Meet the trader: The Tate gallery jewellery gift maker with a studio in Deptford

Laura Nelson in her workshop at Second Floor Studio. Pic: Molly Smith

In a south London studio that she shares with her partner and dog, Laura Nelson crafts jewellry inspired by overlooked textures, using recycled precious metals and experimental techniques.  

“Once I was on like a little holiday in Scotland and we went to a beach and I was looking at the patterns when the tide comes out. So I did loads of drawings and then took it to the studio and drew it onto a piece of silver and then etched it,” she said.

Nelson has been living in London for 14 years and six of those years have been spent making jewellry. She explained: “I did product and furniture design at Kingston University. So, after that, I worked in exhibition design, for a company mainly focussed on science museums.

“The role was a mixture of design and making, which I really liked. I also did design and product development for a jewelry company. Whilst I was working all these jobs, I was making jewellery in my spare time. I did some courses in casting and etching to learn the basics and then developed a collection. Once I felt like I’d like learnt enough I just took the plunge and started doing it full time.”  

Nelson used recycled precious metals and is conscious of waste to ensure her work is made ethically and responsibly in her Deptford-based studio.  

Laura Nelson’s work station in Second Floor Studio. Pic: Molly Smith

Growing up in Yorkshire, Nelson remembers watching her father whose background is in civil engineering with curiosity about how things were made. “He would always be doing stuff in the house, and I’d always be there, probably getting in the way, asking to help whenever I could, so it’s probably not a surprise I ended up making for a living. What I love about making jewellery is, I am involved in the whole process from the design stage, all the way to handing over the produce to a client. It’s a really nice feeling.”  

Nelson splits her time between working on pieces for her collections and bespoke commissions. It can take anywhere from eight weeks to several months for her work to be completed.  

Nelson explained one of her collections and said: “I’ve got a range called a pulp range, which was inspired by paper pulp or egg carton material. I made lots of models out of papier-mâché cast them in silver and made them into chains, earrings, things like that. With this type of design, I’ll make a batch of 10, photograph them and get ready to sell. That whole process probably takes around four months. If I’m making a bespoke wedding ring, I’ll have a meeting with the client, and it probably then takes about eight weeks to complete.” 

A piece from Laura Nelson’s ‘Pulp’ range. Pic: Molly Smith

Largely inspired by texture and nature, Nelson explains that sometimes not coming from a traditional silversmithing background has benefitted her because everything feels like an option when it comes to design. “I’ve also got a range that inspired by the texture offset the negative imprint of cabbage leaves, and that just came about because my mum cooked dinner and was chopping up this cabbage. I was putting all the nice leaves to one side to take an imprint”, she said.  

Speaking of people and places who inspire her Nelson said: “I feel like you can just sit and look at Barbara Hepworth’s work for ages. It never gets boring to me. She lived in Yorkshire as well and I just love how she gets such nice forms into such heavy-duty materials. It just looks effortless.” 

Nelson’s work is stocked under the same roof as some of the most exciting art in the country, as it can be purchased from the gift shop at the Tate gallery. “One of the buyers there got in touch and then they placed a few orders, which is good. It’s kind of crazy, because it’s a great place to visit and the gift shop is really well-curated. It’s a nice feeling to have my work in there.”   

Nelson explains the challenge of balancing creativity with business. The bigger and more elaborate the piece of jewellery the more expensive it becomes to make and sell which is something she must be aware of during the design and making process. She said: “If money was no object, I’d make a big, elaborate, chunky ring or maybe a big neck piece that’s super textured, with rough cut stones set into it. It would cost so much but it would be a really nice activity.”  

You can purchase Laura Nelson jewellery here.

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