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February 15, 2019

Sitting at the Workbench: a chat with founders Katie and Kirstie

 Jaffer
Alyssa Jaffer

Being a maker at its core is about working with your hands, an age-old tradition that these days, is seen as a novelty. The art of handicraft survives in the digital age through artisans who are both passionate, and business savvy. Katie and Kirstie, best friends and founders of The Workbench London, are two of those rare, modern artisans. Their art? Carving bespoke rings and bringing people together. We had a chat to get to know the artist duo before their ring-making workshop this weekend at The Collective Old Oak.

Tell us your story – who are Katie and Kirstie, and how did you get here?

We met on the first day of our jewellery degree and we’ve been best friends ever since. We have partied together, holidayed together and lived together. While trying to set up a craft night with our housemates, we had a lightbulb moment of having our friends make a ring with us and the rest – as they say – is history. The Workbench was created in 2014 and has snowballed into a lot of fun and hard work but we love it!

What’s it like being modern jewellery crafters?

It’s what we’ve always wanted, and now it’s amazing giving people a little taster of a widely-used process within the jewellery industry.

What’s the story behind your name: The Workbench?

Jewellers make at a workbench and we wanted to people to know instantly that this is a making workshop. We though of so many, very cringeworthy names, but kept on coming back to this.

Inside the Workbench workshop. Photograph by Harleymoon Kemp
What does it mean to be a modern artisan?

A modern artisan is a great combination of working with age-old processes and tools. Lost wax casting has been done for centuries and when you look at the tools used, they have barely changed over that time. It’s great to be able to put such a traditional process into a modern workshop. Our events are held in bars and cafes around the UK and we don’t want everyone to follow the same step-by-step rules and all leave with the same ring. We encourage people to have a cocktail or cuppa, and catch up with friends over their carving. We are proud to say that this business model hadn’t ever been offered before The Workbench.

As well as artisans, you are also entrepreneurs. What’s the most challenging part of having your own business?

The main challenge is balance. Balance between running our own jewellery brands when we aren’t running The Workbench – Crux London & Kirstie Maclaren Jewellery. There is also the balance between work and down time. Running your own business means you’re thinking about things 24/7, checking emails before bed and as soon as you wake up. We also get a lot of people Instagram-message us and even though it’s a great way of communication, it means we can never switch off. That’s something we’re trying to get better at dealing with.

And the most rewarding?

The best part of the job is working with each other, bouncing around ideas and sparking new ones from one other. We love what what we do and we get so excited about new ideas. Every day is different and we get so many incredible opportunities. This month, we are hosting an event at the V&A Museum and we just can’t believe it. It’s where we used to go for inspiration and education in our own work – it’s incredible.

Although rings are bespoke and for the individual, your workshops are in group settings. What does it mean to you to bring people together, to make something special for themselves?

Running these events give us so much more than just making a ring – there are unexpected elements to it. We meet so many people and hear about why they are making the rings: celebrating the birth of a child, making wedding bands, creating 30th birthday presents… the list is endless and it fills us with so much happiness that people can create something with such a lot of sentiment and joy. We really want our events to be fun and a big part of the night is ensuring that everyone has a great time. We’re always bouncing about the event and making sure everyone is smiling when they’re ring carving!

It fills us with so much happiness that people can create something with such a lot of sentiment and joy.

Ring-carving with Workbench London. Photograph by Harleymoon Kemp
From all of your workshops, is there a particular ring-making story that stands out? 

We actually get some really lovely stories behind our at-home kits, The Workbench Box. People write us letters when they send their wax carving back to us. Some people have carved because they thought that doing something would help them with their depression. Someone made a ring at home while they were going through chemotherapy and couldn’t make an event. Another girl ordered a kit for her friend, as she had all of her jewellery stolen in a burglary. It really does mean so much to us that we have created something that is about so much more than just making a ring.

The Workbench and The Collective are partnering together. We share similar values of creating more than just a product, but an experience that’s both functional and memorable. What does it mean to you to work with us?

It’s great to work with The Collective, because what we’re both trying to do is very similar. Creating something fun, bringing people together and not the run-of-the-mill situations that both of our industries can so easily slip into. We’re always trying something new and it seems our main objectives are the same. We always want to work in exciting places and this is a perfect match.

What would you say to those budding entrepreneurs out there who are struggling to get their start?

Just do it. Do it and tell people. Socialising is networking and the first ripple of custom comes from your friends – and soon, this ripple reaches further. If it’s your dream, why wait?

The Workbench London will deliver their workshop, ‘Ring-Making Masterclass’, this weekend at 2pm, Sunday 16th February at The Collective Old Oak. Capacity is limited, members can head to the app to sign up. 

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