Michele White started out as a jeweller in the Jewellery Quarter in the mid-eighties, renting a workshop in the area before setting up her fine furniture gallery Artisan Alchemy. The gallery incorporates her own jewellery practice and Artisan Artemy, the jewellery strand of the business. She is an acclaimed British jewellery designer maker who produces innovative and progressive collections, based in a district with a long tradition of being home to artisans.
‘I worked from a tiny workshop on Warstone Lane for thirty years, so you could say I’ve seen the Jewellery Quarter change. There’s a real energy about the place now, and people are flocking to the district to buy apartments and set up business.’
Michele (left) at work in her workshop. Drawing by John Shakespeare RBSA
Jewellery QuarterMichele rented her first studio space in 1986 and came to her chosen trade after raising a family in Birmingham. She trained at the School of Jewellery and later taught the Gemmological Association’s practical course. ‘When I was ready to work again I looked around for something else. I fell upon making jewellery completely by chance, ending up on a class at the School of Jewellery. In 1986 I took the plunge, rented a studio and bought the tools.’ Michele believes vocational courses are of great value, particularly if you are learning a time-honoured trade.
‘I’d like to see more jewellery courses focus on the skills involved. It costs a lot to set up as a jeweller these days, but the rewards can be great if you apply yourself.’Michele is from an artistic family... ‘My father was a lithographic artist and when he retired he took up painting and started exhibiting at the RBSA. I started exhibiting there too, and rose through the ranks to become President. ‘My mother was a dressmaker who made uniforms for the Lyons Corner House ‘nippy’ waitresses. I equate my ability to see things in 3D with her ability to lie in bed at night and work out a pattern.’
InspirationMichele’s signature piece is the ginkgo leaf, which features in many of her designs. ‘I used to walk my children to school and we would pass a ginkgo tree and see these big leaves on the ground in autumn. It’s a beautiful tree, and so the design flowed from that memory.’ Her approach to design is quite organic. ‘I get my ideas from all over the place. I can be watching television, and something will suggest itself. Recently it was a sunset over the Rockies, and I had a piece of agate that looked just like it. Something ignites in that moment. You absorb things from around you all the time.’ She makes chains, rings and earrings, and larger brooches and plaques. Orders can be commissioned and tailored to a customer’s needs. The Jewellery Quarter, as a historic hub of industry expertise, has everything both designer and customer could need. Michele is also influenced by Lalique and Art Nouveau and this shines through in her pieces. ‘Early on in my career I went to an exhibition of Rene Lalique and I love the flowing of the lines in his work. I think of myself as thinking in a similar way about aesthetics. ‘I also love to use gemstones that stand out from the ordinary; those with an unusual inclusion or cut; and these are often the creative impetus for the way a piece develops.’
Creative approachBrowsing the range of jewellery on offer at Artisan Artemy, customers often find they want to discuss their own ideas. ‘I showcase my designs in a permanent display and will start a conversation with customers. This often leads to working on bespoke designs drawn from my range. Design is all about solving problems. You have to break things down, always weighing up the two crucial aspects of form and function.’ To see more of Michele's designs, why not check out her jewellery range?
Visit Michele's gallery in the Jewellery Quarter
- Artisan Alchemy is a contemporary gallery in the Jewellery Quarter district of Birmingham
- The area boasts the largest community of designer makers in Europe
- The gallery is also host to Artisan Artemy fine jewellery