Author Profile – Dr Gordon Hamme
"This book explains how to do what you need to do and then not have to worry about it."
This book is based on my 45 years in business, culminating – at the age of 62 – in a PhD which researched and analysed enterprises in the craft silversmithing industry – businesses owned and run by makers, many of whom are my good friends.
I hope that my research and business experience will shed light on how I think about earning a living. I was very lucky to start at the age of 17, when my mother offered to give me a small part of her market stall at the new – and incredibly busy – Sunday Wembley Market, next to the famous Stadium. My girlfriend, and future wife Angela and I sold gold and silver jewellery at the market, and at that time such trade was something of an innovation. Our customers loved it.
Fairly quickly, we were selling jewellery at more street markets every day, particularly at Middlesex Street in the City of London. It was very fashionable in the 1970s for people to visit markets, looking for clothes-factory overruns, seconds and other bargains. It was a golden time for everyone, with young office workers coming to the market every payday – which in those days was a Friday – to buy the latest fashions and jewellery.
We designed a clean, simple, colourful stall, where we had just a few moments to grab someone’s attention, create trust and maybe hand out a business card. Each piece we sold had a little story. The narrative would normally begin “I made this because… This stone looks really nice as a ring… as a pendant…” and so on. Soon, I decided to learn to be a maker, and paid a Hatton Garden jeweller to teach me the basics.
Unfortunately, in 1980 the price of precious metals spiked and we couldn’t trade profitably. So we both took jobs. Angela took a job in Hatton Garden, a centre for high-end jewellery and a world-wide hub for the diamond industry. Working for a jewellery trade supplier, she not only learned the business, but also built a whole department on her own, doing all the buying and selling of precious metal jewellery components, known as ’findings’.
"We also worked out that we weren’t just selling jewellery components – we were selling ‘time’."
After a while, Angela set up her own business, Exchange Findings, just down the road from her previous employer. The business grew quickly, and I joined her a year later.
The initial key to the success of Exchange Findings was the Hatton Garden messenger system. Every workshop had a messenger, a ‘runner’ who came to the Garden to buy that day’s or week’s supplies of essential items. Angela always made sure they left with a completed list of our products!
We also worked out that we weren’t just selling jewellery components – we were selling ‘time’. The workshops needed everything yesterday, so we became direct and speedy suppliers of everything they might need: bullion products (sheet, wire), findings, tools and machinery. Our competitors, the bigger trade suppliers, would only make to order, but we held products in stock, often delivering items to purchasers by post the very day after they had ordered. Today, that’s normal; then, it was a revolution.
After 12 years, we sold Exchange Findings to Cookson Precious Metals, a large bullion producer. They bought our company not only because they wanted to be in the sector of the market we were trading in – findings. They also wanted to take us out of the bullion business – we were a competitor. Angela stayed with Cookson Precious Metals, building and running their internet business for a further 13 years.
While all this was going on, as well as working for Cookson, I became a mentor for the Prince’s Trust, which supports young people to start their own business. One of the main things I learnt while at the Trust was that the key to making a new business work is having a mentor. This insight has shaped much of my later academic work, and I firmly believe that mentorship should be a central plank of all start-up businesses.
At that time, I was also very fortunate to become a non-executive director of a fine jewellery company led by one of Britain’s best designers, Stephen Webster. Stephen had great faith in PR as a way of promoting his company; he created a ‘look book’, which he adhered to for the whole of his career, laying out every aspect of the look and design of his business image – the brand.
Stephen’s wife Assia drove the company’s PR department, relentlessly sending out press releases almost daily. Their networking with clients, journalists and editors was truly amazing. Stephen made the wedding rings for Madonna and Guy Ritchie, after which Madonna was very generous about being photographed at high-profile events wearing Stephen Webster jewellery. Stephen also helped younger designers through his ‘Rock Vault’ programme which featured jewellers at the prestigious Couture show in Las Vegas. Stephen was awarded an MBE for his services to the jewellery trade – and it was through him that I learnt the importance of a brand look, PR and celebrity endorsement, and relentless hard work.
"I discovered that many courses designed for artisan companies apply large company MBA principles, which in my opinion are inappropriate and unhelpful."
In 1994, I decided to study for a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree. I admit that I did this for ‘fun’. But the MBA taught me a huge amount about how large companies are run – and as a result, I learnt that small and micro companies are completely different to large ones, and need a separate set of guidelines. Later I discovered that many courses designed for artisan companies apply large company MBA principles, which in my opinion are inappropriate and unhelpful.
Five years later, I left Cookson to publish the Goldsmith Magazine, commissioning, editing and writing articles. The magazine covered the jewellery and silversmithing industries through maker profiles, commentary on products, exploration of markets and coverage of national and international trade shows all around the world. Through writing the magazine, and through the analysis of successful companies, my suspicions were confirmed that people who do well relentlessly network, and never stop promoting their business.
In 2008, I co-founded British Silver Week with silversmith Brett Payne, our aim being to promote contemporary silversmithing. In our first year, we reached over 1.5 million people, and in the full 10 years of the organisation our work resulted in 95 exhibitions as well as television, radio, magazine and newspaper coverage in the United Kingdom, Europe and Asia. Through organising British Silver Week, I also learnt to work with larger organisations such as the Goldsmiths’ Company and London Craft Week, culminating in a partnership with the Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers; the Inspired Exhibitions.
Four years later, I became a freeman of the Goldsmiths’ Company, a City of London guild founded in the fourteenth century, and now mainly a trade networking organisation and charity. I later became a liveryman of the Company, which gives you the right to herd your sheep over London Bridge, free of charge. To be of use to the trade and in order to carry on networking, I also serve on the Executive Committees of the National Association of Jewellers’ Education and the Goldsmiths’ Craft and Design Council.
I gained my doctorate in 2019 at the University of Edinburgh, my final thesis being: Crafting the twenty-first century artisan-silversmith: Exploring the elements of a silversmith development framework; this can be found on the Festival of Silver website.
My thesis filled in lots of gaps in my knowledge, including the history of silversmithing and craft, and the trials and tribulations of running a micro-business. Also, through the 60 interviews I did with friends and colleagues, I learnt a huge amount about the motivations of running a craft business, which for craftspeople is often unclear; the profit motive is not always the centre of an artisan’s life.
What’s next for me? I think that sharing the ideas in this book are important because I believe that many craftspeople come out of their degree courses with little or no idea of what to do next. One such lady I met, having finished her degree, just wanted to “run away”! So I hope that offering the BCCA and supporting it through this book, I can make a road map for creative people who want to build their business, which will be a very satisfying job for me, and very useful to you too. So, as they say, “Off we go!”