By Sarah Loat
A glittering future is in store for young jewellery designer Lora Leedham whose handcrafted designs have been worn by royalty and grabbed the attention of Vogue magazine.
Tucked away in a tiny studio in the heart of Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter is 21-year-old designer Lora Leedham from Oldbury. She's just celebrated a year at her own design studio in the historic jewellery quarter where there are over 100 jewellery shops and design workshops that haven't changed much since the nineteenth century.
Being part of this 'living museum' of the jewellery trade has certainly proved inspirational to Lora who set her sight firmly at the top and chose to offer her designs to royalty.
The Prince's Trust
Lora studied design at college in the Black Country and with the help of Dudley Council and the Prince's Trust, the young designer set up her own jewellery business.
"I studied design, the whole spectrum, and my forte is painting and life drawing. I decided I wanted to go into interior design, but then I did a project on jewellery making and I had to use found and recycled objects so I used things like forks and bent them into bangles.
A letter from Camilla
"Other students and lecturers asked about buying them from me so I thought 'I'm on to something here'. I didn't really want to go to university then. I went to Dudley Council and they put me in touch with the Princes Trust who helped set me up in business."
By royal appointment
Last year was the 30th anniversary of the Prince's Trust and to show her gratitude to the scheme, Lora wrote to Camilla Parker Bowles to ask if she could design a piece of jewellery for her.
"I came up with the designs, I chose something simple and contemporary and I knew she liked pearls, so I designed a classic pearl necklace - a plain choker with green pearls and woven silver balls."
Creating her art
Lora was thrilled to see Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, debuting her choker at the Prince's Trust celebrations and seeing pictures of her wearing it in several celebrity magazines.
"She invited me into the Pavilion Suite to meet them," said Lora "she was absolutely lovely and down to earth and her and Prince Charles took a real interest in me."
Jewel of the crown
The royal seal of approval on Lora's jewellery has kick-started her career in more ways than she could imagine. Within the first year of business Lora has designed for royalty, been part of London fashion week, grabbed the attention of international fashion and beauty bible Vogue and been a finalist in Young Entrepreneur of the Year.
"I never would have predicted any of this. It’s been non-stop. It's just little me from Dudley, it's been incredible." said Lora.
Lora's work features gemstones and pearls
From small beginnings, selling to friends and family, Lora now has international stockists and galleries that sell her contemporary hand-crafted jewellery.
"When I first started I didn’t have much money so I used unprecious metals and practised my techniques.
"As a child I was always into design, I used to design shoes as a kid. Every woman loves jewellery and I like being able to create a piece of art that you wear, you can take your art out and let people see it. I love the idea of creating tiny delicate pieces of art. I love gemstones and sparkly things."
Willow ring in gold
Lora is passionate about the unique nature of her designs that are often inspired by nature and given a contemporary twist.
"Everything is handmade here in the Jewellery Quarter and as I do a lot of photography as a hobby, nature and textures is where I get my ideas from. I saw some fungi growing and based a particular collection on that. Luckily the fungus was called Xanthoria so the collection is called Xanthe rather than 'Fungi' which may not have been so appealing" she giggles.
Brimming with ideas Lora shows me her new collection designs featuring gold and silver for a high end market, sketched on an old envelope.
"Part of the fun in the creation of the artwork is making it myself and coming out with a final concept. Obviously I see it straight through from a few sketches and raw materials to actually putting the pieces together. To be able to look at it and say 'I made that' is very satisfying."
Her signature work is a caged heart; pieces of Venetian glass encased in twisted silver wire. It's her best seller and something that began life entirely by accident:
"I dropped something and it fell on the floor, I really like the effect and that was the beginning of my heart cage.
"A man in Venice makes my glass hearts and I put the cage around them. Every single one is unique - even the glass is different every time, it's completely unique" said Lora who prides herself on the individuality of her hand-crafted art pieces, each injected with original flair.
It takes several hours to produce each individual item, but I get the feeling Lora creates each one with the same passion she gave to her first.
"Everything is handmade so it's hard to keep stock levels up, particularly around Christmas and Valentine's Day when demand is high. I hand carve pieces so every single piece is unique, it's free hand done and that's why its time consuming but that's what makes the pieces so special."
Lora and heart cages
With such a pedigree start to her career, Laura still has bigger aspirations for her future; "I want to be known as an independent designer in the jewellery world, I'd love to do other celebrities and design for film awards. Sienna Miller is always in the limelight and into fashion, I'd love to do somebody like that", grins Lora.
"And of course I'm really proud of my roots in Birmingham and the Black Country. I'd like to own my own gallery or boutique here and have a few across the country."
With Lora's ambition, passion and dedication, her future can be nothing other than golden.
last updated: 26/10/07