Meet the Suffolk mum who makes commemorative fingerprint jewellery
- Credit: Lucille Whiting
Suffolk mother-of-five Lucille Whiting understands the importance of cherishing those precious memories that come with having your own family.
That is what ultimately inspired her to start her own heirloom jewellery range – and for the past 15 years, she has handcrafted hundreds of pieces of bespoke fingerprint jewellery for people around the world.
Based in the sleepy village of Kedington, Lucille works with precious metals such as gold and platinum to create pieces that commemorate people by using their real fingerprints, handprints and footprints.
But how did she first get started in creating such moving keepsakes?
“My father taught me how to make jewellery and sculptures when I was growing up. Then after I left school, I took several art and sculpture courses.”
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In the years that followed, Lucille gave birth to her first son in 2006, and shortly after decided to leave her administration job to follow her creative passions.
“I set up a company making baby hand and foot bronze sculptures, and it all started off very small. I advertised at Addenbrooke's Hospital and had a display at West Suffolk Hospital – but within a year, business was growing fast and an increasing number of customers were coming from further away.”
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Lucille – who also works as a sculptor and freelance writer – was suddenly inundated with orders from across the country, and she soon realised she needed to expand both her customer base as well as her offering.
“Pivoting towards personalised jewellery made sense. It meant I could move online and stop travelling so much.”
Thus, Sophia Alexander was born. But where does the name come from?
“Alexander is my eldest son’s name, and Sophia would have been his name if he had been a girl – but it’s now his sister’s name,” she explains.
“Of course, we then went on to have another three children, so at some point I really should introduce some new collections using their names so nobody feels left out.”
Lucille’s personalised jewellery range includes rings, necklaces, bracelets, charms and beads – all of which are bespoke and handmade from scratch.
“I welcome new babies with keepsake gifts, work with couples to make their wedding rings, and help people say goodbye with memorial pieces at the very end.”
So how does she craft such intricate pieces time and time again?
“The simplest fingerprint necklaces I make take between five and eight hours to create – and that’s not including talking to clients, sketching designs, packaging things or driving out to the post office. There’s no way to speed it up, so there’s definitely no rush jobs or short cuts. I limit the amount of work I take on so every piece has my undivided attention.
“Firstly, fingerprint, handprint, footprint or pet print kits are posted out to clients so they can take their prints in the comfort of their own home. I’m available on the phone or via Zoom if people need assistance.”
Once Lucille receives the prints back, they are then cast and shaped.
“The prints are pressed directly into wax, creating a perfect replica. The shape of the necklace is then painstakingly carved around it. One mistake and I have to start over again.”
The pieces are then sent to be precision cast in solid gold or silver before they are returned to Lucille for finishing and polishing. “I hand-engrave each piece before they’re sent off to be set with diamonds or gemstones. Finally, each piece is hallmarked by a UK Assay Office to verify its quality and purity,” she says.
What may seem like an arduous process is part of the beauty that comes with jewellery making – and gives the stunning end results that Lucille strives for every time.
“There really is nothing quite like creating an heirloom, and working with a client to make something that will still be cherished 100 years from now. From the first wax carving to the final gold polish, absolutely everything is made by hand by a real person. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of putting the finishing touches to something and thinking ‘wow, I made that’.”
Not only are her pieces handmade, but they are also ethical as Lucille uses fairtrade gold and responsibly-sourced diamonds and gemstones throughout.
And while her makes are often based on her customers' memories and stories, part of her inspiration also comes from her surroundings and the tranquillity of the Suffolk countryside.
“We moved to Suffolk from London 20 years ago, and Kedington is an extreme change of pace. I’m incredibly lucky to have found somewhere to live and work that I love so much. It’s always quiet, so I have space to think, sketch out ideas and create.
“It’s the people here that really make it home though. You know if you ever needed help with anything, there’s always a door to knock on.”
While Lucille has been at the helm of her business for the just under two decades now, the last year has proved the most challenging for her - but it hasn’t stopped her keeping calm and carrying on.
“Unfortunately, I caught Covid along with the rest of my family in April 2020. I have a pre-existing health condition called ulcerative interstitial cystitis, and experienced a lot of problems with sickness and infections for around nine months. I now have a permanent slight tremor which affects my hands. As you can imagine, as I work with tiny pieces of jewellery, it can be frustrating. But we got off lightly compared with so many other people, so it’s a case of putting it behind us and getting on.”
Covid aside, Brexit also brought about its own set of issues, as Lucille explains: “The price of gold rose to unprecedented heights never seen since records began. There were new, unexpected customs charges, issues with certain EU countries no longer accepting British Hallmarks and of course, no one was getting married so they didn’t need wedding rings.
“Last year was fairly grim, but this year my outlook is a lot more positive. It’s been good to pick myself up, dust myself off and carry on. Fortunately, Sophia Alexander has been around for long enough to weather this particular storm.”
With two new collections currently in the pipeline, Lucille is excited for the future, and believes there’s nothing more fulfilling than being your own boss and doing what you love every day.
“Setting up and running a small business isn’t for the faint-hearted and nothing happens overnight - but it’s also a lot of fun and I can’t think of any other kind of work that would fit so well around my crazy life.”