Diamonds stole the show in the penultimate episode of All That Glitters, writes Goldsmiths’ Company librarian, Eleni Bide.
However she worries that the show could be failing on more than one front as the finale nears…
Shakespeare was right that “all that glisters” isn’t gold because in this week’s episode the glittering was done by gemstones.
The enticing sparkle from gems is often what makes people pause by a jeweller’s shop window, and lapidary books in the Goldsmiths’ Company’s archive show how gemmological knowledge has been a key part of goldsmithing education for many hundreds of years (although nowadays most jewellers won’t claim that the stones in your ring will cure a hangover).
The contestants all showed sensitivity towards the stones in their cuff designs, and it was good to see a range of cuts and colours, even if gemmologists will have shuddered at the distinction between precious and semi-precious stones.
This did make the insistence on diamonds for the engagement ring in the bespoke challenge something of a missed opportunity.
According to Solange, engagement rings don’t have to feature a diamond. In her book Rings, Rachel Church explores the wonderful variety of gems and styles common before diamonds became ubiquitous in the 20th century.
Gemmologists will have shuddered at the distinction between precious and semi-precious stones.”
One of my favourite items in the Goldsmiths’ Company’s collection is a 1964 citrine engagement ring by Gilian Packard (currently on display in the Designs on Silver exhibiton) which showcases this often-overlooked stone.
Of course, what really makes the Packard ring (and all engagement rings) special is the love with which they are given and worn, rather than design and value.
According to writer Sophia Tobin, “they take something intangible and embody it in metal”. The contrast between the judges’ criticisms of Dan’s design and how much the client loved it highlighted some interesting tensions around what qualities the show rewards.
Dan and Hugo opted for classic designs with subtle nods to the clients’ story, while the judge’s choice was Tamara’s bolder look and technique which showcased her ‘voice’ but related less to the expectant couple.
Did it feel like Dan and Hugo were punished for prioritising the brief? Katherine Ryan seemed to think so, reminding Solange that her tastes were “very different to the client”.
With the final on the horizon, it’s worth reflecting on what the industry might hope to get out of this show.
After all, both Shaun Leane and William Shakespeare look great in an earring.”
A better appreciation of the technical virtuosity required to make jewellery should be a key takeaway.
Episode five did a great job of introducing beginners to something most will never have thought about – how to set a stone – but asked the contestants to make a ring to last a lifetime in just five hours.
Some aspects of what to look out for when buying have been covered, but the industry’s oldest consumer guarantee, the hallmark, has yet to make an appearance. Perhaps its real value will be in inspiring the public to go bespoke.
With this in mind, I hope the final episode might address All That Glitters’ gender imbalance: much has been made of Tamara as the only remaining female jeweller in the competition, but I would like to see more women commissioning for themselves, and more jewellery being worn by men. After all, both Shaun Leane and William Shakespeare look great in an earring.
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: