James E. Hickling was born in Nottingham, and was educated at Trent Bridge School. He learned his basic craft skills by doing simple repairs in his farther's workshop in his spare time for pocket money. On leaving school he became a telephone engineer, but at the age of 21 he became a full-time jewellery repairer in the family business, setting up his own workshop two years later. In 1965 he emigrated to Australia with his family, where he worked for a manufacturer of jewellery and, later, for an instrument maker, where he learned to operate an engraving machine, a press and a lathe. Three years later he went to New Zealand, where he again worked for a jewellery manufacturer and then a repairing workshop. When that firm went out of business he bought most of their equipment and set up on his own. The equipment included a fly press and a Victorian drop hammer, with hundreds of hand-made dies. But, he recalls, when he needed to make a few of his own he could not find a book explaining how to do so. Eventually he learnt by trial and error. He returned to this county in 1976, settled in Cornwall and formed his own jewellery manufacturing and repairing workshop.