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t h e    w o n d e r f u l   w o r l d   o f
Norman Grant

by Vanessa Frisbee
   

 

silver & enamel pendant, c. 1973-74

 


Norman Grant was born in 1943 in Forres, Scotland.  At 18 he went to train at Grays School of Art in Aberdeen, initially studying graphic design and later moving into silversmithing - a process which he felt combined the opportunity to use the inspiration of graphics in a 3d process.  Having grown up in a coastal landscape, Grant was much influenced by the forms he saw around him, and inevitably these shapes and forms were the first to creep into his early jewels. In many of Grants pieces can be seen microscopic plant cell structures, as both under a microscope and with the naked eye; single and multiple flower motifs, flower stamens, trees, worm eaten driftwood, algal growth patterns seen in rock pools, shells. Seaweed, anemone like forms, seed heads bursting into life and later fish, wave and cloud motifs.

 

silver & enamel bracelet

In 1967 he began, in a small way, to produce pieces of jewelry by himself in his own tiny garden shed.  His favorite medium was translucent enamel, which he combined with Sterling silver, the low cost of which meant that he could be experimental with this work, while keeping costs to the customer relatively low. Realising that if he was to be successful, he had to sell his work, Norman visited local Scottish jewelers, and was astounded when all the pieces that he took with him sold in one morning. Immediately Grant found himself working full time to fulfill orders and within a year his work's popularity was clear; with its colorful psychedelic colours and Pop art patterns, it personified, in personal ornament, the fashion and art ethic of the period.

silver & enamel cufflinks

 


In London, shops in the prodigious Burlington Arcade sought Grant's work, as well as the well established Cameo Corner, Liberty of London, and Harrods while in the USA both Bonwit Teller and Marshall Field stocked pieces. Grant realized that his success at the time was both lucky and unusual, as fashion boutiques commonly only stocked plastic jewelry and department stores and jewelers had only previously dealt with jewels in precious stones and gold   - unwittingly he had broken new ground with jewels that were inexpensive without being gimmicky and cheap, and importantly, well made and imaginative.

silver & enamel rings



silver & enamel bubble earrings
c. 1978

Norman Grant's work quickly became synonymous with the psychedelic "Art Nouveau" floral revival style of the early 1970s, and its luminescent flowers and candy colour shapes provided ideal accessories for the popular clothes of the moment from designers such as Biba and Mary Quant. In fact his work became so trend setting that it quickly became a "must-have" accessory that was worn by many celebrities including Sandy Shaw and Mick Jagger, and later Billy Connelly and Elton John.

 

silver & enamel ring c. 1972

silver & enamel cufflinks, c. 1972

By 1974 Normans company -  "Dust" Jewellery  - was based in its own workshops in Lundin Links on the Scottish Fife coast, employing a small cohort of staff to keep up with the constantly outstripped rate of production.  In addition he ran a summer school each July at the workshop, where students came from around the world to learn from him.  Each student would be supplied with silver blanks which they could then enamel in their choice of colour- this practice goes partway to explaining the myriad colourways often present in the same pendant, rings, earring and bracelet styles.   By this time, Grant also offered a mail order service where each piece could be ordered in a customers choice of colour and shipped anywhere around the world. The style of Grants work meant that it was as easily suited to use for rings and cufflinks as well as pendants and brooches, and designs in multiple colors meant that customers could mix and match their jewellery with their outfits often ordering the same piece in several colours.  Each year several pieces that had not been bestsellers were withdrawn and other new ones introduced. Unfortunately Norman has never kept extensive archive records and so it is impossible to say how many different designs in different colourways were ever made.   

 silver & enamel "bubble" brooches, c. 1971

 

 

By the mid 1970's Norman felt that the original jewelry designs were becoming dated and in tandem with the existing range, moved toward new materials, introducing a range of art nouveau inspired work in Titanium and silver. This range of work however enjoyed a limited success and the firm found that the original enamel and silver range still enjoyed a higher sales return.  With increasing production pressures, the firm however had to make sacrifices.  By 1978, the well established jewelry school became a victim of its own success, its annual occurrence caused major disruption to production and eventually this disruption had become too severe to contend with, leading to the school being abandoned.

Gradually Dust's titanium range began to enjoy more success and the colourful, organic and pop art designs of the 1970s were discontinued. Finally however Grant decided that his years of experience in the jewelry trade ought to afford him a more lucrative career, and in the early 1980s he moved on to work as a consultant with The De Beers Group, in London.

Today Norman is based in North London with his Wife Jess, and his work is a world away from the days of Lundin Links. Dealing almost exclusively with precious stones, gold and platinum, he has left behind him an extensive and enduring legacy of colour and imagination, which is once again finding the welcome audience it deserves.

Norman Grant monogram &
Edinburg Assy Marks with
date letter for 1973-74


Norman Grants work always carries the "NG" Monogram in a square, together with the Edinburgh Assay Marks. Later titanium pieces are often unmarked and can only be identified by style.

Vanessa Frisbee lives in Nottinghamshire and deals in Vintage jewelry as well as being a studio jeweler in her own right. Her specialty is  British Jewelry from 1945 onwards. Email Vanessa at info@atelier-uk.com 

Her new website is www.atelier-uk.com

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Photographs courtesy of Terrance O'Halloran, Patrick Kapty, Vanessa Frisbee, and Marbeth Schon
Web design by Marbeth Schon
www.mschon.com

 Copyright   Modern Silver magazine 2001

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