Episode two of the BBC’s All That Glitters shone a light on a “frequently overlooked” jewel – the brooch, writes Goldsmiths’ Company librarian Eleni Bide…
“From royalty to high street”, brooches are “everywhere”, according to Solange Azagury Partridge. They were most definitely in episode two of All That Glitters, showcased alongside chains, another jewellery box staple.
The show did a good job of highlighting the appeal of these frequently overlooked jewels. Brooches are all about display and identity.
Outward-facing, they tell others something important about you. Early brooches evolved from the fibula, the ancestor of the safety-pin, and because of how they sit prominently on clothing they’ve often been encoded with meaning.
The way a brooch can “spark a conversation” is explored through stunning contemporary examples currently on display in The Brooch Unpinned exhibition.
By updating the traditional sweetheart brooch for the bespoke challenge the jewellers who did well showed they understood its power.
You don’t get much more traditional than a chain, and it was fascinating to see the different approaches to this ever-popular classic – from loop-in-loop chains (a form at least 4,500 years old), to – controversially – elements joined by jump rings.
The episode had me scrabbling for my copy of Newman’s Illustrated Dictionary of Jewellery which is a little more forgiving on what makes a chain than Solange!
This describes a chain as a “series of rings, links beads or discs […] connected or fitted to each other”, so jump rings allowed.
Both chains and brooches gave the contestants the opportunity to use lots of different techniques (I counted at least seven) with varying degrees of success, and the theme of this week was perhaps about learning.
Tamara heeded Shaun’s advice that “a good jeweller is one who gets themselves out of a problem”. Hugo, whose light was off after the first round, won jeweller of the week and the judges praised his ability to “listen to critique and come back fighting”.
Also chosen by the client for the bespoke challenge, his double win was a brilliant achievement, but as he’s a former Goldsmiths’ Company apprentice and Goldsmiths’ Centre alumnus I may not be completely objective…
A few jewellers decided that this was the time to learn a new skill, and I can’t have been the only person to sit up at the words “I’ve never enamelled before – how hard can it be?”. Enamelling is an exceptionally difficult technique to perfect. But despite the burns, the splatters and Dan’s holly leaves melting clean away, all the jewellers who experimented with enamel will have gained new skills which they can build upon.
Joan Mac Karell, master enameller and tutor at the Goldsmiths’ Centre has some sound advice: “Start with a love of colour and image and then go on a course. […] it’s so much easier to talk to someone when things don’t go quite as expected.”
There are many different ways of learning, and the contestants themselves range from former apprentices to those who self-taught using books and videos.
They will all know that in goldsmithing, learning never stops. The renowned Italian jeweller Giovanni Corvaja expresses this when he describes himself as “the kind of person who wants to always do something new, to discover and to learn”.
This quest for invention and perfection is one of the things which makes jewellery not just a joy to make but to sell and to own.
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.