The British jewellery industry has gone through a massive overhaul in the past half century, its ancient heritage making way for new designers with modern ideas and a fresh take on style and design. Emma Johnson goes on a gem hunt
THE BRITISH JEWELLERY industry dates back as far as medieval times, when Hatton Garden in the old City of London became a centre for jewellers and jewellery. Now, hundreds of years later, it remains an important place for diamond buying and selling, and purchasing vintage and commissioned jewellery. Nearly 300 businesses in Hatton Garden are in the jewellery industry and over 55 shops represent the largest cluster of jewellery retailers in the UK. In London as a whole, the renowned names of Graff, Boodles, Garrard and Astley Clarke, many of them occupying grand headquarters in Mayfair, speak of a heritage stretching back through the centuries. While further afield, the likes of the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham, and artisan workshops stretching from Cornwall and Wales to Sussex and Nottingham, showcase the wealth of talent and skill that the British jewellery industry still enjoys. And, while it is a world filled with history and tradition, it is also a rapidly evolving and cutting-edge industry. Stephen Webster, one of the most exciting British jewellery designers to emerge in the past 30 years, is renowned for his dynamic and playful designs. Awarded an MBE in 2013, Webster says that his British roots have both informed and challenged his work. “Despite being British and having learned my craft in Britain, I have also tried to break out from what I felt at the time, was a tight, traditional industry, more interested with the past than the future.” Some thirty years down the line, British jewellery is still steeped in tradition, but is now also some of the most advanced creatively. Webster himself is committed to continuing this trend, supporting and nurturing new talent through his Rock Vault (a platform he created with the British Fashion Council which mentors young British-based jewellery talent). A proudly creative brand, Webster now uses his British heritage to inspire his work, including his Magnipheasant, Lady Stardust and England Made Me collections. “We feel the story has only just begun,” he says. “I’ve been compelled to reveal more about what I find inspiring about the country where I was born and live.”
As you look through the British jewellery hall of fame – featuring everyone from huge brands to artisan designers - what becomes clear is how important their British roots are. “The British jewellery industry is a melting pot of creativity, innovation and characterful design with a long history of exquisite craftsmanship,” says Alexis Dove who makes all her products in her workshop in Lewes, Sussex. Dove’s jewellery is very organic, textured, quirky and often featuring motifs of wild roses, foxes and seashells. Inspired by the English countryside and rugged coastal landscapes, Dove says: “I’m heavily inspired by the environment around me, so being a British designer greatly informs my work.” Theo Fennell - whose signature Arts collection, predominantly charms and pendants in the shape of a heart, has been reworked and adapted over 25 years, featuring flags and fish to angels and safari animals - agrees. “There is a brotherhood among the trade in this country that is quite exceptional,” he says. “I think I am probably far more indebted to Britishness than anything else and the essence of the country, its more arcane traditions and quirks, its cultural oddities and humour have heavily coloured everything we have made. Celebrating nearly 30 years in business, Links of London is perhaps one of the most distinctive and recognisable British jewellery brands. Starting out life as a brand specialising in bespoke corporate orders, it has expanded its range to include jewellery, watch and gift products. A proudly British brand, inspired by iconic landmarks, the weather, the British sense of humour and major sporting and social events. “When we are not being inspired by Britain, we are being inspired by those universal themes of love and memory so key, especially, to jewellery,” says global brand director Mark Owens. Perhaps its most important pieces remain its distinctive Sweetie Bracelets, and its friendship charm bracelets, a collectable way to add to your Links of London collection over time.
“At its VERY BEST, there is a WONDERFUL SENSE of an uninterrupted TRADITION of CRAFTSMANSHIP and excellence combined with an ORIGINALITY of thought and DESIGN that has no equal anywhere else in the world” Theo Fennell
While Hatton Garden and London has always had an important reputation for diamonds, gem enthusiasts would be remiss to ignore the important influence of the renowned Birmingham Jewellery Quarter, which has established itself as the centre of the British jewellery industry over 250 years, and is responsible for starting the careers of hundreds of big names in British jewellery. To this day, it produces over 40 per cent of British jewellery, has made both the FA Cup and the captain’s whistle from the Titanic, and is home to numerous workshops, factories and flagships. Award-winning designer Diana Porter, who has been working in the industry for over 20 years, began her craft after an inspiring jewellery course in Birmingham. Her numerous collections all have etched words incorporated into the design, the flow of the text, hand-etched continuously around rings and bangles, are Porter’s take on the classic eternity band. “My collections are a synthesis of my life experiences – I use words inspired by life’s journey and all its stages. The words not only bring meaning to the ring, but create a texture which adds to the design.” This enduring commitment to British jewellery, especially for newcomers, has meant an emerging and diverse range of artisan jewellers, widening and expanding the offering to include new brands whose approach to design is changing the face of British gems. Daisy Knights, who learnt to make jewellery from her hobby silversmith father when she was a child, explains how supportive the industry is to newcomers. “We are all pretty friendly, share workshop contacts and advice, and respect each other. There is a great deal of support between small independent brands. “I think having access to the master craftsmen from Hatton Garden and Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter has a huge impact, it means that any idea can be talked through and is possible,” she says. Knights’ understated, wearable luxury, jewellery is solid gold and silver so can be loved, and worn daily without plating rubbing off, and then handed down through the family. The collections have been designed to be loved and cherished. “It’s an industry committed to nurturing skills, supporting young and emerging designers and developing home grown talent,” says Sonia Menezes, Head of Brand, at Clogau – a which uses rare Welsh gold in all their pieces, and takes notes from British history as a touchstone for its designs. Heavily inspired by English and Welsh landscape and history, many of Clogau’s pieces conjure ideas of flora and fauna, history and legends. The 25 year-old brand uses motifs adorning the likes of Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace and Hillsborough Castle, as well as featuring royal regalia and being influenced by the glamour of the royal courts. “These palaces witnessed many of the defining moments of our nation, and collectively they explain much of the nation’s story,” says Sonia.
“The last ten years has seen a particular shift in the industry, with the introduction of much more fashion-led and branded jewellery,” explains Suzanne Adams, whose brand London Road Jewellery specialises in gold- and gem-set pieces with a heavy fashion leaning. Its collections are inspired by nature, architectural designs, Victorian jewellery - the Starry Night collection with rose-cut diamonds and pieces finished with black rhodium plating is very special - and London itself. “The Pimlico Bubble collection was London Road’s first collection,” says Adams. “Inspired by the fun and colour of the 1960’s, its vibrant, bubble-like multi-coloured gemstones are set into domed rose gold pendants, rings and earrings.” With manufacturing done in the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter, Shen London’s wearable investment pieces are a real hymn to British quality and design, coupled with an uncompromising outlook on diamond quality and sourcing. Inspired by its founder’s memories and experiences, Shen London is renowned for offering the highest end jewellery design, feminine and delicate in style. Collections include The Goddess (a celebration of pure femininity created for strong and stylish women), a recent earring collaboration with Nichola Joss, and their ‘Your Diamonds’ 2017, programme, whereby clients can hand-select the gemstones that will feature in their bespoke jewellery. The British jewellery industry today is, “independent, young, eccentric and androgynous,” explains Tansy Aspinal and Victoria Van Holthe, who set up their brand Tada & Toy in 2014, to offer affordable, accessible jewellery for women. Their pieces are an amalgamation of minimalist Scandinavian-inspired lines, with a monochrome colour palette and innovative contemporary shapes. “We get inspiration from street style, nature, friendship and texture, but our designs are rooted in contemporary Britain and are about how to re-interpret jewellery ideas to suit the lives of the modern British women.”
IMAGES opposite page: Theo Fennell, and his collection of Sapphire & Diamond Water Lily Rings (poa) and Ruby Queen of 'Arts Pendant (£3,425) in celebration of Her Majesty the Queen's 90th Birthday theofennell.com this page: Daisy Knights, and her Life Necklace in Solid Rose Gold and Silver (£220) and yellow Strike Earrings, in Solid Yellow Gold (£68) daisyknights.com