Take a look at this Norfolk-made shell jewellery
- Credit: Claire Howard
As any creative living in East Anglia will tell you, it’s not hard to be inspired be the region’s wonderful surroundings.
There’s swathes of rolling countryside, endless skies, and of course those stunning stretches of beach that almost seem never-ending.
One crafter is so enamoured with her local coastlines that she has managed to incorporate them into her handcrafted pieces – something that has brought her great joy during lockdown.
Meet Claire Howard, a Fakenham-based jeweller. After trying her hand at jewellery making just a few years ago, she quickly fell in love with the pastime – and hasn’t looked back.
“My husband had a big birthday coming up, and I wasn’t sure what to get him. At the time, I was buying from a lot of the small local businesses, and one day I was looking at a jewellery stall when the stallholder Richard said to me ‘why don’t you try making something?’
“So he taught me how to make a pair of cufflinks, and then a ring – and from there I was hooked!”
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Claire soon started attending a number of courses, and under the tutelage of Richard, learnt skills such as soldering, stone setting and texturing.
It wasn’t long before she sought solace in jewellery making and quickly found it an effective way to unwind from her teaching job at the time.
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“I started off making jewellery as a way to destress from the classroom, but eventually when my son started school, that’s when I took the leap to do it fulltime.
“I wanted to be able to support my son at school, and I also found it difficult to do all of the things with my son that I was asking the other parents to do with their own children – and that didn’t sit right with me.”
While quitting your job to start a new business can be daunting for many, Claire attributes her successes to the kindness of her fellow local crafters, who were more than welcoming when she decided to set up shop.
“Norfolk is fantastic for makers – there are just so many people who are generous with their time and advice, and I feel I’ve really grown from that.”
Claire – who works from her workshop at home – handcrafts a selection of pieces, including rings, necklaces and earrings, and looks to nature when it comes to designing her wares.
“We’re big walkers in our family, and that for me is a huge source of inspiration. I just love being outside, and the whole element of nature really inspires my jewellery. Life works on a circle, and I really enjoying making bangles the most, as well as chains. I just find it so satisfying, making and soldering circles, fitting one inside of another. Before you know it, you’ve suddenly you’ve got a whole line linked together, and that really is quite beautiful.”
But it’s her Norfolk beach-inspired bracelets that are her pride and joy, paying homage to her local coastline.
“I’ve got a range of bangles which I’ve named after Norfolk beaches, including Holkham and Brancaster, and I'm just finishing off an Old Hunstanton one. What I do is pick tiny shells off the beach and cast them in metal, so every bangle has a bit of Norfolk in it, which makes it unique in its own way.”
Regardless of what she’s working on though, Claire says one of the best parts about being a jeweller is the therapeutic qualities that it brings her - something she has been especially grateful for during lockdown.
“I certainly think there is a lot to be said about the mindfulness that comes with crafting, especially jewellery making. You do so much sanding, polishing and filing that you can’t focus on anything but the very small thing in front of you.
“Lockdown at times was hard for me as I’m used to having my own space but suddenly it was the opposite with my husband and son both at home. But jewellery making was a nice escape as it allowed me to slink away and concentrate on making something small and fiddly, letting my mind wander.”
And it’s not just the process that brings her joy – it’s also the end result, and the reactions from her customers.
“I make a lot of special, bespoke jewellery, and I just love when people email me once they’ve been gifted one of my pieces. Otherwise, you spend time making something and sending it out into the world and you don’t hear about it again which is a shame as you’ve spent your time and creative passion working on it. Just last week, someone got in touch to say they’d been given one of my pieces for their 50th birthday and they sent me a photo of them wearing it. That really makes it all worthwhile.”