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Hidden Gems: A Story Bee-hind Every Piece! Western Daily Press October 30th 2017

We have a William Morris quote pinned up in our kitchen ‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.’ I really like it, although recently it caused a squabble between my daughters: one had accused the other of not meeting the criteria of either category and was busy packing her sibling’s clothes into a suitcase!

It is a quote that comes into my thoughts as I reflect on the nature and meaning of my work. The biggest and busiest workshop deadline of the year is now looming fast – Christmas. The pressure is on here in the workshop to come up with beautiful jewellery that has a meaning for the giver and recipient. My job (as well as making the piece) is to ensure it matches every expectation, from practicality and cost to aesthetics. And then deliver it on time!

I am constantly inspired by the real stories and genuine reasons that people want a piece of jewellery created, and I’m sure this is one reason why I enjoy commission work so much.

It doesn’t have to be a complicated story – it could just be that one person wants to show another how much they care or show a commitment to another. It could be a memory of a special time using found objects. (I’ve made myself a bracelet from a piece of sea glass collected on a remote beach and a pendant with a stone from the top of a mountain) Perhaps a big treat on a significant birthday or anniversary marked with the very finest specimen of a rare gemstone and designed with a significant symbol.

Currently I’m working on designs for a ‘Poodle Celebration’ ring, marking the importance of five very special dogs in their owner’s life and a ‘family’ pendant with four interlinking elements representing family members made from gold that belonged to each. Anything  goes, it seems – I once made a bespoke ring, set with a real screw on a gold band, engraved inside with ‘To my perfect screw!’

I think it was well received, although I didn’t get any further commissions for wedding bands!

The story behind my own collections and one-off pieces, is very much mine, but I find the pieces resonate with others and they enjoy wearing them. I have never been driven by commercial or fashion trends, and therefore feel extremely fortunate to produce work that is well regarded.

For Christmas this year I have extended my ‘Honey Makers’ collection. This is a jewellery collection  of pendants, earrings, cufflinks and rings inspired by our hard-working honey making friends: bees and my passion for ethically sourced materials.

As a child I used to spend time with my Grandfather, who was a keen gardener and bee keeper. Apart from the unfortunate incident when my sister and I had a fight and knocked a hive over, my memories of helping with the bees are good and pain-free ones. Spinning the combs to release the golden honey was like performing a magic trick. And being handed a dripping chunk of sweet honeycomb to eat out-classed any bowl of ice-cream or bar of chocolate!

The collection began at the same time as my involvement with the start of Fair trade precious metals. The representation of community, its value as a whole and for each individual member, is the underlying thought behind each piece. More directly, the jewellery speaks of the importance of taking care of our natural world and bees in particular who are suffering with many set-backs.This message is echoed by the ethos of the fair-trade materials that every piece is made from.

I source any new precious metals and gems as ethically as possible. I believe that a piece of jewellery, which is inevitably bestowed with a positive meaning and sentiment, needs to  be created from materials that have not caused suffering and destruction. The Fair-trade gold certification allows mines and miners to be supported in safe extracting and refining practices, receive a fair price for their gold and support for their communities. Most Fair-trade gold comes from Peru, and recently some mines in Uganda have started supplying Fair-trade gold. They have been given state-of-the-art refining machines which eliminate the use of deadly mercury and cyanide in the extraction of their gold, which in the past has been used without restraint, thereby contaminating the environment and shortening the lives of those in contact with it.

In ‘The Honey Makers’ the little bees I make from silver and gold are complimented with honey-coloured drops of Baltic amber. The choice was easy; amber is the colour and translucency of honey and is ethically sourced.  Because amber is easy to drill, carve and polish, I am able to shape it and rivet the gold and silver bees directly onto it. This give a more natural look to each piece.

Amber is fossilised pine tree resin and because it is formed from living matter, it is know as an ‘organic’ gemstone. It is an interesting gem, with many less valuable imitations (plastic, bakelite, reconstituted amber and copal resin) One of the tests for authentic amber is the distinctive warm and woody aromatic scent given off when burnt with a hot needle. Because amber is easy to drill, carve and polish, I am able to shape it and rivet the gold and silver bees directly onto it. This give a more natural look to each piece.

The film Jurassic Park gave way to a resurgence in amber’s popularity. It is common to find plant and animal particles, or even whole specimens, embedded in it. They would have become trapped in the sticky resin before the process of fossilisation. Amber can contain delicate and tiny organisms (such as bacteria, mites and pollen) that can be up to 230 million years old . These are too small for normal fossilisation and  would otherwise not have been preserved, so it is an important resource to scientists.  A word of warning though – there are fakes out there and some are easy to spot and very entertaining. On a recent trip to a European gem fair I came across whole (plastic) lobsters embedded in massive chunks of (plastic) ’amber’, tastefully lit from beneath with coloured led lights!

So for me, this year’s Christmas deadline means lots of early mornings and late nights in the company of lots of commissions, gold, ancient amber and bees! Hopefully the end result will be many delighted people with their own enduring and beautiful treasure. Although it might not be ‘useful’ in the same practical way as a turkey baster, the jewel might have a use in bringing joy, reminding them of a happy celebration, the wonder and fragility of this planet or how much they are treasured by another.

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