So hectic is Dinny Hall’s schedule that when we find time to talk it is through her car bluetooth as she drives down Regent Street on the way to her studio, before jetting off on a well deserved holiday in the afternoon. ‘If I cut you off it’s because I’m parking – I promise I’ll call you back!’ Yet you can hardly blame her, after thirty successful years in the jewellery industry, Dinny Hall is now founder and creative director of her own brand, which has become an icon of British jewellery. Her graduate collection was bought by Liberty and since then her work has featured in every high fashion magazine, from Vogue to Stylist. With the likes of Nicole Sherzinger snapped wearing her designs, three stores and ranges appearing in John Lewis and Goldsmiths, this really is an exciting time for Dinny and her brand. Despite her jam packed schedule, Dinny was more than happy to share her story, success and suggestions with Hotcourses; coming across as gracious and down to earth, it’s no wonder her designs have survived for so long in the ever competitive jewellery industry.
Let’s start at the beginning, how did you initially get into jewellery design?
As an outsider, it seems to be a hugely competitive industry?
It’s extraordinarily competitive. When I started out in the ‘80s there were a few jewellery designers that made really fancy jewellery or costume jewellery and then there were the big brands like Tiffany and Cartier. There were very few individual designers when I started, so in a way I had to carve out a niche.
How did your career progress from there?
I started off working with a lot of fashion designers in the ‘80s, which enabled me to make quite big pieces. In those days I got a lot of press with magazine covers of supermodels wearing my designs, but it’s quite difficult to sustain that because you are part of fashion, but you are not the main event. You cannot really make a lot of money unless you are a big company like Freedom who do the Topshop jewellery, but I got a lot of recognition and decided to use my craft to start making silver jewellery. I eventually opened my first shop in the nineties.
I know you must answer this in every interview, but where do you get your inspiration from?
I’m very inspired by architecture and am always looking up at buildings; I’m in Regent Street at the moment and if I look up I can see pineapples and little turrets. I’m interested in wrought iron and sculptural form, which give my work a three dimensional element. I obviously love nature as well so my inspiration would be a combination of these things. I have to say though, when it comes to gemstones, I do prefer great simplicity; I’m not a one for much embellishment, so I tend to be inspired by the gemstones themselves when working with stones.
How important would you say jewellery training is to the industry?
It depends, I’m a firm believer that for a period of time, anybody can be a jewellery designer because it depends what your medium is; you could use beads and string them in the most amazing way without any knowledge of gems or metal work and be very successful. You’ve also got techniques like lazar cut-outs where you don’t need the skills of a jeweller. However there is something rather beautiful about the craft itself, it’s a bit like embroidery or anything handmade. I think everyone would agree there’s something very special about that, but you don’t have to, I think it’s very hard to sustain a career for a lifetime when you haven’t got the craft.
How big is your team now, do you still oversee every project?
Well I’ve been through tremendous ups and downs – I don’t think there are many jewellery designers that started in the early eighties and have just sustained their business. I’m not brilliant with the financial side of things, but I’m a pretty good business and saleswoman. But I think at times I’ve had too much to do, so there have been periods when I think the design has been really up there and others when I’m more concerned about paying the bills. I’ve kept the business quite small but recently we’ve had a small investment, and I’ve now got a CEO who has taken over the running side of the business. I am now the creative director (and obviously founder), so I oversee the jewellery and production which is a huge job.
With this in mind what would you say is the hardest part of your job, the running of the business or creating new things after so many years in the industry?
Well reinvention is quite challenging when you have your own style. It’s a bit like being a chef who develops their own way of cooking; you develop your way of designing. You also get the feeling that at some times people absolutely love what you do and at other times they don’t. Even now, I get insecure about my designs, but I love this bit the most and it’s the reason why I went into jewellery design. I think age makes you understand some things more – I know now when I’ve designed something really good.
What’s in the pipeline for you and your brand?
Well I haven’t wholesaled the jewellery since the mid ‘90s and we’ve just started again. We’ve got three stores – one in Liberty, one in Islington and the other in Notting Hill – and now we’ve got the silver range in John Lewis and some key Goldsmith stores. It’s what I call everyday jewellery and I’m so pleased Goldsmith’s have taken the plunge to sell jewellery that’s a little more fashion conscious. As a brand we’re somewhere in between fashion and fine jewellery, which is a really interesting position to be in.
Best of luck with that! What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
I think get to know who you want to sell to; identify whether there are people who will like what you do and what sort of price range those pieces should be. Research who else is out there – I think one of the biggest challenges that many designers have got is the competition. At some point I want to buy in a young designer to help promote them, but if I look around I can’t decide who, because there is so much talent around.
So often you find someone very similar to yourself and it’s incredibly important to make sure that you’ve got your own specific identity. And then to do your sums because you’ve got to sort out production, which is as important as the design actually. You’ve got to get your designs made, put a margin on it so you earn money and then decide if you want to sell to shops. A top tip would be to work with a design group that take on young designers and do shows – that’s a really good way to start and they take less margin.
Do you still have the first piece of jewellery you ever made and do you still wear it?
The funniest thing is I do have it! I found it the other day actually, it’s really quite pretty! I’ve also got a book of my earliest designs when I was on my foundation course; I did some Mondrian pieces which were very experimental.
Finally, would you ever wear anyone else’s designs, if so who?
I find it is hard for me to wear other people’s jewellery as there’s always something within my range that I like. I also tend to think less is more with jewellery, if I find a gem stone I can just set it and wear it to my liking and therefore I don’t really need to go anywhere else. But if I had to, oh gosh I don’t know, that’s a really hard question, well I’d probably go vintage.
And with that I left Dinny to park, get in into the studio and dash to the airport. Running over our allocated time, Dinny is a busy woman, but is also living proof that a successful career in the jewellery industry is far from unattainable. If you want to get trained in the skills needed to succeed, there are plenty of jewellery courses available on Hotcourses – from gemoloy to goldsmithing, we’ve got it covered.