Adding some sparkle to life
PUBLISHED: 16:08 14 April 2014 | UPDATED: 16:08 14 April 2014
Tessa Allingham meets jeweller Megan Birnie of Bury St Edmunds
Noah is a cute, curly-haired three-year old, more interested in Play-Doh than jewellery shopping with his mum.
Thankfully, though, this is jewellery shopping with a Play-Doh twist. Guided by 26-year-old jeweller Megan Birnie, Noah presses his finger into a piece of silver clay to leave an imprint, then presses down a tiny cutter to cut out the oval shape that in just a couple of weeks time will be a unique silver pendant hanging round his mother’s neck. She has chosen to add a silver initial ‘N’, and a small opal, Noah’s birthstone.
Megan’s business is barely four months old, but she’s already built up a customer base, largely thanks to social media, that means our interview is crammed between back-to-back appointments. She perches on a stool at the back of her father’s jewellery shop in Bury St Edmunds, surrounded by samples of necklaces and bracelets, pots of silver clay and cutters. Clients choose the shape of the pendant, chain length and style, plus any additions before making the imprint and leaving the rest to Megan.
She works with a compound that is pure powdered silver mixed with water and a binding agent to make a malleable product with the consistency of traditional clay. The process of firing the air-dried clay burns off the binder to leave the design embedded forever in virtually 100% pure silver. “There are many stages after firing to make the end product perfect,” says Megan. “Silver clay can be very unpredictable, scratches can appear, but I take great care and spend a lot of time filing and polishing. There is a lot of finger and handprint jewellery around, but I try to go that extra distance. I’m definitely a perfectionist.”
Most of her work incorporates children’s fingerprints, but she’s also happy to take hand and foot prints – and even a pet’s paw print – and shrink them down to a manageable size.
Megan’s interest in jewellery was probably unwittingly sparked by her father, the contemporary jeweller Michael Birnie. “When I was growing up I was never that interested in what he did, but since starting this business I’ve realised just how much hard work goes into creating unique pieces. I don’t think I ever appreciated how talented he is!”
Her business has grown quickly since, following a degree in textiles and work in various design jobs, she found herself on maternity leave. “I started making gift items, just as a hobby, and told friends about them on Facebook,” she says. “Before I knew it, I had a successful business and decided to resign from my job.”
Her son, Hugo, is now just 14 months old, and while Megan no longer makes the original gift items – it’s all silver clay
work now – many of her early customers have remained loyal.
Her website is a “work in progress”, but Megan has already created DIY kits for customers who can’t pop into the shop (they make their own imprints and post them back to Megan for finishing), and has recently taken a booking for her first jewellery party where guests will make their own piece of silver clay jewellery.
Most excitingly, she says, she has just introduced a special pendant to raise funds for Breakthrough Breast Cancer. “It’s a heart-shaped pendant with a fingerprint and a pink Swarovski crystal heart. I’ll be donating £10 for every £75 pendant bought. It’s wonderful that jewellery can have a good cause as well as look fabulous.”
Prices start at £40 for a fingerprint charm. For more information call 07881 223905 or go to www.facebook.com/sparkleandcoboutique.