“Jewellery is such a beautiful, personal thing, and you can pour your heart and all its passion into it. It’s not just about the tangible piece, but it’s very much about what it represents and the incredible emotional value associated with it.”
Tamlyn Chorus-Botha is a South African studying jewellery design in Schoonhoven and is co-owner of Chorus Botha Jewellery. She chats to Cliffordene Norton about her studies, what jewellery means to her and life in Schoonhoven.
You are currently completing a four-year course at the jewellery school in Schoonhoven in the Netherlands. How did you apply to Vakschool Schoonhoven?
In January 2018, I decided to do a short course in goldsmithing at Metal Art Creations in Den Bosch. I loved it so much that I enrolled for a second three-month course, and at the end, I wanted even more!
I approached a local jeweller and goldsmith in Den Bosch, Van Tol & Breet (which happens to be a Dutch-South African partnership), to ask whether they took any interns, because I was really eager to learn. They said they only took graduate interns and gave me some invaluable advice on how to get started in the industry. I really wanted to become more than a hobbyist, so I needed to go back to the basics.
In May 2018, I attended the Nationale Zilverdag event in Schoonhoven and visited the Vakschool. I was wowed by what the students were doing and was very inspired by all the participants and their eagerness to share their knowledge. I spoke to a representative at the school about the various options for part-time study, and they recommended two options.
One was a course with a more casual style of teaching, and the second was an actual education course with a more rigid classical approach. I was interested in the classical approach, which teaches you everything from how to hold a saw and cut straight and curved lines, to being confidently industry-ready in Europe.
I went home and sent the school an email, asking whether it was possible for a native English speaker with a good understanding of Dutch to follow the study, and they agreed it was possible.
I started at Vakschool Schoonhoven in September 2018, and, with a little bit of extra time and effort, I’m managing to do pretty well in my theory exams despite the language difference, and I’m thoroughly enjoying the practical part!
What was your first impression of Schoonhoven, and how does it differ from South Africa?
Schoonhoven is a beautiful village nestled in the farmlands away from the busy cities, but not too far for a day visit. It has a charming centre, with a canal down the middle of the main street and a plethora of jewellery shops and goldsmiths – it is the Zilverstad, after all. It even has its very own Zilvermuseum.
The city comes alive, especially during its annual events, such as the Nationale Zilverdag and the Nacht van het Zilver, which bring jewellery makers, artists, suppliers, buyers and admirers together for a silver spectacular. Most of the time, Schoonhoven is a neat, sleepy little village with pretty much everything you need close by.
The students at the Vakschool are a stone’s throw away from real-life industry experience and exposure in a safe environment. Lecturers are very focused on skills development and how to do it right, and I think this is what sets Vakschool Schoonhoven apart from other schools.
While some lecturers may take a sterner approach, they do it in a rather diplomatic manner and encourage creativity, while challenging your craftsmanship and attention to detail. There is no “helicoptering”, and you need to take the initiative to ask your lecturer questions and explore your own creative process before presenting ideas and designs. Fellow students are lovely! Everyone is so eager to share information and ideas and help each other.
I would’ve assumed this industry to be more competitive, but I’ve found it to be encouraging and supportive. It seems like the school treats us as industry newcomers rather than students.
“It’s not always easy to let a piece go. Sometimes, I’ll have it for quite a while before I decide to sell it.”
How would you describe your jewellery? What makes it unique?
I would describe my jewellery as classical, playful, elegant and fluid. I have a recurring heart motif, which appears in many of my pieces, that helps reflect my style. Everything I make is inspired by something I’ve seen or experienced, and each piece has shared some sort of journey with me, which I can pass on to someone who will enjoy it some more. Maybe it will be passed on further and enjoyed by even more people.
Jewellery is such a beautiful, personal thing, and you can pour your heart and all its passion into it. It’s not just about the tangible piece, but it’s very much about what it represents and the incredible emotional value associated with it. This applies while it is being made, the occasion for which the piece is purchased and given, the memory associated with wearing it and the person who gives it to the receiver. That’s what makes jewellery an almost “living” thing to me.
Briefly take us through the design and manufacturing process of your jewellery.
Most of the time, an idea will pop into my head because of something I’ve seen, many times in nature, or sometimes while something else is happening. That will send me scratching around for the nearest piece of paper, or the notes app on my phone, to write it down.
From there, I will find a quiet moment to revisit that idea and shape it some more. Sometimes, it will be in the form of a sketch, clay or copper wire. I also often do spontaneous designs on my computer, which will evolve into something else, or I will play with random materials to get the creative juices flowing.
Once I have a relatively solid idea, I will draw it to scale on the computer and print it. Depending on the complexity of the piece or the type of metal for the end product, I might first make a proof piece from brass or copper. Once I’m happy with that, I can move on to more precious materials like gold and silver. In some cases, I melt metal and mill it into sheets or wire; otherwise, I buy the sheet or wire from a supplier, which is less time-consuming. From there, I build my pieces and finish them with a good polish.
If it’s not a custom order, I will then taken photos of the piece, share it on social media and put it up for sale on my website. I love the reactions and comments I receive, and they really help me discover what people like and don’t like. It’s not always easy to let a piece go. Sometimes, I’ll have it for quite a while before I decide to sell it.
“There is no ‘helicoptering’, and you need to take the initiative to ask your lecturer questions and explore your own creative process before presenting ideas and designs.”
You have a business, Chorus & Botha Jewellery. How did you establish your business?
Chorus & Botha is an umbrella name for our business, and the name comes from my husband’s and my last names. The business started off with antiques, and we liked the historical relevance our surnames held. It also makes dealing with people more personal, because customers are dealing with the actual business owners.
IT and graphic and web design are two other branches of the business. The jewellery part of the business is our newest (and my favourite) addition. We registered the business at the Chamber of Commerce in the Netherlands as a VOF in 2016. It was a delightfully simple and speedy process.
You have a Dutch business partner, Querijn Chorus. How did the two of you meet, and why did you decide to go into business together?
Back in South Africa, I was in the TV industry for over 10 years, producing, filming and editing.
During my last two years there, I decided to try my hand at teaching multimedia design at Vega School of Brand Leadership.
I learned so much and had the opportunity to brush up on my graphic and web design skills. At the same time (in 2014), I met Querijn, who was sent to South Africa to set up a new IT department for a Dutch company.
We both shared a passion for art and antiques and found our personal ancestry* quite interesting.
[*Botha tells the story of an Amsterdam-born VOC tradesman whose lineage would lead to the first prime minister of the Union of South Africa and Boer War hero, born in 1862, General Louis Botha. His lineage would lead one of his great-great-grandchildren (Botha) back to the Netherlands. Chorus played various governing roles in the development of the city of Aachen as the coronation place for German kings of the Holy Roman Empire, and one became the mayor of Aachen in 1327.]
We started collecting precious antiques, and about a year after living together in South Africa, we decided to give the Netherlands a chance.
We moved in February 2016, and I initially carried on with my web and graphic design as a freelancer, and Querijn continued in IT as an independent contractor.
With Q’s logical, commercially orientated mind and my creativity, along with our love for history and antiques, we thought the combination would work well together in setting up an antiques business – Chorus & Botha Art & Antiques. We registered the antiques business at the Chamber of Commerce in Den Bosch, and were set to go.
Since then, we have dealt mainly online and at markets with the antiques, and the rest evolved over the next three years. Querijn proposed to me in February 2018, and we were married in August the same year and had a little boy, Arthur Louis Chorus, in July this year – all while studying, setting up the jewellery business and moving from Den Bosch to the countryside just outside Dreumel. It was a crazy and exciting run!
“I once saw a photo of Queen Máxima wearing a Vakschool Schoonhoven student’s necklace, and that inspired me to reach for the stars!”
What challenges did you experience in starting your business?
I often wish there were more hours in the day! Studying, looking after a four-month-old, working on a business and making jewellery all at the same time requires a fair amount of juggling, but the energy I get from creating helps to keep everything going!
The language could sometimes be a bit challenging when it came to all the business lingo, but luckily Querijn is Dutch and a whizz when it comes to paperwork and taxes. Another hidden challenge was trying to find a style of jewellery that I love to make, and which would also appeal to Dutch tastes.
I found that South Africans are more likely to wear big, bright statement pieces, whereas the Dutch prefer to wear more subtle, simple jewellery.
What have the biggest highlights been for you and your partner thus far?
Some highlights over the past few years have been winning an award with Cooksongold in the UK for a ring I made, making notable sales in South Africa, making the jewellery website live, and participating as contributors at markets in Heusden.
What are your plans for the future?
I think we will keep the jewellery business online until I have completed my studies and internship. After that, I would love to have my own physical shop and become a contributor at expos such as the Sieraad Art Fair. I once saw a photo of Queen Máxima wearing a Vakschool Schoonhoven student’s necklace, and that inspired me to reach for the stars!