The way I work:
Gary Carter

The bespoke jeweller’s first job was designing sets for the Haçienda nightclub and he now takes his inspiration from tattooing. He wonders if the need to keep up with trends undermines true creativity

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I’ve always been creative, but I needed to get a good degree. I studied industrial design at Brunel University and once I had that under my belt I started making one-off bits of furniture in my mum’s garage. I slowly morphed from doing that to reception areas and full interiors. I specialised in bars and restaurants and did a good 25 years in that sector, and I still dabble in it a bit to this day.

Jewellery has always been my passion. It was my father’s passion. It’s something that is great, because blokes see jewellery a lot more than the girls who are wearing it. I’ve always made jewellery all the way through my career.

My designs have always been bespoke, and that’s why we became so successful. Going back a long time ago you couldn’t buy off the shelf great furniture and interior bits, so we made them. I had a company that made a lot of bespoke stuff and the jewellery was a part of that.

Creativity is creativity, it’s the same sort of rules, so it’s a fairly natural progression from one to the other – you are designing something and making it. There’s just something about precious metals: the weight, the feel, the reactions you get when you make them.

I get an idea or inspiration from somewhere and then I just start sketching. I’m fairly hands on so I can make as well. I tend to make all the original samples. It’s an ancient skill, working in silver and gold, so it’s good to be a craftsman as well as a designer.

“Oh my god, I nearly copied something I’d seen years before that has just stuck.”

The brand that I’m building at the moment is based on tattoo culture. Tattoos are a big thing at the moment, and what I have noticed is that there are some real true artists out there. The level people are working at now is just phenomenal. They are good artists in their own right. The tattoo world moves quite fast through trends. At the moment my style is detailed. It comes from the black and white line side of tattooing. I have certain things that I do; I put a lot of love hearts into it so I get texture. These things are massively detailed. Some of them you have to look under a magnifying glass, but actually drill into it and you’ll realise that in a whole area there are lots of different hearts.

I’m a year into this and there are certain tattooists that I like. There’s an English girl called Cally-Jo who is working in the States. She does really great pieces. Her tattoos are almost like jewellery. Most tattoos are shaded in some way or coloured, so the key is to take the key lines that are in that structure and put them into a piece. The other side of tattooing is that it’s a permanent thing. I’ve noticed that the trends change so quickly that your tattoo can be out of fashion pretty quickly, but the idea of putting that into jewellery is that it’s not as permanent but it’s still very current.

I’ve been in this game for 30 years, so the whole research side is very quick and easy. You can very quickly get a handle on what is going on out there. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing for pure creativity is another question, because back in the day, in the world I was in designing bars and restaurants, I was creating things that nobody had ever created before. It was a harder process but you got a more unique product, so I think if you’re at the absolute cutting edge of creativity it’s a bit of a disadvantage because you get this fickle subliminal plagiarism where you can design something and you’re absolutely convinced that it’s original and it’s yours, and then a year or two later you’ll see it and think: “Oh my god, I actually nearly copied something that I’d seen years before that has just stuck in my brain.”

It’s a massively changing world at the moment. High street retail is changing, but I’m beginning to think that it’s not going to be as devastated as the markets thought it was going to be. I think there’s definitely a place for it, especially in luxury brands. I also think there’s a safety net for bespoke customers of being able to knock on a door and say “I want to change this” or “You didn’t do this”.

I’m based on the Wirral but the company’s heart is in Liverpool. Creativity in the north is massive. I think we’ve got a slightly grittier edge. When I was back doing hotels and bars, people up here weren’t spending millions on restaurants and bars – it was in London or New York or beyond. I think there was a definite success for northern people: we’re talking about the Chris Evans and Red or Dead days. I think the northern ethic of delivering and working hard is still quite prominent and I think it’s good for brands. I am proud to be based up here. Even though I worked in London for 15 years I didn’t live there. I had a flat but my home was up here. I think there’s a massive amount of creativity up north. There’s a huge amount of free thinkers, and it is different.

To be successful in creativity you need to have a business head. I have built restaurant chains and jewellery brands and stuff, but the commercial edge is massively important if you want to succeed as a designer these days because of the cost of living – it’s hard to be a penniless artist these days. When I first started out you could do it, especially up north. I was in Manchester at the time, living in a little flat, creating pieces and doing shows. I left university in 1991 and my first job was designing and building the sets for the theme nights at the Haçienda. That immediately tapped me into a hugely creative group of people at quite an influential time, although none of us really realised what we were doing. It was definitely a time when people had time to sit and be creative.

At the moment I am making all the jewellery myself, because I can. I think one of the big issues is that designers often produce things that can’t be built efficiently. You’ve got to understand the material and the process, and the easiest way to do it is to be hands on. If we were manufacturing out in China, where you have to buy in numbers, if you don’t get it right you’re going to be stuck with 10,000 units that are wrong. Our jewellery is all made to order – we don’t hold stock. We get a lot of commissions coming in, and that’s usually a pretty cool process. Bizarrely we have done quite a lot of dogs. I had a commission to make six 18 carat white gold unicorns to go into crackers last Christmas. At the moment we will look at anything. It’s quite a nice feeling to produce something amazing that someone likes. All creatives like people to say that they like what they do.

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