and make my own collections.

What were the biggest challenges involved in starting your own business, and how has Setting Out helped you to overcome them?

I had it in my mind for a really long time, but taking that first leap of faith to just do it, was a big move! Then once I’d done that, I didn’t quite know where to start.

Getting yourself out there and building a reputation is a big challenge. Everyone says how amazing Instagram is for self-promotion, but in reality, you’re one of millions of people trying to do the same thing: to get their brand noticed.

Knowing how to target your customers was one of the big things Setting Out taught me. I learnt to drill down into who my customers are as people; what they do for a living, how they spend their free time, what they look for on Instagram and how I can get on their radar. I love making what I make, but how could I get other people to love that as well?

How confident were you in your business skills before Setting Out?

I was hoping that because my dad was a businessman, I would have business in my blood– but I don’t actually! I wasn’t at all confident when I started out, but now I have a good foundation of business skills to apply. There were things that seemed really difficult when I started, but when someone actually sits down and explains them to you, it still might not be easy, but the path is clearer. That’s especially true if you have the right teachers, like I did on Setting Out. I’ve learned so much in the past year, that I’m a little bit like – oh god, how am I going to keep all of this in my brain!?

What inspires you as a maker, and what are some of the main themes of your work?

I take inspiration from perceived imperfections, things that most people might not necessarily think are beautiful. I especially like imperfections on us and the body, like freckles, scars, port wine stains. That’s actually where it all began for me; my niece was born with a port wine stain on her hand, and my brother was thinking of getting it surgically removed. I thought it was actually a really nice thing; it made her unique, and so I thought it was something I should bring up as a topic through my work. I want to make people proud of their differences, because I think we should celebrate them – rather than all look the same, especially in this culture of Instagram filters. I'm celebrating our quirks as humans.

So, what are your main aspirations over the next five years, particularly from a business perspective?

My main goal is to eventually work solely for my own business. And I know it’s ambitious, but I’d love to have a studio with a showroom within the next five years. I think customers love seeing where and how something is made – behind the scenes. A more short-term aim, for one to two years, is that I want to launch a bridal collection; engagement and wedding rings.

What advice would you give others thinking of starting their own jewellery business?

I would say get as much help as you can, but also – just do it! Don’t spend forever questioning it, just go for it. For five, six years, I wasn’t sure whether I should leave my job. And now I’ve done it, I regret not doing it when I left college! So just go for it. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. None of us are capable of doing everything by ourselves, learning everything by ourselves, you need to hear other people’s perspectives. Being in a community like the Goldsmiths’ Centre is great because if you’re just at home staring at your own work all the time you start to get tunnel vision. You need to communicate and work with others to develop as a maker.

Contact Judith Peterhoff