Goldsmiths’ Fair started out as Loot in 1976, when all pieces sold had to be under £50, while Superloot, launched in 1979, showcased items over £500 – see the first private view invitation below. Much has changed since then, but many of the original exhibitors, all of whom personally produce items in their own workshops and are hand-picked annually by an expert panel assembled by the Goldsmiths’ Company, are still around and have since achieved worldwide renown.
The show continues to offer a rare opportunity to dive into the hushed grandeur of Goldsmiths Hall. One of the Twelve Great Livery Companies of the City of London, the Goldsmiths’ Company received its first Royal Charter in 1327. At the Fair you can view and handle the latest collections from some of the most accomplished artist craftsmen and women working in precious metals today. It is still possible to invest in one-off jewellery and collectors’ pieces at a reasonable price and I would definitely urge you to visit, whether you’re looking to buy or not.
Spread over 2 weeks, 35 silversmiths and 115 jewellers, together with 10 outstanding recent graduates offer their scintillating handmade wares direct to the public. Here is a chance to select from a diverse range and purchase or commission, direct from the maker, a precious bespoke piece of jewellery or a practical or purely decorative objet. What’s more the scope of creativity, techniques and materials involved is always fascinating. Despite the challenging lighting conditions for photography I decided to take my own shots, singling out my favourite items, all set against the background of the show catalogue which was designed by Turnbull Grey.
Exhibition pieces are not all shiny or highly polished at Goldsmiths’ Fair this year, with an interesting focus on the darker side of silver. Oxidised and matte pieces are a now big feature, challenging the traditional view of this incredibly versatile metal. Specialist curator Brian Kennedy, who was invited to make his own selection, was at first inspired by a pair of Georgian candelabra which he saw in the Art Institute of Chicago: “Instead of the usually gleaming silver, I was confronted by two inky black oxidised pieces, mysterious and slightly sinister and oh so contemporary. A love affair with blackened silver had begun.” Check Kennedy’s curated selection or pick out your own as you tour the fair. My personal highlights are set out on this page, in a variety of dark and light finishes.
Alison Evans‘ All-Round necklace caught my eye, dripping with assorted precious and semi-precious stones including pearls, amethysts, citrine, tormaline, aquamarine and garnets, a glistening rainbow offset by a dark mobile base of oxidised silver links. Equally tactile her trio of Jester bracelets in silver, titanium and 18 carat gold, and 22 carat gold vermeil on silver – they literally stretch over your hand and onto your wrist. Each link in Evans’ pieces is made by hand, sometimes in a combination of 2 metals, exploring the contrast between the natural environment and the manmade – modern day highly refined interpretations of chainmail.
Ebba Goring draws her inspiration from a number of historic sources including the Jacobean and Elizabethan eras. Her pieces cross the border between delicate lace and crochet effects into metal in surprising ways. I was invited to model one of her latest creations, inspired by the blackwork collar in a depiction of Mary Queen of Scots. It was suprisingly light to wear, the fusion of cotton and oxidised silver resulting in an unusual blend of the old and the new, an absolutely original statement necklace for the 21st century. Equally tempting, Jacobean inspired earrings in gold and silver (visit her website for details) and a pair of rings, one with a moonstone set in oxidised silver, the other a citrine in 9 carat gold named the Queen of the Night and the Empress of the Sun respectively.
Andrew Lamb‘s work is utterly irrestible, an extraordinary fusion of miniature sculpture and jewellery, marrying science and art to create optical effects which transform individual pieces from yellow gold to white gold depending on the angle from which they are viewed. His lenticular collection includes a mesmerising tartan inspired pendant, among others, brooches and rings which appear organic and high tech in equal measure. Don’t miss this collection of masterful portable artworks, without doubt sound investments as well as a treasures to be cherished. Materials include blends of white and yellow gold as well as silver. Poised to publish I have just heard from the Goldsmiths’ Fair press office that Lamb’s Ishihara #1 brooch, pictured with rings, has won a runners up prize for Best New Design 2016.
Surface and form are both explored in Miriam Hanid‘s work which encompasses monumental chased and repoussé pieces inspired by botanical and aquatic motifs as well as detailed engraved objects which are in turn decorative and practical. I was particularly drawn to 2 contrasting pieces, a large swirly commission for John Makepeace (not shown) which adorns the bottom shelf of her cabinet and a small organically shaped silver bowl inset with a single topaz and engraved with one of Miriam’s evocative poems.
Nan Nan Liu‘s work is highly distinctive much of it referencing shell forms. Mysterious undulating containers are designed to hide their owners’ secret contents from rings to ringlets perhaps, which might double as magnificently simple and sensual pill boxes to pop out of one’s pocket or bag. She also has a comprehensive range of jewellery. On the counter, inviting touch, the combined textures of carved jasper beads, silver, gold plate and black gold have been strung together into a fabulous necklace.
At the top end of bespoke jewellers Henn of London displayed a number of superlative pieces, fit for the grandest of occasions. With a choice of items destined to appeal to both men and women there was a pair of pendants featuring snakes, finely carved from opaque and golden moonstones, one framed in white gold and diamonds, the other in yellow gold. Head designer Ingo Henn is passionate about quality and finish commissioning the very best crafstmen to collaborate on a variety of pieces. A pair of signet rings on the stand showcased the finest enamelling work. Other pieces were designed around a single carefully chosen precious gemstone framed in elegance.
I was especially excited to meet Alistair McCallum, a silversmith and self-taught master of Mokume Gane (which translates literally as wood grain metal), a technique which he developed without any prior awareness of the Japanese craft. A sumptuous line of pots perched on a shelf at the back of his stand, offering a harmonious blend of perfectly balanced pattern and colour, eminently desirable and as soft as silk to touch. These pieces are painstakingly honed from multiple layers of metal, each applied and heated individually. Heirlooms to be treasured for generations.
Another master crafstman, Clive Burr, who once shared a studio with McCallum, displayed a collection of silver jugs with exquisitely simple lines. We spun one around (see film below) to admire its multi faceted reflections, in constant motion like a waterfall. He is famed for his classically elegant shapes, often working on forms and structures which are further embellished by others, most notably master enameller Jane Short. See their collaborative silver and enamel shots at the fair, designed to go with ‘Ice Windows’, a double skinned bowl in silver and vitreous enamel, currently part of the Silver Speaks display at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Mary Ann Simmons‘ work, equally masterful, is also on display at the V&A. I later realised I’d photographed everyone else’s designs against the backdrop of one of her immaculately formed silver boxes, featured on the cover of the Goldsmith Fair’s catalogue. Starting with a simple cube shape inscribed with handwriting – she loves applying token statements written by different clients commissioning pieces as gifts – she has progressed the concept to fine silver rhomboid containers some blended with pumiced cross markings to create a textural matte finish, others featuring delicately etched patterns electroplated in gold.
Utilitarian jars and bottles by Stuart Jenkins based on milk churn shapes, some lined in a gold-plated protective layer struck a chord, as did his recently developed silver teapot with hand stitched leather handle. Hand forging is one of his skills, displayed at the fair in a tantalisingly long pair of silver earrings finished with fresh water pearls and in the lowest price item that I came across (it was neither a deliberate nor a thorough search) – a hammered silver paper clip/bookmark at £50, a neat reference to Loot’s original remit.
A showcase in the front Hall showcases 22 items by the 2016 exhibitors hand-picked by uber stylish supermodel Erin O’Connor which reflect her personal style “jewellery I’d happily wear and contemporary silver I’d proudly display in my home. I love the high degree of craftsmanship in each piece.”
The Goldsmiths’ Centre’s team has also brought together a collection by designer-maker Barbara Cartlidge, who co-founded Electrum Gallery in the early Seventies, the first UK gallery dedicated to international studio jewellery.
Jeweller Max Danger won the Goldsmiths’ Fair 2016 (Week One) Best New Design Award for his exquisite Honey Bee Cluster Ring, a striking piece that explores the formation of bees in hives. Zoe Arnold was also named runner up for her Mirror Brooch/Pendant, a piece constructed with zinc, oxidised silver, 18ct gold and a shell.
The video clip (to be edited) features one of Clive Burr’s silver water jugs.
All the above artists and designers feature in Week One which runs until 2 October. Week Two opens on 4 October and closes on 9 October.
Goldsmiths’ Fair takes place at The Goldsmiths’ Company, Goldsmiths’ Hall, Foster Lane, London EC2V 6BN. Visit www.goldsmithsfair.co.uk for further information and tickets. Check what’s happening at the fair daily on social media including Instagram #goldsmithsfair
Words and photography © Emma Boden except Loot/Superloot graphics © The Goldsmiths’ Company and the lead image, taken by Ebba Goring.