From weaving to ceramics, millinery to paper-making; this week, the British capital has been celebrating the art of the handmade as London Craft Week flies the flag for makers and artisans. With interest in handcrafted, high-quality products stronger than ever, workshops, exhibitions, talks and demonstrations are bringing consumers closer to the origin of the items they buy. And from a goldsmithing exhibition at Sotheby’s, to open workshops in Hatton Gardens, the best of the city’s jewelry artists are in firmly in the spotlight.
Over 300 events around the city offer a window onto the creative processes of more than 765 participating makers, artists and designers, during the eighth edition of the event. According to Guy Salter, Chairman of London Craft Week, the past two years have seen more artisans and makers coming to the fore, and this first edition since the pandemic is a chance to shine a spotlight on “what we call the Iceberg of Creative Talent, championing less well-known artists-makers-designers as well as other creators, some hidden below the surface, others household names, but all world-class”.
“Many remain undiscovered and undervalued,” he continues. “Hence us redoubling our efforts this year to draw as much attention as possible to those extraordinary men and women in workshops, studios and at home creating quite exceptionally special things.” The Week opened with Quartet: Goldsmithing in London Now, a group exhibition at Sotheby’s London, featuring the work of four talented goldsmiths at the forefront of their craft. Each one has a distinct focus, but they united by their commitment to historic techniques ,some of which date back to the Bronze Age.
Sian Evans is a jeweler with an almost entirely self-sufficient practice; she works with hardstones found in British rivers, beaches and mountainsides, and recycled gold and even offers clients part-payment with their pre-loved jewelry. Using a range of traditional hand tools, she gently carves, scrapes, files and shapes each stone to reveal the bands and swirls within, sometimes with surprising results. “Handwork elevates a humble stone to something precious,” she says of her stone rings on minimal settings. Elsewhere, she has shaped tiny, silky smooth urns from Scottish agates and cast solid gold earrings from Ancient artifacts.
Lucie Gledhill first turned her sculptor’s eye on chain in 2009, in an expedition into a discipline that began with an exploration of restraint with a perfectly executed graduated curb chain, followed swiftly by rebellion, and an untamed rope of links. A self-confessed “texture junkie”, her work spans a Richard Greaves-inspired sculptural rope chain, in which each gold wire link has been handcrafted to create a roughly-hewn, frayed texture, to the Eclipse chain, in which yellow gold is melted into a white gold frame to create fused links. An alchemist in action.
Christopher Thompson-Royds’s exquisitely naturalistic jewelry is inspired by a desire to capture the simplicity of early memories of his childhood in the English countryside. For his emblematic daisy chain necklace, he handcrafted each flower petal by petal from 18kt gold, while the gold and diamond catkin earrings made specially for Quartet were 3D printed, in an exploration of technique that places the focus firmly on the beauty of the end result.
Castro Smith has reinvented the signet ring with richly detailed engraving. He uses the ancient ‘seal engraving’ technique to create complex designs on a tiny scale, which often spill down the shanks of his rings. As a talented illustrator who once wanted to lend his art to the gaming world, his style is rooted in fantasy and his delicate flowers, anatomical hearts, leaping hares and entwined serpents often become bespoke pieces that are as personal as tattoos. His craft is informed by time spent in Japan learning about traditional engraving techniques alongside master craftsmen, to create a style that is wholly his own.
Over in Marylebone, jewelry consultant and curator Valery Demure is hosting two events at Objet d’Emotion, her pop-up gallery.
On Wednesday, Objet d’Emotion hosted jewels by artisan jewelers from Myanmar, in The Art of Lotus Flower, the latest fine jewelry launch from Turquoise Mountain, an organization that works to revive historic crafts and preserve local culture by empowering artisans in Afghanistan, Myanmar and the Middle East. To date, Turquoise Mountain has trained over 15,000 craftspeople and built more than 50 small businesses, boosting economic development and generating millions in international sales. This latest collection includes three capsule lines inspired by the temple ornamentation, palm and bamboo weaving and the gemstones of the Mogok Valley. It was produced with goldsmiths in Yangon to create contemporary pieces anchored in traditional techniques.
On Thursday, the gallery celebrated a return to the physical experience of jewelry, with Touch Me, a show exploring textures and techniques that encourage us to feel, wear and hold jewelry. As touch takes on new meaning as we emerge from two years of social distancing and lockdown, the exhibition opened with a sensory experience designed to encourage the audience to come back into contact with one another, and the tactile – and beautiful – vintage and contemporary jewelry on show. A poetic window display features glass cocoons holding handcrafted talismans by Agathe Saint Girons, while inside, pieces by Nada Ghazal, Melanie Georgacopoulos, Capucine H and others mix materials like ceramic, leather and metal fringing with gemstones and precious metals. “We long to touch and be touched by jewelry again – touched in our hands and body; hearts and minds,” says Valery Demure. “We have forgotten the value of texture and the importance of tactility.”
In London’s historic jewelry district of Hatton Garden, hit contemporary jewelry brand Alighieri opened their workshops to create the Museum of Alighieri, giving the audience an insight into the creative process of founder Rosh Mahtani, and the traditional techniques – and local businesses – involved in production. Alighieri was a pioneer of demi-fine jewelry when the brand started in 2014, with a distinctive, archeological aesthetic inspired by the poems of Dante, and has since evolved to use gemstones and solid gold. The lost wax casing used to make their jewels is an eloquent metaphor for the famous inferno itself. Rosh will also be demonstrating some of the techniques behind her jewelry at Fashioning Masculinities: Alighieri at the Victoria & Albert Museum, Sunday May 15.
Elsewhere, Chanel Métiers d’Art couture jewelry house Goossens is holding a goldsmithing demonstration by their Parisian artisans, jeweler Jane Lunzer will show how inherited jewels can be updated to wear now, and Joséphine de Staël has teamed up with Floris to capture some of the British fragrance house’s scents in jewelry form, using vitreous enamel. All proof, if it were needed, that London is the place, for some of the most talented craftspeople in the world.
London Craft Week runs around the city until Sunday May 15.