DIANA PORTER:TALISMANS AND COLLABORATION

 

 

 

Diana Porter is one of the UK’s most successful jewellers. She produces her own range as well as running a jewellery gallery in Bristol showcasing the best work from throughout Europe.

 

Diana Porter had a successful career as a Bristol based Arts administrator for twenty years before deciding to return to College to undertake a degree in Jewellery.

“I went to a Jewellery evening class and loved what I was learning. After years of supporting others to achieve their creative ambitions I wanted to be the one creating.”

After the two year part time course she considered Sir John Cass as a progression (now part of London Metropolitan) but instead decided to go to the University Of Central England as Birmingham was easily accessible from her home in Bristol.

Becoming a student allowed her to explore and express her passion for feminism. Her Degree Show consisted of ‘Sibyls’; talismans, pendant-like but not jewellery specific, representing the female spirit. This has remained a powerful theme throughout her work.

The course placed great emphasis on strengthening design skills and she was encouraged to be constantly enquiring about every aesthetic possibility of an idea before making. The teaching of practical skills was more perfunctory however, and students sometimes had to learn the hard way about the professional aspects of design, (such as her spinning rings which were so popular in her Degree Show but quickly fell apart weeks after being sold!)

Her own business background was invaluable. The tutors – although very good at challenging students to raise their creative stakes – had little commercial expertise to pass on. So Diana Porter was well equipped when she left College in 1993 to start her business. Initially she sold inexpensive pewter sybils at craft fairs and festivals. Her buyers were mainly hippies and students.

Her excellent business acumen and knowledge of promotion gave her the confidence to start selling her work to a more lucrative market and she started to improve her finishing skills and produce her collections in silver.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A year after leaving College she took part in a Crafts Council funded trip to a major San Francisco Trade Fair.

Her home based workshop soon had one assistant and then two. Six years after leaving College she won the UK Jeweller of the Year Award and the following year, in 2000, she moved into The Workshop, a light and spacious warehouse with fully equipped ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’ areas, bench spaces for six jewellers, plus offices. Designing and making became a collaborative effort.

 By this time she was supplying over 100 outlets nationally and abroad.

 A manager was now in place to coordinate the entire business. This left Diana to concentrate on her next project which was to set up the ‘Diana Porter Contemporary Jewellery’ Gallery in Cotham. Not quite central Bristol but a good enough location to attract an affluent and devoted clientele. This allowed her to start collecting an eclectic range of jewellers work from all over Europe, ranging from innovative and quirky pieces in disposable materials to extremely high quality – and highly priced – gold and diamond pieces.

The shop has proved so successful that last year in 2006 she was able to take on City Centre premises in Park Street.

The retail side of the business carries the wholesale work and the division continues to grow with the profits from the shop supporting the labour intensive workshop that produces her own highly successful designs.  This is an ongoing concern; the root cause being vastly cheaper imports from the Far East responsible for causing the UK jewellery industry’s general decline.

Two years ago she found herself faced with the moral dilemma of sourcing cheaper outworkers in Thailand to cut some of her staffing bill. Visits to the workshops went some way to reassuring her that conditions there for the workers were reasonable.

The welfare of her employees has always been a priority. Her own staff have been almost entirely female although she says this is not a deliberate decision, but it does mean that the business has continued to carry the ethos of feminism and women’s rights.

It was a short leap from investigating working conditions in Thailand to developing a consciousness about the materials that she was working with, and this was the point where she became interested in the ethics of mining gold and silver.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She has stated that ‘In Theory’ she would like all her makers to use ethically sourced gold and silver. The problem is that there are few recognised sources where these materials can be obtained at present and she sees a major problem with stocking ‘ethically sourced’ gold next to other jewellers work. The implication being that theirs is unethical.

At present she would like to see her Gallery promoting an approach of ‘Working Towards’ using ethically sourced materials.

*very many thanks to Jane Hope for the use of this case study*