Recently, I've been meeting up with ladies in Portsmouth — #GirlBoss entrepreneurs — who are doing great things in their fields of expertise. Today, I met with Charlotte Cornelius in her beautiful boutique shop in the bohemian Castle Road high street.
It's always a joy to pop into Charlotte's shop — it's like stepping into a luxurious room of calm, the sort of shop you can find in Old Bond Street, but without the big bodyguard at the door or the ‘you're not good enough for my shop’-faced assistant behind the counter!
In fact, the welcome you get at Charlotte's is the complete opposite — some days I spend quite a while in there trying on all of the beautiful gold and silver designs.
But today is different — I want to get to know Charlotte, how she got here, and why she's taken up a shopfront in Castle Road.
Charlotte grew up in Purbrook, on the outskirts of Portsmouth. She went to Purbrook Park School at a time when the school was transitioning from a grammar school to a state school, so the teachers were pretty strict — she remembers the head still walked about in robes wielding a cane!
When I asked Charlotte about school, I got the feeling she didn't really enjoy it. In fact, her art teacher showed no interest in Charlotte's work at all, so by the time she left for Havant College to do her A-Levels, art and design weren't even on her agenda.
She took English, French, and biology. It wasn't until her second year at college that she was allowed to take on a one-year extra course to run alongside her A-Levels that she took an art module. She really enjoyed it, and impressed her peers and lecturers with her work.
From college, she decided to do an art foundation at the then-Portsmouth Art College (now the University of Portsmouth's Eldon Building). Her lecturer at the art college was late renowned artist Jacob Matheson, whose work was recently celebrated at the Coastguard Studio on Clarendon Road.
Jacob gave Charlotte the encouragement to create and design in precious metals, and her love of jewelry design was born.
It was also at the art college that Charlotte met Pete Codling, whose art gallery also resides in Castle Road.
After art college, Charlotte's workplaces included high-class jewellers in London and the sales department of a jewelry distribution company. By working in these jobs, she came to realise that the choice for engagement and wedding rings was quite limited. She set out to create custom handmade rings to give people what they wanted, and ring designs they could treasure and hand down as heirlooms.
After taking a baby break from her sales job and when Charlotte's twin girls reached age one, she made the decision not to go back to work, but to start up a design studio for herself. She promoted herself through wedding fayres, small ads on local news sites and in local newspapers, and good old-fashioned word-of-mouth.
Charlotte found herself getting busier and busier. It was around this time she launched her first collection, as at this time, Charlotte didn't have a shopfront, so she sold her collections in galleries and boutiques across the country.
Charlotte worked from home like many self-employed mums, from the early childcare years through mum-taxi teens to the day her twins left for university. Then it was time to find her shopfront. She looked at a few places in Southsea, but had her heart set on Castle Road, and jumped in straight away to No. 66 when it became free.
This September marks her first birthday of trading out of the store, and just 12 months on, Charlotte and her team are already offering everything from ring-cleaning to bespoke commissions, all made in the workshop at the back of the store.
Charlotte's full range is sold with a London solid gold or silver hallmark, with prices starting at £50 — there's truly something for everyone. I particularly love her bubble collection, which happens to be her best-seller in her everyday silver and gold ranges.
I have just commissioned Charlotte to make me a new ring — quite a tall order, as my three children all wanted input with the design! They chose a rose quartz ring as pink is my favorite color, and they want three hearts — one for each child — and rubies, because my youngest is named Ruby. They also want angel wings somewhere on the design, but the ring is for wearing every day, so they have to be implemented in a way that's not too Disney!
Whilst leaving Charlotte's shop, I asked her if there was one bit of advice she could give to readers, and she said:
If you don't enjoy what you do, you probably won't excel
You can find Charlotte's shop at 66 Castle Road in Southsea: