Does the show have the pulling power to get the public interested in goldsmithing and handmade jewellery, wonders Goldsmiths’ Company librarian, Eleni Bide, as she considers the latest episode of BBC Two’s new jewellery show, All That Glitters…
What do Ancient Egyptians, pirates and Khloe Khardashian have in common? According to Katherine Ryan it’s a love of gold, and this week the jewellers were finally working with one of the world’s most emotive materials.
Although jewellery in gold marks some of our most important life events, most viewers will never have seen the grains, wires and sheets the contestants got to grips with.
Exploring how to work with gold is essential if the show aims to demystify the process of making jewellery.
Of course there was a lot which wasn’t covered, including the requirement for gold to be hallmarked before it goes on sale.
Hallmarking is such an important part of creating jewellery in precious metal that the omission was quite a surprise.
If the gold was precious, the lockets in the bespoke challenge showed how the emotional power of the jewel itself can be even more potent.
Lockets can hold a memory physically as well as symbolically, a quality they share with medieval reliquaries, which housed the bones of saints in jewel-studded cases.
Anne of Denmark owned a locket ring with a miniature of her husband James I, and Queen Victoria could wear several at a time, but lockets were not just the preserve of royalty.
By the 1870s they had become so wildly popular ladies with “locketomanie” became the butt of jokes.
What makes a locket special is what you put in it. As Hugo commented, “Once you add sentimentality to a piece it’s almost priceless, whether its worth £10 or £3000.”
If emotion was one theme, another was the importance of precision. The episode showed how constructing a jewel is an exercise in micro-engineering, epitomised by the satisfying click of a well-made catch.
For jewellery expert Joanna Hardy findings and fittings are a key part of understanding quality: “A good piece of jewellery is as much about fastenings and fittings as design. I want to hear a click for anything that opens and closes.”
This week did leave me wondering if the show is setting up an artificial divide between “romantic” jewellers focussing on style and feeling (like Sonny) and those depicted as having a more technical bent, like Dan and Hugo.
Technical precision and jewellery’s sentimental side are both essential – I can’t be the only one to have my heart broken by the loss of favourite necklace because of a faulty clasp!
Joanna Hardy voices something we all know from experience: “You just won’t wear it if you think you are going to lose it”.
Shows like these thrive on manufactured drama, and that artificial environment is frustrating for many viewers from within the industry.
It was certainly frustrating for Lee, who has proved himself to be an able jeweller with good ideas, but just not one suited to the format’s deadlines.
I really felt for him as he joked that “another two hours would be good, I don’t mind staying after work”.
The key question is whether All That Glitters offers ordinary viewers a little glimpse into the complexity of goldsmithing and a newfound passion for handmade jewellery.