Your Impact Story: Jeweller Flora Bhattachary paints her way to business success
"It’s very easy to get stuck in a rut when you are running your own business. It’s important to have new input and inspiration – rather than to keep working in the way that you feel safe" says Flora Bhattachary, whose eponymous fine jewellery brand has been thriving at the Goldsmiths’ Centre since 2015.
Trained at John Cass, Medway and with an MA from Central St Martins, Flora is a 20-year veteran of the industry, and the recipient of multiple accolades including a number of prestigious Goldsmiths’ Craft & Design Council Awards. Her success can be attributed not only to a sharp business acumen, but also to a signature bohemian style, which reimagines classic floral designs to stunning effect, with a broad spectrum of influences from Indian culture to art deco.
It was her determination to move forward creatively that made Flora a perfect candidate for the Goldsmiths’ Centre’s Business Catalyst (Large) Grant in 2022. These grants are designed to ensure that established jewellers, silversmiths and craftspeople can grow their artistry in tandem with their businesses, providing them with up to £7,000 to pursue training, experimentation or research in an area of their choosing.
Through the community of the Goldsmiths’ Centre, and particularly the Trade Advisory Subcommittee, we identified that innovation and the opportunity to incorporate this in your work were limited when you are in the mid-career stage in particular. So, this became a real focus for us..
For Flora, the Grant provided escape from her ‘safe’ daily routine to pursue the skill of gouache painting, which is the hand-rendering and painting of jewellery designs. The resulting illustrations are often considered art in their own right, and in an era where computer aided design is increasingly prevalent, this return to analogue techniques can give makers like Flora a unique edge over competitors.
"I knew that I wanted to undertake more bespoke design work – and gouache illustration is an incredibly helpful tool in showing clients what the designs are going to look like once created in 3D. I was interested in the subject and have always enjoyed the art of gouache painting, but I also knew that it would enable me to offer something to my clients that gave them a more tailored bespoke experience. I had really stopped using gouache painting with the advent of CAD renders, but I wanted to get back to that traditional skill, and the Grant gave me the space to do so."
Flora sunk her teeth into gouache painting under the expert tutorage of Jennifer Bloy FRSA FIPG, a freelance designer of jewellery and object d’art whose aptitude for technical drawings and illustration is renowned in the industry.
I had a series of sessions with Jenny, who is a master gouache illustrator. She is amazing and gave me a brilliant and relaxed insight into how she works. I also attended a short course on gouache painting led by Jenny - which was great because it took us through the whole process of illustrating a piece from scratch to the final result.
Flora supplemented Jenny’s guidance with jewellery designer Inesa Kovalova’s ‘Jewellery Illustration School’, enrolling on a three-month course entitled ‘Draw Me A Jewel’. This programme of training was tailored to Flora’s busy schedule, as one of the Grant’s aims is that each project is delivered with consideration to the maker's existing professional commitments. “We know that makers are individual, all of their work is individual, the business model is individual…so flexibility is the key”, explains Julia Skilton.
Another invaluable resource made available to Flora were the vast collections of books and images at Goldsmiths’ Archive and Library. Across several sessions, she was able to study historic gouache illustrations, including notable works by Suzanne Belperron, Gillian Pritchard, Louis Osman and John Donald. Flora also visited the library of her former university, Central Saint Martins.
The cumulative impact of this training and research was not limited to merely mastering a new skill. It has shaped the direction of Flora’s fine jewellery business, with her new-found proficiency in illustrating client’s designs sparking a transition from wholesale to bespoke, particularly in regard to engagement rings.
I’m offering my clients a better bespoke commissioning experience with a greater insight into the process of jewellery design and creation..
As a result of the gouache designs produced during the project, Flora developed two new collections of work that strive to be ‘innovative but timeless’, an approach that has thus far earned her a design award for ‘Best New Handmade Product’ at New York Now.
Overall, the benefits of learning a new creative discipline are difficult to quantify, and are of worth both on a personal and a professional level. The ability to express oneself through a new artistic medium opens up a world of untapped possibilities, renewing confidence and allowing for a fresh outlook on a well-established skill set. All of this can be applied in positive strokes to the continued success of a brand. Flora agrees; “the funding really gave me the space to take a breath and think about where I wanted to go with my design and business.”