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25 years of designing & making jewelry

Handmade jewelry designer and artisan Simone Walsh is celebrating 25 years of designing and making unique handmade jewelry. Here's a rundown of Simone's jewelry making and business history.

It feels a bit indulgent to be writing up a 'history of me', but after 25 years of designing and making jewelry, I think a rundown of how we got to where we are is probably a good idea.

One of my oldest and dearest friends recently came across a letter I wrote to her when we were still in high school. In it I was expressing frustration with school and said that what I really wanted to do was live in the country and make jewelry. I can't remember writing this - or even having those thoughts when I was a teenager. Yet all these years later, here I am ... living in the country and making jewelry. So how did I get here?

It was way back in 1993 that I spotted a piece of handmade jewelry in a store in Melbourne, Australia which really intrigued me in terms of its construction. It was an eye-catching necklace which was ‘chunky, clunky’ and brightly colored as things were at the time. It had been handmade from wire wrapped around discs of colored glass.

When I got home I kept thinking about how it was made: for some reason it felt like a puzzle that I wanted to solve for myself. Eventually I found myself some cheap wire, pliers and old marbles and started experimenting with ways to put the materials together and turn them into something wearable.

Soon enough I became hooked on the idea of making contemporary jewelry and was very keen to learn more.

Making a start

Initially I made very simple pieces using wire wrapping, beads and manufactured components. I made mostly for my own enjoyment, but also started selling pieces at craft shows, primarily to help fund more materials.

At the time I was working in the music industry, but I didn't feel very happy or fulfilled creatively so I was already considering a new direction. After making very simple jewelry for a year or so I made a decision to pursue this work more seriously and to devote some time to learning how to make '‘real’ jewelry'.

Getting an education

Fish pendant in sterling silver and titanium by Simone Walsh (circa 1994). The first piece of metalwork jewelry I designed and made: a fish pendant in sterling silver and anodized titanium (1994).

I resigned from my job and started full time study in 1994, when I began a Visual Arts diploma with a Jewelry Major at a technical college.

During my first year of study I learned an incredible amount in terms of the core technical jewelry making skills that I continue to use to this day.

At the end of that year I was proud to be presented with The Most Outstanding Jewelry Student award at my college. The award was a big confidence boost and it helped me feel as though this sort of work was well suited me.

Living in Europe

After another period of full time study the following year, I decided to pack up and go traveling while I was still young enough to make the most of the opportunity. I went traveling around Europe and ended up living in London for a couple of years.

While there I was only able to do a very small amount of jewelry making with a few basic tools, but I was able to soak up a lot of ideas and inspiration.

Eventually I returned home with the intention of continuing my studies.

More education

When I returned to Australia, I moved to Sydney so that I could study full time at Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney. There I completed my degree: a Bachelor of Visual Arts with a Jewelry and Metal major, graduating in 2000.

While there I was able to put my established technical skills to work (and learn new ones) while developing creatively.

Hand that Feeds cutlery in sterling silver by Simone Walsh (circa 1999)
The Hand that Feeds cutlery in sterling silver (2000).

The artworks I made as part of my studies were more conceptual in nature and there were only a few wearable pieces of jewelry. You can find some examples of them here on our Australian website.

I also exhibited artworks during this time - even winning the Skygarden Art Prize in Sydney for the cutlery pictured here.

However, during this time I also continued designing and making wearable production jewelry which I sold through a small number of retail outlets.

After I completed my degree I continued making jewelry part time while living and working in Sydney, never feeling sure if I would ever be able to make a full time living doing what I loved.

Selling jewelry online

In 2006 I decided to experiment with selling jewelry online. At the time I really wasn't convinced that jewelry could be sold successfully online. I was sure that people would need to see it, feel it and try it on in person. However, within a very short time of launching a trial shop on a new online venue called Etsy, I realized I was wrong: my designs started selling almost as soon as I started listing them.

After being featured on a few key indie design and handmade blogs, my sales took off to the point that they became a major part of my income. This allowed me to change to part time employment while running an often more than full time business.

Some of the earliest jewelry designs I sold on Etsy back in 2006.

At this point the majority of my customers were in the United States: some of whom continue to be customers all these years later. Although I was based in Australia, the locals still weren't confident about shopping online back then, but Americans were already big online shoppers and many were eager to buy unique handmade products.

Gaining my independence

Within a couple of years I became very disillusioned with Etsy and the way it was being run. I also generally disliked that my own business was so heavily dependent upon another business that could pull the plug on me at any time. 

I decided to set up my own independent online jewelry store at simonewalsh.com. It was a good move and this has been the primary venue for selling my jewelry ever since.

By then Australians were shopping online in far greater numbers and I started to establish a good local customer base. Which was lucky for our business, because not long after launching the new online store, the financial crisis hit. The economic impact in Australia wasn't so bad, but, as you probably know, it was devastating in the USA and many customers there had to cut back on their spending.

After a few years of selling successfully online I finally took the plunge to become creatively self-employed in 2009 - and I haven't looked back.

Growing pains

Back in January 2014 I wrote a blog post about the need for change in my business. It was, quite frankly, killing me. 

At the busy end of the year I'd find myself working 100+ hours a week, my hands were falling apart and I felt like a wreck by the time Christmas rolled around and it would take me months to pull myself back together. 

I was still personally making every single piece of jewelry I sold: I couldn't possibly work any harder and yet my finances were still stretched. My business was successful, but it wasn't sustainable.

An old friend had recently come to visit me and we'd spent the entirety of New Year's Eve drinking wine and talking about this dilemma. He applied his business acumen to the problem to come up with suggestions for resolving it. This conversation led me to the realisation that change had to happen.


Mehndi mandala jewelry components handmade in sterling silver and created by Australian jewelry designer Simone Walsh.
Mehndi mandala jewelry designs in sterling silver from our 2017 jewelry range.

By the next year I had visited and established a relationship with an ethically run jewelry workshop in Indonesia that could make high quality components using my designs in far greater numbers than I could by myself.

I continue to partner with this workshop and they continue to produce beautiful pieces for Simone Walsh Jewelry, most of which we hand finish and assemble in house (while I still continue to entirely handmake a number of jewelry designs). This has allowed the business to grow - without killing me in the process, which I think is probably a good thing!

By the following year that old friend - Colin - had become my husband (true story) and he has played an extensive role in our family run business ever since. 

In 2017 we launched this new online jewelry store in the USA, going back to where my designs first found a market online. We can now much better cater to our lovely North American customer base.

The end (so far)

So here I am, a whole 25 years after spying the necklace which first made me curious, still designing and making jewelry, but rather than being just a passing interest our handmade jewelry business now consumes most of my time.

I'm not sure I'll make it another 25 years, so I've decided to make this one my Gold Anniversary. Stay tuned for some brand new gold designs to celebrate.

A heartfelt thank you

Celebrating 25 years of designing, making and selling handmade jewelry in silver, gold and gemstones.

I definitely wouldn't have made it to 25 years without the friends, family, teachers, retailers, market organizers and others who have helped me along the way: thank you to all of you.

And - most importantly - a huge thank you to every customer Simone Walsh Jewelry has ever had, wherever you might be in the world and however long ago our paths crossed. Without you and all of the rest of our lovely customers (who embrace shopping small, handmade and/or local), our business would be impossible.

Simone Walsh is an artisan jewelry designer and maker who has been creating unique handmade jewelry designs for over 25 years. She lives and works in the beautiful countryside outside Adelaide in South Australia, where she's surrounded by vineyards and rolling hills. Simone is the Founder & Creative Director of Simone Walsh Jewelry.

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