“After week three of All That Glitters I’ve found myself wondering a few things,” writes Goldsmiths’ Company librarian, Eleni Bide, as she considers the latest episode of BBC Two’s new jewellery show…

The first is what a live slug emerging from a cocktail ring would look like. The second is how the public might view the programme differently to the industry, and whether that matters.

Does the show really convey the levels of skill needed to complete tasks well? Do you get a good idea of how jewellery is normally made?

Advertisement

The theme of alternative materials was a good way to explore this. Jewellery in non-precious materials has long been seen as a great democratiser.

Among my favourite examples are Wendy Ramshaw’s 1960s paper jewels which enabled young women to wear radical fashion on a budget.

But the show demonstrated that if anyone can wear jewellery in alternative materials, not just anyone can make it.

Dan’s lack of confidence in his design and Nicola’s construction problems showed that technical and design excellence are really important whatever you’re making with.

Often jewellers who use alternative materials have spent years exploring their physical and artistic possibilities.

Emmeline Hastings and Romilly Saumarez Smith, both regular exhibitors at Goldsmiths’ Fair, have developed a deep understanding of the acrylic and found objects they use.

Since the introduction in 2007 of the mixed metal mark, hallmarking legislation has recognised combining precious and non-precious material is an important part of many jewellers’ practice.

Emmeline Hastings’ ‘Amaru’ brooch, 2019, The Goldsmiths’ Company Collection

How the contestants worked with these materials also highlighted the huge importance of specialisation in creating jewellery.

Repair expert Lee and in-house jeweller Dan struggled at points as their day-jobs don’t usually involve a lot of concept development.

This made Lee’s delight as he was picked by the client all the more joyful. Even Hugo, whose all-round skills have been consistently good, joked that silversmiths would be “cringing” at his attempts to planish his necklace. (As Hugo’s a former Goldsmiths’ Company apprentice and Goldsmiths’ Centre alumnus I may not be completely objective here.)

And the big heart-in-the-mouth moment with the polishing machine really hammered this home.

Polishing machines are serious bits of kit and as the incidental music wound up I was convinced Sonny was going to lose a finger.

Roman bronze pin Romilly Saumarez Smith, 2015, The Goldsmiths’ Company Collection

He actually just lost his chain, but polishing is another specialist craft. Inevitable the show’s focus is on individuals but few if any jewellers are brilliant at everything, and a great piece of jewellery is made by pooling talent.

What everyone who’s ever worn jewellery understands is the importance of how it feels, and the show did a better job this week of highlighting how it interacts with the body.

The importance of wearing as well as looking is explored beautifully in curator Frances Parton’s account of trying on a tiara destined for a museum display: “debutante, deity, superhero, royalty – wearing the tiara I felt a little of all of those things”.

Seeing some of the pieces being modelled by Katherine and Glamrou, the client, really bought the jewels to life.

Expressing yourself though wearing something wonderful is “what jewellery is all about” according to Hugo. I couldn’t agree more

Eleni Bide is librarian at the Goldsmiths’ Company. The library is the largest specialist resource for jewellery and silversmithing in the UK. Eleni and her team welcome enquiries from students, craftspeople and academics who want to learn more about the skills and techniques of goldsmithing and silversmithing.

For more information about a career working with precious metals, please visit the Goldsmiths’ Centre.

Check out the Professional Jeweller Podcast’s All That Glitters special episode below, including interviews with judges Solange Azagury-Partridge and Shaun Leane:

PJ PODCAST: All That Glitters special with judges Shaun Leane and Solange Azagury-Partridge