Talking with Sophie Harley: award-winning bespoke jewellery designer.
London-based British jewellery designer Sophie Harley, is recognised world wide for her gorgeous handmade pieces using the finest of stones and precious metals. Sophie has a unique and distinctive style, built upon a hybrid of ancient symbolic and modern illustrative design. Sophie encourages a very personal and intimate experience from the moment a piece is designed to when it is taken home by the client. Clients are welcomed into her working studio in Notting Hill, to watch the traditional hand finishing techniques that Sophie and her team use to create the jewellery. Due to this, Sophie’s work has a deep human imprint, making it jewellery that one can really connect with on an emotional level.
During her career, Sophie has won multiple awards including UK Jewellery Designer of the Year 2013. She is well known for her piece, The Algerian Love Knot, which is a significant feature in the James Bond films Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. Sophie has collaborated with tonnes of names including Harvey Nichols, Pedlars and Boodle & Dunthorne, creating pieces for catwalk shows and music videos. One of her greatest achievements was a collaborated creation with De-Beers of a winged horse brooch, encrusted in gold and diamonds. This piece was presented to the winner of the Royal Ascot King George VI Stakes, by the Queen.
I had the privilege of speaking to the lovely Sophie about all things jewellery and business, and heres what she said.
I first asked Sophie how she got into her line of work and at what point she realised that jewellery design was her calling.
“I started off at the University of West Surrey in Farnham. This was a very drawing based course, lots of life drawing etcetera, which was of course great practice. I then got into and went to The Royal College of Art, where I studied a Masters in Jewellery design, this was much more technical and enabled more creative thought, and visions for the future.”
Whilst at The Royal College, Sophie found she really honed her goldsmithing skills. It was during this time that Sophie became one of forty to be approved a Crafts Council grant. This grant essentially matches expenses required to buy any tools and equipment necessary for starting up a creative business. This allowed Sophie to set up her Jewellery business straight after graduating.
“I had just finished at The Royal College, and I had so much interest from the work I had produced during my degree. The following two years were constant exhibitions, it was strenuous but exciting. A lot of my works were one off pieces, and it was then that this had to change”
Sophie displayed her work at the Chelsea Crafts Fair on the Kings road. At the time this was a very one of a kind affair, with few events similar. It was an occasion where the ‘crème de la crème’ would exhibit their works of art.
“A lot of big people would attend, lots of buyers etcetera. It was a fantastic time, a lot of fun, and it put me on ‘the map’ and gave me a private client base, many clients who still come to me today, nearly 30 years later.”
I asked Sophie how she would describe her work and what influences her style.
“I would describe my work a cultural clash of ancient philosophy and modern day. I spend a lot of time drawing in galleries and museums. My work is heavily symbolic, coming from a very hand made place. I work with a lot more precious metals now days than I did before, and lots of precious stones.”
Sophie’s signature iconic symbol, is a winged heart representing love, hope, and liberation. This is seen incorporated into a lot of her work. It is even her logo, printed onto bags and boxes, and her store front.
“I was fascinated by ornate and intricate jewellery design from a very young age. I remember as a child I was captivated by my Grandmothers charm bracelet from India. I fell in love with ancient artefacts at the beginning of my time at art school. I suppose I’m influenced by a lot of things, this creates the language of my work. Some of my most interesting pieces are ones I have remodelled for clients, into bespoke pieces, almost designed by the client themselves so that it meets their exact desires. I love my up-cycling and remodelling, reusing materials is not only sustainable but keeps the history of pieces and their emotional integrity whilst creating something instantly recognisable and emotional, that can then be passed down to future generations.”
Next, I asked Sophie what material is her favourite to work with.
“Precious metals are beautiful to work with. When doing bench work, I like silver, or a mix of silver and gold – I think they look gorgeous together. And of course, all stones are beautiful in themselves.”
Since Sophie’s work is all handcrafted, I wondered whether she had a team to assist her and how significant a role they might play in the production of her jewellery.
“In the 30 years i’ve been designing, I have now acquired a talented team of 5-6 girls who work with me in the studio. Of course, I have a couple of people I occasionally work with externally including goldsmiths. All of my bespoke client work is done in the studio by myself, and my team do a lot of work on the collections.”
Sophie has been designing for coming up to 30 years now, I wondered what some of her proudest moments and achievements are.
“I have to say I think my greatest achievement to this day is when I got my acceptance letter into The Royal College. That was immense, an unforgettable moment. There were just 6 spaces on the course that year, and I was desperate to go. This was the start of my career.
Also, winning Jewellery Designer of the Year in 2013 was incredible, a very proud moment. The event was hosted in the Natural History Museum and it was absolutely gorgeous. I wasn’t expecting to win, I actually hadn’t intended on entering. It was actually my husband who suggested I enter.
I have a lot of proud moments, designing the piece presented by the Queen at Royal ascot. The James Bond Commission, this was very exciting. I actually didn’t know it would feature so heavily, I thought it might be featured in a single shot perhaps, but actually its an integral part of the story, featuring across two films.
I feel proud on a weekly basis, handing over a piece to somebody and seeing them overwhelmed with emotion, that is just such an amazing feeling that I will never grow tired of. I am very lucky.”
Running a creative business is a tough industry, I asked Sophie what she finds the hardest about her career. She said that sometimes she struggles with the lack of time she has to actually stay creative whilst running a business. There are a lot of important decisions that need to be made to ensure a smoothly running and functional business, and this can take away time available to be creative.
“At art college, a tutor of mine, David Watkins told me something that has stuck with me and now I am older I have realised the truth within it. He told us “you don’t know how lucky you are to spend all of your time creating, when your out and if you successfully manage to make a business out of what you do, you’ll have a mere 10% of your time to be creative”, I have realised this is true. Running a business is a huge amount of work in itself.”
I finished my chat with Sophie by asking what she hopes for over the next few years.
“I hope for my business to continue to grow, though I’m unsure about whether to work with investors to do so as this is my business, its my baby, I’ve nurtured it myself to where it is today. I hope for more bespoke work as I love doing this. Maybe another film, that would be fun. I would also love to do some bigger almost architectural pieces, I am always very open to ideas and creative collaboration.”
A huge thank you to Sophie for speaking to me about her work. I have always been a big fan of her gorgeous designs, and it was a pleasure finding out more about their roots.
Check out her work yourselves, https://sophieharley.com
Alternatively Sophie welcomes her clients to visit the studio from 10am-5pm Monday to Friday.