She is only 24 years old and already the future gleams as bright as a Christmas star for Jessica Flinn.
Her elegant, cutting-edge designs, all made and hand-finished in Sheffield, have featured in UK Vogue and been worn by celebrities Miranda Hart, Kate Garraway, Jessica Wright and Angelica Bell.
Her collections are on sale in places as diverse as the National Portrait Gallery and the UK’s fourth largest retailer, Argos – and have gained her the Royal seal of approval.
She won a coveted inaugural award for enterprise from The Duke of York this summer, a badge of honour to be added to being named one of the Hot 100 and shortlisted for Designer of the Year 2012 with Professional Jeweller Magazine. Many are not the least bit surprised at her Midas touch. She was tipped as one to shine when she graduated from the jewellery-making degree course at Sheffield Hallam two years ago and has more than lived up to those golden expectations.
Her thriving business is the result of talent and hard work, but also, says Jess, the city she came to study in. The home of steel, she says, has proved not only her inspiration, but also a great ally.
Many of the techniques she uses to create her striking metal cuffs, pendants and earrings are taken from industrial manufacturing processes and skills. Some are centuries-old, others are the very latest in innovation – and virtually all have never before been used in the jewellery-making process.
Lace, her first collection, reproduced the pieces she discovered in Sheffield antique shops and the lace on the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress thanks to a local saw-making firm Thomas Flinn, whose Kelham Island base is just a stone’s throw from her studio and workshop in the Lyon Works on Ball Street.
“They make saw blades for the UK’s top brands and introduced me to electrolic etching. The process chemically changes the surface of metal, yet leaves the surface smooth; it’s how they apply company logos and brand names to saw-blades. It had never been used in jewellery-making before and it works beautifully, “ says Jess.
She has since discovered all manner of engineering expertise is on her doorstep that has helped her etch her name at the cutting edge of contemporary jewellery design.
“In Sheffield there are connections to all the trades and materials I need, “ says Jess. “I often pop into a little cutlery engineering firm close-by to ask for help with something. They looked a bit strangely at me at first, this girl brandishing a bit of jewellery. But everyone has been so helpful.”
She finds being able to have her pieces authenticated at the city’s Assay Office is another reason for staying put, rather than heading back to her native Darlington.
Her Argos order, which came about last year via a showcase of up-and-coming talent organised by the British Jewellers’ Association, rather makes setting up a business look easy. “It’s not, “ she says. It takes a huge amount of perseverance. On a bad day, you just have to keep going and have faith that tomorrow will be better.”
Her dad Tony, who retired from his pharmaceutical company to become a Dragon’s Den-style business angel, backed Jess with a phased cash investment to boost the £6,000 she secured in start-up grants from Sheffield Hallam University’s Enterprise Centre and local government.
“Dad’s support has been a huge help, but I had to sweat for it, “ says the girl who spent nine months working at a Sheffield engineering firm to support her fledgeling company.
“I had to do a formal presentation and pitch to him to persuade him I had a viable business proposal in just the same way I approached all my other backers.”
There are now three distinct Jessica Flinn brands – Jessica Flinn Designs, a colourful children’s collection named Little Flinn and Green & Lister, a luxury jewellery line which bears the maiden names of her grandmothers.
“Both were stylish, confident and sophisticated women and these are the three strong qualities that the Green & Lister designs and brand celebrate,.” she explains.
Crafted in gold and silver, Green & Lister launched in June with the sparkling Keystone collection, simple, elegant and classic designs created for the sophisticated contemporary woman and this September sa second collection, Oxygen, all delicate flower designs.
For the simple, elegant and sophisticated necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings, crafted in sterling silver, solid gold and rose gold, Jessica returned to her childhood for inspiration.
“When I was young, I would borrow my dad’s chemistry models and use them to create fabulous jewellery,” she recalls. “Years later, I’ve launched a collection inspired by those first creations and those molecular models.”
Under the Jessica Flinn label, summer launch Silveramics, inspired by Russian textiles, Dutch Delftware and the classic Willow Pattern, is still selling well and the seductive elegance of the era of art nouveau flows through two new autumn collections. Priced from £60 to £200, it features ,bold contrasting colours and the organic lines and forms that made art nouveau so instantly recognisable.
Dipped in yellow gold and then plated with rose gold to create a softer glow, each piece is then double printed and finally a strong lacquer coating is added to protect all the layers.
Also new for autumn 2013 is the Peardrop Collection, inspired by the work of early 20th century designer Jack Prince – best known for his work with Liberty London. The range features multiple colour processes. Silver plating, printing and stencilling generate vivid blue patterns on the silver surface and a strong lacquer coating is added.
“The world never really falls out of love with the sinuous style of art nouveau but I wanted to bring it firmly into the 21st century,” says Jessica.