When our London correspondent Maggie Snell told us she was attending a Millennium Exhibition displaying about one third of the 1500 items of the 20th century collection of silver, jewellery and art models belonging to the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, we said tell us more. We got even more excited when she further revealed that she and fellow SilverForum member Vanessa Patterson of Retro Gallery were together attending a Seminar Evening with a special preview of the Exhibition.Wendy Ramshaw and Andrew Grima were two of the guest speakers.Vanessa wrote the following account about the exhibition itself and Maggie concentrated on the seminar.


a  Millennium Exhibition held at Goldsmiths' Hall, City of London,
25 May - 21 July, 2000

 b y   M a g g i e   S n e l l    &    V a n e s s a   P a t e r s o n

   

                

As you walk into the 1830's building you are met with huge sparkling chandeliers that throw out a rainbow of colours bouncing off the dark green marbled walls and floors-a very impressive site.

A cascade of highly-polished stairs break off in the centre and go up each side of the huge hall, and lead you into a series of exhibition rooms.

Your eyes immediately fall on a wonderful array of British Arts and Crafts silver work designed by people like C R Asbee. The finesse of the silver and enamels dating back to the beginning of the 20th century is exquisite; the creative skills of so many fine goldsmiths on display immense. As you walk around the room diamonds seem to dance and glisten from the glow of the highly-polished silver in between.

Henning Koppel and many British designers from the mid-20th century followed, displaying clean lines and elegant simplicity, and highly-polished
surfaces free from any enamel or chasing.

You couldn't miss a wonderful sceptre made from Narwhale tusk, which at one end has an immense rose quartz block embellished at the junction of the tusk and the Quartz with the Goldsmiths Hall coat of arms, enamelled with a rich royal blue.

To balance the sceptre at the base there is a wonderful gold zigzag ring encrusted with emeralds, rubies and sapphires. The whole sceptre is then balanced on a Unicorn stand.

The second part of the exhibition hosted some of the finest British jewellers, mainly from the mid-century and into the 1990s.

Those Jewellers, freed at last from the restrictions of the Second World War, began to express themselves with a mixture of uneven broken surfaces and natural uncut stones set in atomic forms.

A freedom of art was well spoken for in the '50s and '60s, whilst in the '70s and '80s you were hit with mutated colours of Titanium and enamels, and the occasional seashell covered with enamelled bumble bees.

And then there were the tall stacking towers of rings designed by Wendy Ramshaw, and a bangle watch with a huge Citrine cabochon as the watch face designed by Andrew Grima for Omega.

With coral, emeralds, dancing diamonds and a multitude of colours to heighten your senses, jewellery had certainly become fine art. To be studied, appreciated and understood in its own right, and yet to be worn, loved and admired by many-which, of course, is what every artist hopes for.

We can only give you a small insight into this unique Exhibition here, but we hope you enjoyed the tour. There are some great photographs of the hall itself on The Goldsmiths' Company web site: http://www.thegoldsmiths.co.uk

 

                   JEWELRY--   A   C r e a t i v e   F o r c e                        

               
A gold ingot's throw from St Paul's Cathedral, in that part of the City of London called Cheapside, is the ancestral home of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths. And in June, at the magnificent 1835 Goldsmiths Hall, the third on the same site since 1339, around 300 guests attended a spectacular millennium exhibition and a seminar called: Jewellery - a Creative Force.

Here we all were, at the very core and pillar of the British establishment, to view approximately one third - about 569 items - from the 20th century collection, and to hear now fast-approaching lower-middle-age former-avant-garde '60s jewellery designers give a brief resume of their life and times and art.

But let me start with Graham Hughes, director and curator of the Company's collection until 1972. In the Company Review of 1961, he states: "Department stores are made to sell, museums to display. Therein lies a crucial distinction. People enter each in a very different frame of mind. Trade is life and we ignore it at our peril".

Graham Hughes left under bust of George IV. On the right is Richard Edgcumbe of the Victoria & Albert Museum

He crossed the picket line at the Hornsey Art School's infamous sit-in to talk to students about jewellery design, and bought the entire graduation exhibition for the Goldsmiths' Hall collection.Well, he may not actually have crossed the line but invited students to meet him, but let's not spoil a good story.

In 1957 Hornsey students could be silversmiths, but as a craftsman. There was little tradition of jewellery as art in British art colleges. Even the Victoria & Albert Museum had no pioneer heritage with innovative design in support of new ideas.
 

According to curator (since 1972) and exhibition director Rosemary Ransome Wallis where Goldsmiths lead, others followed. "Now museums form collections of modern design because of what Goldsmiths' did- it validated an art form, became patron of arts, co-pioneering the past by acquiring new work. We're the greatest patron of our craft in the UK-it's great secret is a non-profit making but a true philanthropic roll - a source for loans to New Zealand, America, Japan and Europe."

The contemporary collection has been guided and developed by Goldsmiths' curators. In 1928 George Hughes set out to "educate the popular taste and show itself a patron of the best contemporary work". A sister collection was started in 1961 guided by George's son Graham, starting with the flagship International Jewellery Exhibition. Diamond magnet De Beers was encouraged to offer huge prizes in competition to stimulate modern design. About £10,000/$16,000 was on offer - a tremendous sum then. A junior manager would be lucky to earn a yearly salary of more than £1,000/$1,600.

This didn't start out to be a history lesson, simply a report on contemporary jewellery and decorative items. But when you're sipping wine in an extravagant pre-Victorian setting hearing how a 700-year company deliberately courted recalcitrant post-war generation British youth culture to jump-start contemporary design, then you have to take notice.

America had its Gettys and Rothchilds. Britain had the Goldsmiths' Company. The City, widely recognised as an area of money and risk, balked conventional education, middle-class conservatism and traditional museum culture, which spilled over and resulted in the type of jewellery this magazine's readers are collecting and wearing today.

                   Hallmark                

               
Very few of you reading this do not know hallmarks, but have you considered how and why the term originated?  Believe it or not, it simply means the Mark of the Hall, Goldsmiths Hall, in the City of London.

In 1327 the King gave the Goldsmiths' Company, one of the ancient European medieval craft guilds, legal authority to mark gold and silver wares that were of approved standard, with the king's mark of a leopard's head.

Hallmarking represents one of the earliest forms of consumer protection and has been in constant use at Goldsmiths' for going on 700 years.

Check out the Goldsmiths' web site http://www.thegoldsmiths.co.uk for more hallmarking information.

               

                      Jewellers Speak for Themselves             

               
Designers and artist crafsmen who'd had strong links with GH over the years, were given 10 minutes each to present their own potted biography, and they did it in very different ways. Leo de Vroomen, who's Dutch, showed slides of himself crafting his own jewellery "just to show you how a piece comes together and that I do the work myself, not contract it out."

Charlotte de Syllas read her talk saying she finds it hard to project in public. She works only by commission and her work is very sculptural and can take years to complete.

Richard Edgcombe of the Victoria & Albert also gave a presentation, stating how the museum's buying policy has developed along modern design lines in recent years. And of course Graham Hughes, in the programme described as an author, talked about the exciting times when, as curator, he was given his head to promote modern jewellery design in the '60s.

Wendy Ramshaw is petite, quick moving with lively eyes and is very friendly. She readily agreed to be photographed for this article, but wanted to include stone dealer Marcia Langon who, Wendy says, is kind to artists from all over the world and goes to great lengths to find them special stones for their designs.

Her jewellery was inexpensive, almost throwaway; (some even made of paper) when she started out. She considered herself very fortunate to get loyal customers early in her career and is glad her early work is finding a collector market.

Wendy Ramshaw and  Monica Langon

Wendy hosted a one-woman show at the V&;A, and was the first English person to be accorded this honour in New York. She is best known for her ring sets - groups of rings usually presented on a Perspex tower as an entity both for display and to wear. The rings were also interchangeable to suit the mood of the wearer.

Local man John Donald has had a shop in Cheapside, near the Hall, for 32 years As a bespoke jeweller he is still surviving despite the recession. He sometimes finds city types with big bonuses frustrating when they crib at spending a fraction of their weekly income on a unique Christmas present for their wives in case it is thought ostentatious.

He saw 60's modern jewellery as a creative modern medium with uncut stones and fluid forms. He said they could go big in the '60s, as gold was only $35 an oz; now it's $300. Several of his pieces are in the collection and as a Liveryman he is a consultant to the modern and contemporary collection.

Curator Rosemary Ransome Wallis wore one of his brooches which her father commissioned as an anniversary present for her mother to celebrate their Ruby wedding, and which Rosemary inherited.

Andrew Grima and his wife Jojo

The first jewellery exhibition I ever attended was Grima's retrospective at Goldsmiths Hall in 1991 and I still have the catalogue. There's an introduction by Graham Hughes who first met Andrew in 1960 when he was organising at Goldsmiths' Hall the world's first international exhibition of modern artists' jewellery, including work by Picasso.

 

There were so few big British jewellery names around then that Hughes commissioned new works from artists of the calibre of Elizabeth Frank, Kenneth Armitage, and Bernard Meadow. Grima's workshop transformed these mainly wax models into wearable jewels, and he included some new pieces of his own. He employed some two dozen craftspeople to translate his designs into wearable sculpture.
He told me how, when he was starting out in his mid-20s, some South American dealers offered him a suitcase filled with semi-precious stones such as aquamarine. He was so taken with their colours and shape that he bought the lot, which allowed him to develop more flamboyant designs. At first he used textured wire that was very light and, highlighted with diamonds, could be re-styled in all sorts of different forms.

 

Grima's Jermyn Street shop
From
"Grima Retrospective catalogue, 1991"

But the famous jewellery houses in London weren't interested in modern style, so in 1966 his brothers, both architects, designed a new sculptured shop front and workshop in Jermyn Street. Photographer and brother-in-law to the Queen, Lord Snowdon, opened it There were no showcases and no counters. It was an immediate success with Americans coming in every day and Grima soon developed an international business with outlets in Tokyo, New York and Sydney plus concession arrangements with powerful stores elsewhere.

Omega watch From "Grima Retrospective catalogue, 1991"

In the '70s Grima was headhunted by the Omega watch concern to design a collection of spectacular watches which were exhibited throughout the big cities of the world.

With more than 40 years in the jewellery business, a Goldsmiths' liveryman, a Freeman of the City of London, and with many royal customers, Andrew Grima, in his late 70s, is still creating wonderful jewellery with his jeweller wife JoJo in Switzerland.

 Copyright © 2000 Maggie Snell and Vanessa Paterson

Photographs by Maggie Snell
Web design by Marbeth Schon

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