BBC Two’s All That Glitters is a Bake Off-style competition designed to find the best up-and-coming jewellery designer in the country.
With the finale airing tomorrow night (Tuesday, 18 May), PJ sat down with judges Solange Azagury-Partridge and Shaun Leane hours before the first episode debuted to find out what life was like in front of the camera and behind the scenes.
Alternatively you can listen to the full uncut version of the interview on the special All That Glitters PJ Podcast episode.
What is day-to-day life normally like for you outside of the TV spotlight?
Solange Azagury-Partridge: I’m a jewellery designer and business owner. I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I have a shop in London and I also have a range called Hot Lips, a secondary range of silver lacquer jewellery, which is a bit more accessible.
Shaun Leane: I am a jewellery designer-maker. My training is classical and my design approach is very modern.
That came about through 20 years working with Alexander McQueen. I have an atelier in Bond Street, London, and a boutique, also distributing the collections worldwide.
How has business been for your brands since the pandemic hit?
SAP: It was strangely okay. Business was down by 30% last year, but I expected a lot worse, and it basically forced me to get my business online.
So I had to really get my website sorted out, and it’s also shown me that it’s amazing what you can do remotely. You can do everything remotely.
SL: At Shaun Leane we have retail, we have wholesale, we have an online business, we have collaborations and consultations and bespoke business. So there are many facets to the business.
Thank God for online because a lot of our wholesalers and our retailers have an online presence so they could still sell through online. Our online business is quite phenomenal. It grew by 178%.
What has it been like working on All That Glitters? Has the experience surprised you or differed from any expectations that you at prior to filming?
SAP: I suppose I have been on film sets and seen it before so I kind of know how it operates, but it’s a bit different being in front of the camera. It’s hard.
I judge a prize for Central Saint Martin’s once a year and that has to be done pretty immediately, and we had to do all our judging pretty immediately on this as well.
There’s more to being a good jewellery designer than just making something well.”
I usually like to take my time to consider things generally – I like to leave, if possible, 24 hours between seeing something and deciding whether it’s good or bad. But here we had to do it almost instantaneously, so it was quite stressful wondering whether you’ve made the right choice or not.
SL: It’s been a wonderful experience. When I was first asked to be a judge on the show I found it quite daunting, the idea of these contestants producing a piece of jewellery within three hours.
I know the intricacies and the detailing and the intensity of creating a piece of jewellery and the time that’s needed.
I first thought it’d be impossible, but they have built an infrastructure to do it. And the contestants were remarkable. They were courageous and fearless and very energetic and they delivered.
It was very exciting to be there and to film with them because their energy was so young in terms of where they are in their careers.
It reminded me of when I was younger and at the beginning of my journey. I’m still very passionate about what I do, but watching them in this show was remarkable, because it reminded me of that very young energy – the passion, the drive, the innovation, the fearlessness, the courage, but also the doubt and the lack of confidence and the insecurity.
But working with them was so rewarding to watch and be part of, because not only did I see them achieve pieces or use skills they’ve never done before, but I watched them grow as jewellers and as people, and it just reminded me of my journey.
It’s such an amazing springboard for them to start their career and their brand.”
After we finished filming I just felt very grateful for the journey that I’d been on, because it was really lovely to see and to be part of their journey.
It made great TV because you’ll see them really push themselves skill-wise in a very tight time constraint, which is remarkable.
How did being a judge on All That Glitters come about? Did you just receive a phone call?
SAP: Yes. As with a lot of the good things that have happened to me, it just came out of the blue, just a phone call one day, and I thought, “Why not?” It’s another adventure in my jewellery career.
I’ve had a few and I just thought this would be another one of them. And it has been. It has been fun, and it’s a new medium through which to express myself.
How were the competitors? Were they all on quite an equal footing or did some of them stand out from the very beginning as potential winners?
SAP: They were all very different. Everyone’s story is different. They all came at it from different backgrounds, and they’ve learned in different ways. Some have been doing it longer than others.
But while with some people you could see the quality of their work was immediately good, it didn’t necessarily mean that they were going to be the winners, because there’s more to being a good jewellery designer than just making something well – you need to be able to give it something, that magical quality that makes people want to buy it.
But yes, there were a few who were kind of neck-and-neck pretty much all the way.
There was a mix of amateurs and professionals taking part in the show. Was there an obvious difference in talent between these two groups?
SL: Obviously there were skill differences, because they’d all come from different places, different training, and some had been making jewellery for longer than others.
But the show has been so brilliantly put together that different challenges played to different jewellers’ strengths. So it was very clever and they gave the opportunity for each contestant to shine within their medium.
Did you both set the challenges?
SL: No, that was organised by the producers and they worked very closely with the Birmingham City University School of Jewellery [where All That Glitters was filmed] who helped with all the challenges and some of the infrastructure of the programme.
Will you and Katherine Ryan be returning for the upcoming second season?
SAP: I think so. It’s not a hundred percent sure, but we’ve been asked to do it, and if it goes ahead then yes, we will.
You filmed at Birmingham City University’s School of Jewellery. How were they to work with?
SL: They were brilliant – very, very good in every shape and form. They were brilliant with information and education. The college is an amazing building. And they were very thorough with the Covid restrictions.
Did filming in a Covid-safe way prove to be difficult?
SAP: We did the first three episodes before Covid – when Covid was just rumour – and then suddenly we were all in lockdown.
We did the first three by mid-March, and then we did the last three all in one go in July. At that point it was all Covid rules and regulations.
When one works with another jeweller you learn new things all the time.”
How do you see the show impacting the success of the winner’s career?
SL: I think the show will impact all the contestants. It will really raise the platform for them and, regarding the winner, I think having that accolade of being jewellery’s next rising star and deservedly being the winner, they will have a lot of eyes on them.
It’s such an amazing springboard for them to start their career and their brand.
The call has been put out for applicants for season two. Are there any particular skills, styles or personal qualities that you would like to see in the next group of contestants?
SL: The jewellers that we have in series one have all of those things, which is lovely, and I would just love to see a replica of that in series two.
Do you have a Covid-safe viewing party planned for episode one?
SL: I do! I’m in a bubble. I’m going to go to my parents’ house tonight, and I’m going to watch it with them. They’ve asked if I would come and watch it with them. I think they’re very proud. And they said it would be lovely to watch it with me.
So I’m going to sit with them and watch it which will be nice because, let’s face it, I’m going to get the most honest opinion from them about what I’m like on the TV tonight!
THE STUDENT TEACHES THE MASTER?
Solange Azagury-Partridge and Shaun Leane were invited to judge on BBC Two’s All That Glitters because of their proven skills behind the workbench and long experience in jewellery design, but were the show’s contestants able to teach them a thing or two?
Azagury-Partridge was adamant that she would not be worthy to judge the jewellers without having been in their shoes, so she did just that. “Every week I would take the challenge and try and design something as well,” she says. “I’d put myself through the same processes, because I just wondered if I could actually design something that’s interesting and clever in the time that they had.”
Leane, meanwhile, says that you cannot be in a jewellery workshop without learning something. “When one works with another jeweller,” he tells PJ, “you learn new things all the time. There are workshops all over the world that have different techniques or ways of creating, so you’re always learning.”
It’s quite risky, pouring molten metal that’s 950 degrees celsius around a gemstone.”
However, one technique he saw used blew him away. “I knew it was possible,” Leane says, “but I’d never seen it done before. It was melting molten metal around a stone as a form of setting.
“I’ve never seen that or done that before, because it’s quite risky, pouring molten metal that’s 950 degrees celsius around a gemstone. That’s pretty courageous. And one of our contestants did that.”
The judge and jewellery designer adds: “That shows you the fearlessness and the courage of some of these contestants.
“I knew that it was possible; I knew it was a process because it’s like casting with diamonds. But this was organic and freehand. This wasn’t done in a centrifuge or anything like that, so it was quite remarkable to see.”
The full uncut interview can be listened to on the third episode of the PJ Podcast below: