Inspirational Women – Gee Backhouse

Gee Backhouse is a creator of beautiful jewellery who now lives and works in France with her husband, Chris, and two dogs. She makes a very specialist type of jewellery, tiny compasses cast in precious metals. Beautiful.

Jane: Gee, you live what many women would call the dream life! How do you now make your living?
Gee: I am a goldsmith which means I work specifically with gold and other precious stones and metal. I design and make jewellery and specialise in creating unique compass jewellery.

Calling it the dream life is pretty accurate as I live in a very sunny part of the world, find my work absorbing and am my own boss. I also get to go on gemstone buying sprees which makes me one of the luckiest people in the world. Sweeties for grown-ups.

When you were at school did you have any career thoughts? Did you follow a traditional path, go onto college, or get out into the world of work very quickly?
My career thoughts were that, if I were going to be independent, I needed one! I didn’t have a clue about what I wanted to do, so struggled with how I could possibly choose what to study at A-level. In the end, with good qualifications and the drive to succeed, I studied Computer Studies at degree level.

As a female student, who’d also sneaked in a year earlier than her contemporaries, studying in a male dominated arena was quite a challenge. In spite of having been under the watchful eye of the tutors, I achieved a distinction and came out with results in the top 5%.

What was your very first job? Do you remember how much you got paid?
I started out as a programmer in 1987 working for a company in the private sector. My pay was £7,500 a year. It was a great company to work for; varied work with the space and encouragement to use your initiative. The people were interesting and there was a definite feeling of unity.

What has been the worst job you’ve ever had? With hindsight, what were the lessons you took from it?
Working for a huge organisation as an Analyst/Programmer on a colossal project with no particular visibility was dull dull dull. Oh yes, and there was a strong political undercurrent, too. Yuk. The lesson I learned from that little escapade was that, in an interview situation, the communication needs to be 2-way. My finding out about whether I’m going to like the job is just as important as the interviewer’s assessment of whether I have the right experience and qualifications.

What does jewellery making do for you?
Running my own jewellery making business does several things for me. It allows me to express my practical nature; there’s definitely something very satisfactory about being able to see the tangible results of my efforts. There is also a great sense of achievement in applying skills and techniques to meet some specific requirement or overcome a challenge. The technical requirements of the profession, for example, how different metals will behave in certain situations, also keeps it interesting.

Oh yes, and being able to bash the living daylights out of some piece of work that’s gone wrong (yes, there are days like that) using a big hammer on the anvil, is simply delightful.

Jewellery making is also a wonderful way to celebrate individuality. Each piece I make is a unique, one of a kind creation. Creating compass jewellery adds another dimension, adding independence and change into the mix. Sometimes people want to change. The changes we desire vary in nature, magnitude and significance. How we choose to achieve them is another variable. Each of my compass creations celebrates this complex uniqueness. My hope is to inspire individuals to choose their direction.

Who or what has inspired you the most?
My music teacher was an inspiration to me. As well as a being very accomplished musician, she was an inventor of electronic gadgets, for example, a foot operated page turner for music books. Her independence knew no bounds and she tackled plumbing-in her own bathroom with aplomb when she was in her 60s. She had a pragmatic approach to life; a precious rarity that I admired enormously. Of course, this also translated into her winning all discussions on the subject of my piano practise!

I shall never forget her saying that if I really wanted to learn to play the piano, then I’d make the time to practise. The idea that we can find the time and energy for anything if we’re sufficiently motivated, has stayed with me.

Gee, you grew up in the UK.  How did the move to France come about? Are you bilingual? If so, how did you learn the language? How easy was it?
I grew up in the Cotswolds in the UK. My husband, Chris, had lived in many countries and the thought of living in France had always appealed to him. When pondering the idea of a bolt-hole here in France, a good friend asked us what was stopping us from moving to France entirely. Aren’t friends like that great? Friends who encourage you think about something in a different way are very special. Anyway, it turned out there was nothing stopping us. So here we are living in France!

Bilingual? No. However, Chris and I often find ourselves the only English speaking people in our own home when sharing a meal with friends.  Learning the language was a mix of brushing up our school book French and diving in; making lots of mistakes, some more embarrassing than others, and asking people to correct us. Going shopping, visits to the vet or doctor, getting the car fixed, arranging for a phone line to be installed and registering a business; these are all things that happen without poring over a dictionary before hand. The gestures and shoulder shrugging continue to entertain us. It’s great fun!

What do you miss most (if anything) about being in the UK?
The British sense of humour. Curry take-aways. Cosy pubs (in winter).

What has been the best thing to happen in your life so far?
Realising that my happiness is up to me; that’s the best thing that’s happened to me so far. Actually, it’s sometimes the worst thing that’s happened to me, too! There’s that adage that goes something like this: “If you don’t like your life, change it.  If you can’t change it, then change your attitude”. That sums it up perfectly. It’s not always easy, but where’s the adventure in life if everything’s easy?

How do you relax?
Relaxing, specifically, isn’t something I’m very good at! I find spending time designing creations in my special book (given to me by a friend) very relaxing, experimenting with ideas, sketching out possibilities. Poring over my gemstone collection, admiring them and being inspired by them for creations is lovely, too. They never cease to fascinate me. These activities generally take place in my design room with some aromatherapy oil simmering away, or maybe an incense stick. My design room is a bit of a den with my books, cushions, various surfaces, maps and pictures stuck to the wall, some speakers and invariably a dog or two.

A really relaxing time for me is being tucked up in my sleeping bag when we go camping. The gentle movement of the tent, the sound of the breeze, toasty toes, happy dogs. My husband, Chris, and I love this sort of freedom.

Did you plan your career/life or have events just happened?
I think of my life and career as having evolved driven by the desire to live a life of integrity and fulfilment.  That might sound a bit overly moral but, really, I like being the real me and am happy to be following my dream.  I’ve looked out for, and taken opportunities that have resulted in me being who and where I am right now.  That journey, thankfully, is also ongoing.

Avivah Wittenberg Cox says women in France have got it right re feminism and femininity. Do you think there are significant differences between being a business woman in France rather than the UK?
My exposure to the entirety of being a business woman in France is limited. I run my own business and spend much of my time in my workshop.  Having said that, I must agree with Avivah’s comment that “… French women are confident of their femininity. They wear make-up, heels, feminine clothes and have never thought they have to dress like men.”.  Wherever I look, in whatever role and in whatever city, this rings true. Must get me some heels.

What dreams do you still hold?  What are you working towards?
I love being out on my mountain bike. I read about an incredible bike trail in New Zealand that I’d love to do someday. It incorporated a stop-over hut used by a gold miner. Lakes, mountains, camping, outdoors. You know what, maybe we’ll even live there one day. Shorter term, I’d love for us to get a campervan. We’re very good at spontaneously whizzing off with a tent somewhere and know a campervan would be fantastic!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Be yourself.

What advice would you give to anyone reading this and thinking of changing their lives?
Be yourself.  Life’s a Journey, Choose Your Direction.

You can see more of Gee’s beautiful compass jewellery on her web site rockwaterstudio

Update: Soon after I did this interview my lovely husband secretly got in touch with Gee and had a beautiful pendant with gorgeous matching earrings made for me. The pendant is actually the initials CP for Changing People but it’s subtly done.  You can see it on Gee’s web site by clicking here.

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Posted on September 30th, 2010 by

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