Palladium, White Horses & a Snow Fox

Looking at the prices and availability of precious metal at the moment is like looking at an erratic yo-yo. The jewellery trade is awash with webinars, Zoom meetings and speculation about trying to predict the way that gold and other precious metal prices are going to go and how this will affect our products when we are finally able to trade again.

Despite all the speculation, there seems to be one overriding fact, that the exceptionally high palladium price has now made this metal ‘out of our league’ for the long-haul. No longer is it an affordable white metal option for jewellery use. This has not always been the case, for the last ten years at least, palladium has been a lovely option for the jeweller to offer in their range of products.

Palladium is an interesting metal. It was discovered in 1803 by an English chemist called William Hyde Wollaston. He named this shiny, silver-coloured metal after ‘Pallas’ the asteroid which was discovered in our solar system the year before he found palladium metal.  This asteroid was named after Pallas Athena the Greek goddess. Her armoured profile head is the featured mark for the UK palladium hallmark. Palladium has been used in the jewellery trade for a long time, at least since the 1930s,  but was only given its own hallmark in 2010. 

The first time I experimented with palladium I was shocked by a distinct colour change that happened to it once I heated it. The surface changed from grey to an attractive purple, and the only way of removing it was by further controlled heating, or taking off the top surface of the metal. Once I’d got over the shock, I decided I quite liked the colours and used them  to my advantage.  One pendant that I made in this way was based on the form of the White Horse of Uffington. I coloured the piece by heating it and worked into the surface to create a texture like weathered rain-wash rock, revealing the white underneath.

In 2010, to celebrate the milestone of this metal being recognised and hallmark-able in its own right, and having its own hallmark, I created the snow fox brooch. The Snow Foxes inhabit some of the general regions where palladium ore is found (parts of Russia and Canada).  The original inspiration for the piece was part of an ongoing exploration that combined my drawing practice with the 3 dimensional work of jewellery and sculpture. I was looking at how the simplest drawn line could describe and represent a recognisable 3 dimensional form. The White Horse of Uffington, mentioned previously, is one example that I worked on. This ancient horse, depicted by a few simple lines carved into the chalk hillside, has always fascinated me. 

During lock-down I have had time to rekindle my interest in drawing, and been busy continuing to try and capture the essence of form and movement with as simple a descriptive line as possible.