NSCAD alumna Emily Gill was recently featured in The Globe in Mail story Our Home and Native Bling which talks about how high-end Canadian jewellery designers are setting themselves apart with the flexibility and uniqueness of their designs.
The Montreal native graduated from NSCAD in 2009 and things have been non-stop ever since. She’s been featured in British Vogue, named a finalist for a 2015 Niche Award and worked at OCAD University.
She is known for crafting custom pieces that suit the need of the wearer, using both traditional techniques and computer design to create distinctive pieces out of gold, silver, platinum, gemstones, diamonds, pearls and enamel.
In conversation by phone from her home in Toronto, Emily was keen to discuss her business, the industry and time at NSCAD.
Q: What made you want to pursue a career in jewelry making?
A: I was making jewellery since I was a little kid, which I guess a lot of craftspeople know they’re artists when they’re young. However, when I was attending Concordia University for graphic design I started working in a jewellery store and I became totally enamored with the techniques that I was hearing about.
Q: There seems to be a shift in buying jewellery, with consumers are moving away from box stores and purchasing custom-made jewellery. Why do you think that is?
A: I listen to my customers. My customers really like working with me because I’m a person and I’m an individual, part of the experience for them, whether they’re used to buying from independent, local artists or not, is feeling like they have more of a stake in the creative process. I think considering the shift in our society to buy more locally made luxury goods, because jewellery really is a luxury good and it always has been. (This shift) is a step in the right direction because this is how jewellers ran their businesses for thousands of years, without mall mentality. I feel like this is actually just bringing us back to the way things should be. I know in Toronto it’s really popular, mostly because there are these schools in Canada that are producing these jewellers so there’s a lot of people who are creative and want to work with customers so the more custom jewellers we have in Toronto, it’s not just about competition, there’s more opportunity for all of us to make a living doing this. I think it’s a good thing that there are more independent jewellers, in Toronto especially.
Q: Does creating custom jewellery pieces contribute positively to your art practice and if so, how?
A: Absolutely, it really does. I’ve learned, coming from NSCAD where you are working, it’s very cerebral the creative process and inward because you’re trying to learn about your own self and your own ideas and creativity. When you go outward, to work with customers who are looking for a product, essentially you have to shift your way of thinking. I have to think more like other people who are wearing, buying the jewellery, have long term concerns about how it’s made and how it will wear, how it will fit into their life in the future with family, passing them down as heirlooms. I have to think like them so I’m always having to put myself in other people’s shoes and the great thing about that, from a visual arts perspective or a design perspective, is that when I’m working with people who maybe come from different cultural backgrounds I have to research styles from all over the globe to try and find something that will blend into a new custom engagement ring for someone with an East India background. It’s amazing really, it forces me to address history in a way, in jewellery and look at it for inspiration. I do think creatively it helps me, it’s fun and I’m able to expand on what I already know pretty much on every subject. Every week is like a new challenge.
Q: What do you think sets your work apart from other jewellers?
A: I think primarily if I look at my aesthetic, besides some of the custom jewellery I do it’s very big and bold and colourful, but what I’ve been doing for the last five years is always trying to make big jewellery that is made using traditional methods. Many people in the business world have said to me ‘Why wouldn’t you mass produce these? They would make amazing costume jewellery’ and to me it’s really important that I continue to make my own jewellery, like my big enameled flowers or stone necklaces or anything really big and colourful. It’s very important that I keep making it in a traditional way because that’s part of the essence of my work itself. I want to stay true to that precious material because if I change that, if I went bigger and mass produced it or made it plastic it wouldn’t have the same integrity anymore. It’s hard for me to sell it sometimes because it’s not $60 costume jewellery that people are used to seeing in that scale and size and colorfulness, but I hope that if I’m patient enough I’ll just keep building a following who’ll appreciate that.
Q: How did your education at NSCAD prepare you for the work you’re doing today?
A: It’s prepared me in so many ways; I mean I can’t be thankful enough that we had 24-hour access to the studios. I wasn’t an all-nighter but I was there a lot (of late hours) and I worked hard while I was in school. I feel like I still work that way. I work every single day on my business whether it’s in the studio or not and I’m used to it. The thing about NSCAD is it actually felt fun, the teachers made you really excited about learning and about what we were doing so I’d feel excited about it every day and now when I wake up I’m like “Ooh, I have the most exciting job ever.”
Emily is currently working out of one of the studios at Made You Look Jewellery on Queen St., Toronto. For more information on Emily and her work check out www.emilygill.ca.