This year’s Goldsmiths’ Fair delights in the range and possibility of jewellery and silversmithing, with metal homages to Cleopatra and Lidl
“When you look at other crafts, people talk about ‘talking to’ material. With metal you have an argument with it. It fights back. There’s something about the circularity of it,” says jeweller Jonathan Boyd from behind his stand in the first week of the Goldsmiths’ Company annual Goldsmiths’ Fair.
The fair has long been known as one of the major showpieces of the year when it comes to jewellers and silversmiths displaying their wares and talents. The productivity of their “arguments” shine throughout the 60 odd stalls, revealing a fecund universe of metalwork.
This year, the range and scope of the art here is unprecedented. The jewellery here has taken its cue from storms, trees, Lidl, motorways, barcodes, fairylights and fish. From the smooth, rippling curves of Zoe Watts’ capture of “movement in metal” to the painstakingly handcrafted gold insect wings of Jessica Pass (pictured top), there is much, much more than the literal gems.
One reason for this is the power given to jewellers and silversmiths by technology. Speaking to a number of students attending the fair for the first time it is clear they see liberty in the machines. “If you have a really, really complex design that you can’t make by hand, CAD [computer aided design] is such a good way of getting around that problem,” says Eleanor Jones, a second year student at Birmingham’s School of Jewellery.
None of them see the advent of 3D printing as a threat to their craft, rather it will only give them a greater reach. Jones’ fellow student Luke Horton, says such are the advances that now “imagination is the only holdback you’ve got”.
The importance of imagination is here not only in design but in process. The winner of this year’s Best New Design Award is Hazel Thorn. Her pieces were formed using mixed-metal fusing, a process reminiscent of the famed Japanese ‘mokume gane’ (wood-grain metal) method. Hazel melts different strips of metal until they are not quite fused and then suffocates them in ammonia vapour. The result is shining silver and black gilding metal interspersed with a unique brilliant blue alloy of the two. The aim was to give the metal “movement and life,” she says, describing inspiration from her upbringing in the remote Highlands of Scotland. Indeed, such fast blends could be segments of clear winter skies caught between dark branches.
However, technology is not mandatory. Charmian Harris describes how her distaste for the banality of High Street jewellery was overturned by a visit to the British Museum. She first exhibited at the Fair in 1988, primarily in copper and brass. She now displays winking emeralds and opals framed by buttery gold. Harris pursues a very stripped down handmade process to capture the warmth of the pieces. They feel timeless and would be well-laid on the neck of a Klimt muse or a masked pharaoh.
The jewellery itself is not the only aspect of the art that has depth: the ideas behind it do too. While much is aesthetic revelry, some, such as the work by Imogen Clarkstone and Alex O’Connor, celebrate the mandate of function in design. However, the most intriguing raison d’etre belongs to Jonathan Boyd’s pieces. One is a silver chain made as a testament to time spent on delayed trains, another a brooch inscribed with the 3D typeface: ‘Every morning I walk to work past the sunrise over Lidl and it’s beautiful’. “Nothing’s original,” he states, fending off praise. “Jewellery has always been hierarchical and socio-cultural, so I see it as the right artform for self-expression and tackling themes and concepts.”
Boyd segues into the “fairly strange world” we live in and artistic hex of Brexit and Trump. He credits the intimacy of his chosen artform and how historically, jewellery has been the vessel of multiple personal narratives, from stolen crowns to grandmother’s rings. “We put a lot of meaning into these objects, so for me it just seems obvious that you would start the design process by considering narratives and concepts because it gives someone a story to tell.”
His pieces are modern collages of photography, metal and typeface – “physical poetry in a way”. But he believes the medium remains under exploited: “On the whole it’s still dominated by post-diamond de Beers thinking. Which is fine, that has its place but jewellery is an artform. It has the potential to be a lot more.”
His art is certainly that; Boyd admits to badly abusing his gold and silver, painting and lacquering on top of it to make something unique. “Nothing’s original but you strive for originality. I hope they would be good documents of the time they were made in.”