A look at the graduate show’s jewels, from the weird to the wonderful.
New Designers was an inspiring tour de force of uninhibited student imagination but nestled in amongst the louder provocative pieces were some nuggets of true innovation and commercial appeal, writes Rachael Taylor.
Heavily conceptual jewellery and indulgent artistic exploration has become par for the course at graduate design show New Designers in London, and while this year did not disappoint – Kerry Howley of Middlesex University’s necklaces made from human hair being the perfect case in point – this year’s crop of graduates offered up an impressively professional offering of jewellery design.
Many of the graduates were working in precious metals, some pioneering new techniques and there were one or two exploring ethical options in jewellery design.
New Designers is a show dedicated to wide spectrum of graduate design but this year’s show offered a particularly high calibre of jewellery design, as well as a large number of graduates specialising in the discipline.
Despite a widespread love of geometric cubes – a designer of note to include clever cubes in her designs was Alice Bo-Wen Chang, who created cascading necklaces of hinged cubes structures that opened out into a flat pack box shape – the variety of designs on offer was vast. From the mythical work of Miranda Chambers, who takes inspiration from nursery rhymes (a particular favourite piece of hers is a necklace based on the Sing a Song of Sixpence rhyme with strings of birds flying up from a pie with a sixpence as the clasp), to the simple pyrite -esque studs in precious metal by One Year On exhibitor Ros Millar that proved so commercially viable that she recouped her stall stand on sales of these studs alone, there was something for both the far-fetched fans and the safe shoppers at the show.
But whether a fantastical oversized glass orb bangle such as that made by Sammie-Jo Coxon, or a delicate layered wood carving bangle of the type by Tom Wilson, the over arching impression this year was that students were desperate to talk about their jewellery. While this might seem an obvious statement, in years gone past students have often been shy to speak about their work, if they turned up at all. This year students were ready and prepared to speak knowledgeably, seriously and passionately about their work, and some were very prepared commercially. Central Saint Martin’s cache of students presented a seriously professional look book and one of their students, Pip Jolly, had even thought about point of sale. She presented a collection of jewellery inspired by the 1940s in which silver and gold hair rollers took centre stage as pendants on chains and as brooches and she had developed a range of packaging with retro images to support her designs.
While the level of both professionalism and bravery in pushing design aesthetic was inspiring to see, the really interesting story at New Designers was the innovative use of cutting-edge crafting techniques that included digital hammering, ground-breaking settings and clever welding.
Nicola Mather is a jeweller who showed in the One Year On section of the show reserved for returning graduates who have been out in the market for a year. She presented an intricate and delicate selection of jewellery that had been created by laser welding metal into floral shapes around a cotton wool ball, which left the hollow pendant in a perfectly round shape. The technique is not entirely revolutionary but it is a tricky one to achieve and Mather carried it off with aplomb.
Exhibiting just a few stands down in the same section was Kathryn Hinton who displayed a range of digitally hammered jewellery. Hinton enjoys the process of hammering but wanted to feature cleaner lines in her designs so she modified a tool for a CAD package that allows her to draw with a hammer-style tool rather than a stylus. The outcome is a hammered shape that has cubic indents rather than circular (see image 4).
Clever techniques were not limited to the more experienced jewellers, however; the graduate halls were also packed with brave students willing to experiment with something new.
One such graduate was Iona Brown who has been designing with salt. Borwin places threads in petri dishes alongside salt and over a number of weeks allows the salt to crystallise and attach itself to fabric strings to created a coloured ice effect that she supplements with rope and metalwork to create bold statement pieces.
Other interesting unorthodox materials in jewellery designs included Lauracet Cowan’s use of golden metallic silicon that offered a rubbery texture that she contrasted with plastic and chain, and Lucy Seddon’s jewellery made from old letters and envelopes.
Emma Simmons, meanwhile, decided to focus on the technique rather than the material and chose to get playful with stone settings. She presented a range of Swarovski crystal and silver jewellery that used a caged setting to enclose the stones back to back, which she claims has never been used before.
New Designers is a show that always surprises and offers a glimpse into what is really possible when designers are working without commercial constraints. And while it was refreshing to see students who have clearly thought about commercial realities, it is this freedom that makes New Designers, and this year’s crop of students in particular, so inspiring – they don’t have to conform to a market, or a price point or demand, they are free to let their imagination run wild, and it certainly did just that.
The golden girls
The Goldsmiths’ Company returned to New Designers for the ninth year to hand out its annual awards and this year the judging panel – Lorna Watson, creative director of Astley Clarke, jewellery industry professional and silversmith Mary Ann Simmons and Peter Taylor director of technology and training the Goldsmiths’ Company – honed in on jeweller Filipa Oliveira and silversmith Bryony Jackson.
Portuguese Oliveira, who has just graduated with a first class honours degree in Jewellery and Metal Design from Duncanof Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee, was awarded the prize for the Goldsmiths’ Company Jewellery Award for her modern filigree work (pictured left).
Jackson, who studied metalwork and jewellery at Buckingham New University, was selected for the Goldsmiths’ Award for silver for her contemporary silver-plated homewares inspired by the City of London.
Goldsmiths’ Company prime warden Hector Miller presented Oliveira and Jackson with prizes of £1,500, made up of a cheque for £1,000 plus precious metal to the value of £500. As well as their cheques both designers have automatically be given places on the Goldsmiths’ Company’s annual graduate business course Getting Started, which takes place in January each year.
They will also be invited for a guided tour of the Assay Office London and an introduction to its services, plus a 10 year registration of their sponsor’s mark at the Assay Office London, their first sponsor’s punch made free of charge and £200 worth of hallmarking services.