The time constraints that contestants in the BBC’s All That Glitters show are under are unrealistic in real-world jewellery design, writes Goldsmiths’ Company librarian Eleni Bide…
The first episode of All That Glitters on BBC 2 delivered lots of the things I had been looking forward to in the run-up to its launch: naked flames, beautifully arranged workbenches, and personalities to root for. What I had not expected was the impact of sound, and one sound in particular.
The ping of snapping sawblades as the jewellers pushed themselves and their tools was unbearably tense. It also highlighted how non-visual elements can play an unexpectedly important part in the creation of handmade jewellery.
Tamara’s chiming rainbow pendant showed how sound can be used to great effect in jewels, and history offers lots of beguiling examples, from anklet bells which enhance movement in Indian classical dance to tinkling charms on European amulets to ward off misfortune.
Sound has even been used in jewellery for honours ceremonies, echoing the episode’s ‘bespoke’ challenge to create a jewel for the client’s mother to wear when she received her MBE.
In 2001 the renowned contemporary jeweller Dorothy Hogg wore a necklace incorporating bells when she was presented with her MBE by the Queen. The Zig-Zag Dispersal neckpiece has recently been acquired for the Goldsmiths’ Company’s Collection, and its playful noise is deliberately light-hearted.
But if the bespoke challenge showed that sound can be something for the wearer to enjoy, the snap of sawblades was all about the makers.
This montage highlighted what for me was the most striking thing about the first episode – just how little time they had to complete their projects.
Those in the industry know that creating precious jewellery is not like baking a cake (how many of us know our way around a rolling mill?) and the challenges required the contestants to design and make pieces in an extraordinarily tight timeframe – just three hours for three silver bangles, and four hours for a bespoke pendant.
Most viewers will never have seen inside a workshop before, and it’s important that the show doesn’t give the impression that making work in precious metal in these sorts of conditions is easy – or normal!
Taking the time to get it right with the client is just as important. Goldsmiths’ Centre resident Jessica Jue remembers that when she was commissioned to make her Wave centrepiece by The National Museums Scotland and The P&O Makower Charitable Trust in 2019: “From the initial discussion with the museum and handing the commission over, it took a year and a half.
“That time was not just spent in the making, but in discussion with the museum, research and refining the idea into a practical design, which are both fundamental parts of the process.”
Given the incredible pressure, all of the jewellers in episode one showed great cool, and I’m really excited to get to know them more over the coming weeks. Whatever happens they won’t miss that second-by-second countdown back at their own bench.
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.