We really enjoyed catching up with Gene, a very talented designer who creates stunning, pure silver jewellery at his workshop right here in Waterford. The Kite Design Studios is where Gene spends his time working amongst some of Waterford’s most creative craftsmen. Happy days.
In our interview, we asked Gene what inspires him, how he got into making jewellery and what he likes to do to relax. A really, easy person to spend time with – says it all.
Gene, tell us a bit about what you do and how you got into it?
I got into it somewhat by accident really. I was a designer in Waterford Crystal for over 25 years; circumstances changed there and I decided to re-invent myself. I chose pure silver as a medium to work in because, after so many years working in design, I wanted to transfer my skills over. Thankfully they did – I’m having a great time here!
How long are you here?
I’m actually only here for just over a year; I really like it. A lot of tourists come by, and I get a lot of locals coming in, a lot of repeat business. They see my window in Henrietta street and often come in saying they spotted something in the window maybe a month ago that they were keeping their eye on. They come in and meet me – it’s lovely to have that interaction.
Did you work from home before coming here?
I worked in-house as a designer but when Waterford Crystal got into difficulty and re-structured, I worked from home. I continued to design from the outside. I wanted to work as a sole-trader to get a handle on working for yourself. For 10 years, I then worked for Waterford Crystal providing my designs. I specialised in sculpting, that was my field.
When Waterford bought Wedgwood in the ’90s, up to that point, they just had giftware and had never done figures or figurines. To cut a long story short, the company sent me to Wedgwood to live with a Wedgwood artist over there because they specialised in sculpting. I lived in her house with her family and she taught me how to sculpt with ceramic clay. I would create a piece in clay and then I would cast that clay piece into a resin. It was a manufacturing prototype for figurines, an angel, a Santa Clause or whatever. It was technical and artistic at the same time; product design I guess. It was great to merge the two.
How exactly did the two merge together for you?
I got better and better at working with small scale figurines, as some of the ornaments or figures I make – the face, for instance, would be very tiny, maybe the size of a fingernail. I knew that I had the hand skills to transfer to jewellery, which is quite a small scale. What I didn’t know was that I had the ability to design jewellery, as opposed to crystal. Inadvertently, I had got skills from over 25 years designing product and it did transfer over.
I wanted to keep my jewellery contemporary, and silver is a perfect medium for contemporary design as opposed to gold. That’s the route I went and seems to be working.
A lot of your jewellery is inspired by nature, what do you love most about nature?
All craftspeople say they’re inspired by their locality and nature and it’s true. You are where you come from. I reared my kids mostly on the west coast of Ireland, we used to have a caravan and go across to Clare to The Burren; we got a liking and so did they. They live all around the world now but they still come back and go to Clare. At home here, we used to always bring them up the mountains, up to Mahon Falls. They got a good grounding in their own country. Teaching them that, it kinda comes back into you as an adult.
When I was designing the range, I wanted to bring nature into it – so one of my ranges in the nature collection would be cascades based on Irish waterfalls and flow – I wanted to bring that into the concept. I’m like a lot of people in the craft area, where nature is important to me.
What’s your most relaxing thing to do when you’re not working?
When I’m not working, I like to go for a walk with my wife and cycle on The Greenway. I go up the mountains a lot. I always train, I do a lot of circuit training out in Dunhill, where I come from. I find hard training very good – a quick stress relief! I’ve done it since I was young; I’ll do it until someone up there says “Stop training!” haha
Is there anywhere else in Waterford you like to go to relax?
I love Tramore. I’ve always gone to Tramore since I was a child. There are beautiful walks in Tramore. It’s re-invented now, with the coffee culture down at Moe’s Cafe. We would start down there on a typical Sunday morning and walk all the way up to the Gulliamene, it’s a lovely hour and a half walk – it’s invigorating. You can’t beat the sea air -exercise and sea air just kinda’ fills you up!
What would be your favourite Waterford slang?
Oh, the blaa! My son, who lives in Cork now, he was a De La Salle man. When he meets up with all his friends, it’s “Well boi, how’s it goin!”. No matter where they are, it’s a real Waterford thing they carry with them wherever they go. Years and years ago people would be a bit embarrassed about it, but now they carry it like a badge of honour. All my kids, for instance, emigrated or went away, so all the more reason for them to retain their Waterford identity. It’s great to see it; it means a lot.
Any particular aspect about Waterford people you like or dislike?
Waterford is a lovely sized town, compared to Dublin, where you don’t make eye contact. It’s more parochial, where everybody knows everybody, especially with the glass factory connection. The bigger factory that was in Kilbarry, it’s tentacles are everywhere- you can’t speak to anybody who doesn’t know somebody who worked in Waterford Crystal. In that sense, it’s almost like a big village. Here, everybody knows everybody – that can be good, or bad haha!
Who do you most admire?
Sporting people. For a small country, we have some of the best runners and golfers worldwide. There’s something about Ireland; we’re a very humble sort of a nation. Even though they might reach the pinnacle of their sporting career, Sonya O’Sullivan and people like that. Our best golfer, Padraig Harrington – they come across as humble and it’s not put on.
They’re grateful for who they are. They make a stamp on the world stage and they’re from little old Ireland, it’s so refreshing to hear them on television compared to other people who are full fo themselves! These people have just as much ability, and more, but they’re still grounded. I admire these people cos’ they are the ultimate – making the best of what their life and keeping their feet on the ground, it’s a lovely trait to have.
If you had a superhero power what would it be?
Gosh, a superhero power?! Hmm, I’d like to know what people think about you because we all like to be well thought of. If you meet people and interact with them, you’d know what they think of you – it would be a more unusual aspect in life. Maybe you could be more yourself in that moment? You try to put your best foot forward, maybe it’s a personality flaw, I don’t know. I wouldn’t mind being six inches taller either!
Any words of advice for kids that would like to get into the design industry?
Oh yeh, definitely. Don’t be afraid to grasp with two hands. It’s not about making barrel loads of money. If you like what you do in life, remember you’re going to spend 8 hours a day doing it, so enjoy it! If the figures work out that you can make a living of sorts, go for it. You’ve got to work maybe 30 or 40 years, so it would be nice to like what you do.
In my particular instance, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for LEO (Local Enterprise Board), they were great. They supplied me with mentors and advice to work out a business plan. Having an idea and your passion is one thing, but bringing that function to marry with the numbers game; you know a business has to wash its face. So if you have an idea, go to the enterprise board – they’re brilliant. Once you’ve got fire in your belly and want to do something, I don’t think anybody should put you off.
Would you be here five days per week?
Six days. Because it’s retail-based, Saturday would be a good business day here. Thankfully I’m busy. I’m here making jewellery, not waiting for a customer to come in. Online is another aspect of it too but I’m not good at social media. That’s one area where LEO are helping me, Instagram etc. They’ve assigned me a mentor. It’s a beast, you’ve got to put time into it to get something out of it.
Thankfully, right now I’m very busy and had a great Christmas due to local support. I’m making jewellery here full-on, with Valentines day coming up and the summer markets I have to have stock. Gosh, if you were to say to me a year ago that I’d still be here a year later making jewellery, I wouldn’t have been able to answer it but now I can say I’ll hopefully be here next year, still making jewellery because they like the designs.
Do you want to show us some of your designs?
Watch Gene work on some of his new designs below.
We asked Gene a couple more questions before letting him get back to making jewellery:
Name three people you’d like to have dinner with?
1. Padraig Harrington, I’d chat to him on how he mentally keeps it all together
2. Brian O’Driscoll, another hero of mine.
3. Sonia O’Sullivan, a great runner.
Do you like to travel?
I do. Myself and my wife just booked our week on The Camino in Spain. We do it regularly. It’s a lovely way to spend your day. People think The Camino is all about religion, but it’s not. You know, people might have a juncture in their life or they want to commemorate something. You go out to Santiago for a week’s walk and you meet lovely, interesting people from all over the world. We love skiing too. We brought our kids skiing when they were young and they’re all good skiers now. We still go skiing in The Alps. It’s hard to beat The Alps for skiing, we love it!
Who would play you in a film of your life?
Tommy Tiernan – he looks kind’ like me haha! He’s not everybody’s cup of tea but he’s very deep. He might get me, haha!
On that note Gene, any jokes to tell us?
I’m not a good joke teller. My son, Ciaran, will tell you I am the master of dad jokes – they’re so bad you can’t even tell them…ha.
Check out Gene’s creations here.
That’s all for now folks!