Welcome to the first edition of the Get To Know Your Jeweller Series where I sit down with the one and only Dragon herself; Stephenie Denault, and discuss all things shiny!
In this 4 part series, we will discuss how she came to be the Jeweller we all love today, the ins and outs of her craft, her inspirations, the struggles and everything shiny in between!
Pull up a seat and stay awhile, things are heating up fireside in the Dragons Den!
Q. Was there a pivotal moment in your life that caused you to want to pursue Jewellery Making as your career? If so, what was it?
I wanted to make a living making Arts and had enrolled into Dawson's Fine Arts Program. I dropped out of the Fine Arts because of the oversized egos of my classmates in the program which made it difficult for me to enjoy things.
I discovered Jewellery making later on with a roommate who actually had taken the course of Jewellery Making to get an extra hundred bucks a month on his welfare cheque. I looked at the projects he was doing and said, "Hey! I can do that Myself!" So I then enrolled in Jewellery Making at École Métier Sud-Ouest in St. Henry and graduated in 1998.
Q. Where do you draw inspiration from when creating new collection pieces for your clients?
I'm inspired by high fantasy Sci-Fi Anime and all the funky stuff that I loved growing up, as well as what was inspired by my father who was also a huge Geek.
I love vintage jewellery designs from the 1940's and 1950's, especially the sculpture realistic animal jewellery, as well as antique jewellery designs from the middle ages with all the different gemstones.
Q. What kind of Schooling is required to be a Jeweller?
In Montreal, we have a couple of different jewellery schools. I went to École Métier Sud-Ouest in St Henry which is a trade school program. I went to school for 2 years full time to get a DEP for Jewellery Making. Unfortunately, I did not graduate; as 4 weeks before I was to graduate, I had an accident and dislocated my shoulder which required me to drop out of the program right at the end.
Many jewellers in and around Montreal come from the Old Country, where they were trained as students by Master Jewellers at the bench or as we more commonly call it "apprenticeships". It's considered a job not so much as a trade so it ends up that a lot of jewellers start working at minimum wage instead of a higher paid job as would be expected of a tradesperson. It's also why so many end up starting their own businesses.
Q.What kind of equipment is required? And in regards to a studio space, is it better to rent or to purchase the space and equipment outright?
There's different types of jewellery making styles and different types of techniques. Depending on the skill and the style of the jewellery that you are creating, the workspace has different requirements. My workshop has had a lot of equipment bought over the years. I had accumulated my equipment over a 12 year period before I started working for myself full time.
For renting or purchasing... it all depends on your training, whether you want to do this on a full time basis or if you're looking to do this as a hobbyist. There are some club spaces like the Montreal Gem and Mineral Club where we have workspace that you can actually use a few days of the week for a membership fee and the usual rental fee, but some places don't have that available. It really depends on the region and which city you're in. Here in Montreal, outside of post pandemic, we have the gem club which is open 3 days a week where people can come to use the equipment to do basic jewellery work and learn from other jewellers.The club is currently closed due to the pandemic, but we are hoping to have it open up around the fall season. This will depend on Health Canada's rulings.
Q. What are the key factors to your success?
I find the key to my success is determination, patience and being thrifty. I started off very small, and with very little money. I worked for other jewellers to get industry experience, to learn what is required to run a business and to decide whether or not this would be something I would want to do for myself.
Due to my experience working in a retail store for 6 years as Assistant Manager and as a technician, I discovered that I didn't wish to own a retail store, nor do I like the idea of managing a retail store. I enjoy working for my shop on a full time basis on my own terms, and that allows me to enjoy my work. If you're not enjoying what you're doing, you're not going to make good jewellery! Another bonus to having my own workspace is that I can work however I wish to, dress how I like- whether it be in pajamas, or a pair of shorts and tank top, and I don't need to wear a bra to go to work!
More than anything else, I love what I do. I love to create and have a good feel for creating something that can be worn by anyone. I like to make portable artwork which can be worn on an everyday basis and will stand up to the test of time. My outlook is 'Quality over Quantity' and having customers who love my work, return again and again.
Join us next week for Part 2 of the Get to Know Your Jeweller Series where we dig deeper into the unique world of Jewellery making, pandemic woes, do's and don'ts of an online business and so much more!
See you next Monday here, in the Dragons Den!