Meet The Makers: James Newman
The story of James Newman Jewellery began with sandy feet and fossils, caves and quartz, and a gentle click of a cabinet drawer.
Hailing from Yorkshire, James’ proclivity for design and jewellery began with weekly rummaging and ruminating in a small hidden drawer in his Grandma’s dresser. A cabinet of curiosities; filled with glittering, gleaming small objects seeped in history, each marking a clear artisanal path.
“It’s such a strong memory from childhood. I remember sitting in front of that open drawer and seeing all of my Grandma’s jewellery and gemstones, trinkets and beads. The history and memories absorbed into each piece fascinated me. How can these things that are so small hold such meaning? It sparked such curiosity in me that I started searching for my own collections, particularly along the coastline; I would be out for hours searching for tiny fossils and scouring caves for quartz.”
This penchant progressed over the years as James commenced a jewellery project in Art college. Here he discovered a holistic approach to art and design, one of unhindered creativity and ideas that flowed to form in the college’s metal workshop. James’ inquisitive nature burned with the possibilities of the fire, with each crash of the hammer, and with each call of cutting metal.
From here on out James began to hone his skills and ideas, complementing that curious child’s whims with technical and tactful skills that led him to Birmingham’s School of Jewellery.
“I remember staring up at the vast building with its composite red brick and glass structure – it was fantastic. There was something about Birmingham, not only was the city far more accessible than London, it was in the heart of the country and one of the most formidable jewellery focussed cities in Europe – instinctively, I knew this was where I was meant to be."
“One of the most profound lessons I was taught at the School of Jewellery was the art of asking the right questions. I never relied solely on my creativity, I had to analyse my craft and refine my ability to bring a 3D object to life through a 2D sketch. It was all about mastering intricacy with precision.”
Following James’ graduation in 1999, he entered into the Taylor Burgess Fellowship scheme. 12 Jewellers, four walls, three exhibitions, two very supportive mentors ( Peter Taylor, now of the Goldsmiths’ Company and Charlotte Burgess), and one telephone. James recalls this cohort, supported by the Prince’s Trust, and the opportunities that were granted to them as a hive of creativity, energy and invention.
“I’ve designed something, and somebody wants it. That’s all I can remember thinking the first time I sold a piece of jewellery. In fact, it was two necklaces at the very first exhibition I stood at. It was from that point on that James Newman Jewellery really started to become a reality. I continued to support galleries on a sale or return basis, but this quickly evolved from designing and supplying pieces for two shops, to having over 100 accounts in just a few years."
James Newman Jewellery found its home on Vyse Street in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter 20 years ago. What originally began as a ground floor workshop, swiftly became a showroom and a storefront. Now, James has established himself as not only a respected jewellery designer, but as an advocate for the industry, providing opportunities, mentoring and training to talented new makers and contributing more widely as a Guardian to the Assay Office, in support of the trade and its people.
“I moved into my own space and wanted to continue my creative investigation. This is where I began to introduce more precious materials into my work. With the introduction of gold and gemstones, I began to hone the collection, focussing on just a few key pieces. This was a turning point for me as I began to establish myself as a true designer of fine jewellery.”
“The brand really evolved from here, once the shop was open and operational. Originally, I had started as a wholesaler, but it was a natural transition to a retail business. It enabled me to work directly with people and develop the bespoke service I longed to offer. Over the years I have had the opportunity to work directly with customers, whether they’re looking for bespoke pieces for themselves or for a loved one, we always go on a journey together to create something unique. It takes me back to that cabinet, all those years ago, sat on the floor as a boy entranced by those trinkets and treasures."
“I’ve found that I continue to be a part of my customer’s journey. From working with a young couple to design engagement and wedding rings, to remodelling a treasured heirloom. As a business strengthened by relationships, we hope we have become a small, yet poignant part of their lives. They’re not just customers, they’re part of the James Newman family.”
Additionally, James has supported several high-end businesses and renowned clients with bespoke jewellery.
“I am of course incredibly proud to have been recognised and trusted to make some truly amazing pieces, but one of the greater joys is working with allied crafts in the Jewellery Quarter. We’re a team, a group of artisans with unique skills. This team effort and ethos is something I encourage in my own business, it’s a place where creativity and the freedom to express ideas is encouraged."
“We are incredibly proud to be an independent business in our second city, and we all look forward to continuing our journey with new creations, collections and collaborations.”