A Day In The Life of a Bereavement Jewellery Artist

My day making memorial and bereavement jewellery starts around 7.30 am as my toddlers start chirping for breakfast. I stumble, bleary-eyed, down the stairs and reach for the kettle before pouring out milk and passing them some cereal (they’re almost 4 and almost 2 and there’s nothing more exciting than putting their own breakfast in the bowl). It takes a good 20 minutes to give them breakfasts numbers two and three, empty the dishwasher and sort out the cats before I’m allowed a coffee. Usually, our au pair starts at 8 am at which point the laptop goes on and I open up the emails. If it’s a weekend then I have to check them on my phone while looking after the kids as The Viking and I fight over lie-ins.

Our little studio is tacked onto our British Iron and Steel Federation Home, built in the 40’s on the outskirts of Bristol to support the workers. They are simple little houses, tricky to get a mortgage for but the insurance wasn’t as bad as I’d been led to believe. We have a little three bedroom house, open plan and hyggeligt (Faroese for cosy). If my apprentice Danielle is working that day I pop in and stick the fan heater on but if it’s just me I’d rather stick a jumper on and watch my breath as I work. Usually, I sit in our dining area with the laptop for an hour or two first where there’s more sunshine; if we were somewhere warm I’d sit outside with my coffee.bereavement jewellery

Answering Bereavement Jewellery Emails

I’ve usually got about 10 emails in the inbox but half of them can be deleted straight away, the eBay and PayPal ones for sure, annoying Facebook “such and such changed the privacy in the blah blah blah”. The ones I’m interested in are from clients. Sometimes it’s a jewellery enquiry with special requests and I could spend hours just talking to people. One day, when I have some full-time staff members, I would like to spend more time just talking to clients about their loved ones and how they imagine their pieces. I’d love to collaborate on Pinterest boards of bereavement jewellery ideas, full of clouds and galaxies, mythical creatures and dried flowers, precious stones and messages to be added. Making plans to work with platinum metals and showing clients colour schemes, using Photoshop to mockup ideas. My favourite part of making bereavement jewellery has to be imagining the colours and editing the photos in Lightroom.

Bereavement Jewellery Product Photography

When it comes to editing photos and making images for the website it’s mostly self-taught. I started out using freebies from Creative Market* which are totally invaluable for anyone with a blog or Etsy shop. I import photos from my DSLR camera straight onto my cloud via Lightroom which is a complicated way of saying the computer does most of it for me. I’ve invested a lot of effort into making it ideal for someone as lazy as I am: I browse the photos, pick the ones I like, apply the crop and exposure presets and export into this website. The camera I started out with was one I’d bought to take to Tanzania the first time I went but when it was time to move on I got a preloved digital SLR with a macro lens and my friend Emma showed me how to position the bereavement jewellery in natural lighting.

bereavement jewellery scene
Using Lightroom to bulk edit and upload images to the media library

It takes me about half an hour to do a set of photos then I tend to put them onto the website in the evenings, the time-consuming bit is tagging them and writing the descriptions then matching them to the correct albums and products. For example, this lock of hair set we made last week for a client needed four photos and the lady has uploaded her own photo to our Facebook page which I’ll add to our client gallery once I’ve asked her permission.

resin lock of hair necklace and stacking ring family order with lilac shimmer backgrounds, ring is 6mm round bezel set cabochon with tree bark stacking ring setting
resin lock of hair necklace and stacking ring family order with lilac shimmer backgrounds

Making Bereavement Jewellery

When I first started the company, almost two years ago, I had two clients post in ash in two days yet neither of them had order numbers. Thankfully one client had put their name and I sent the other a photo to confirm the package was theirs but they were upset and worried. I can’t even think of the devastation if I weren’t so strict about how things are labeled and packages arrive every day. We open and mark them in and they go in a special drawer ready to be put into “being made” boxes.

On a day my apprentice is working we start at 9 am and we work hard. Making the jewellery can be very stressful when we are working with ash and little bits of hair and fur that can’t be replaced. We’re worried about every little mistake, tiny air bubbles and bumps. Often we cast two resin pieces for a client and choose which one to give a second coat, sometimes we’ll give the client a choice. It’s hard to describe the colours available because we mix them all by hand. An aqua shimmer might have blue, white, green, black and brown in it so the possibilities are endless.

When a piece is cured it’s really exciting to take it out of the mould and see how it’s come out. After they’ve had their second coat they go onto a shelf ready for me to set, either with our custom charm bead cores, or in a ring I’ve made for the client. I go online and choose the shipping, copying over each client’s info individually, printing it all out and packaging the orders. I add the tracking info to their account and give them to our au pair to take to the post office the next day. They’re marked off our board and the box recycled for the next client. Once a fortnight or so I’ll print out a new list of orders to make and we work our way down from the top, doing what we can to each piece.

My toddlers go to nursery three afternoons a week and the rest of the time they’re looked after at home by an au pair. That means I see them a lot but can choose when to work; I suffer with depression and chronic fatigue so sometimes I can’t work and have to sleep. Things are better now I have help and can manage my day better and I’m much happier, more productive and the studio is more organised. Have a look at the latest photos of work I’ve added to the cremation ash jewellery and the fur or lock of hair jewellery. If you have any questions about our bereavement jewellery please let us know by emailing info.treeofopals@gmail.com or calling me (Nic) on 0117 329 2197.

*that’s an affiliate link, by the way, I get credit to spend on new fonts and things if people use their website. The freebies are free but I warn you – the site is very addictive!

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