Friday, March 21, 2014

Hero Worship

My first real awareness of "contemporary jewellery" came when I worked for John Gilchrist in his small workshop in Bothwell, the Lanarkshire village where I spent most of my formative years. You wouldn't really be able to describe John's work as "contemporary" in the sense we understand it today: it was modern, artisanal, interesting but not challenging in any way. No boundaries were pushed.

I worked for John intermittently for a number of years from when I was about 14, doing what I thought was a summer-holiday job and never suspecting that it would become a career. One day when I was at a loss for things to do, I was given a most unusual piece: a pendant made of thin sheets of heavily textured gold which were formed into waves and hung longitudinally in roughly graduated lengths. The waves were soldered together where they touched and the whole was set with deep green tourmaline crystals. My job was to effect a repair where two of the sheets had split - it looked like some careless person had stood on it - and the pendant had come in two.

This was an interesting job as it was far from straight-forward: the tourmalines had to be unset and the surfaces cleaned and this was the first time I had ever tried investment soldering - where investment plaster is used to hold the pieces together while soldering (today I would use my PUK welder!).

It turned out that I was working on a piece by Andrew Grima the legendary British/Italian jeweller who wowed "swinging London" with his revolutionary sculptural jewellery, using massive textured metal and fine gemstones alongside raw minerals and rocks. I never forgot that piece and looked out for more. Though I never got to handle another, I became fascinated by his work, seeking it out in exhibitions and galleries and even occasionally in auction catalogues.

Cut to the beginning of the week, 17th of March, 2014... A comment on Twitter mentioned that Francesca Grima - Andrew Grima's daughter - had been featured in GQ magazine for this month and that she has opened up a new "Grima" shop in London once more. Unable to contain my excitement, I looked up the Grima website for more details and was blown away by her own interpretations of her father's style. I also noticed that there was a privately-printed, limited-edition monograph of Andrew Grima's work and sent off an email asking if it was still available. To my enormous joy, back came an email from Francesca herself, offering me a copy which duly arrived on Thursday. (It would have been Wednesday but someone in the mailroom couldn't be bothered dragging the huge parcel up to my workshop, I think!)



What I was not prepared for was the incredible treat in store for me just inside the front pages:


An original Andrew Grima paint-up for a tourmaline earring, included by his wife, Francesca's mother, as a beautiful surprise:


This is, without a doubt, the most wonderful and unexpected gift I have ever received.

Andrew Grima - without knowing it - was a major influence on my own work, his monumental cocktail rings; his jewellery for men; his use of crusted textures and the abandon with which surfaces are scattered with gems; his joyful use of colour. More importantly, perhaps, is the fact that he made me realise that "contemporary jewellery" and "fine jewellery" are not necessarily in opposition. When I was learning to be a bench jeweller, the European minimalists - Kunzli, Meierhoffer et. al. - were on the rise, often wilfully rejecting traditional jewellery techniques in favour of concept. Grima's work was modern (modernist, even) but firmly rooted in the traditions of "fine jewellery" and the joy he plainly found in using precious metals, sensuous textures, beautiful gemstones and riotous colours was very much part of that tradition, building on it, blowing it open, pushing it forward with the confidence of an artist who knows that he has nothing to prove, no agenda to further.

As I said in an email to Francesca, "I will stop now before I become a gushy fan-boy"... but I think it might be too late!

Back to my own workshop now and I have leapt ahead in the production of the final part of my Alexander McQueen tribute, "Fashion:Victim", the second ball/handbag, "Before The Fall". This has been a somewhat stressful undertaking as there are some 350 separate elements making it up, all having to be assembled in the correct order, starting with the setting of the carved prasiolites on the stars, affixing the stars and then starting on the snake element. I missed out photographing a number of those stages so here they are, condensed into one:

Fashion:Victim - In Memoriam ALMcQ - WIP  - 138

I then started attaching the other supports and leaves for the floral elements, which included about a dozen flowers which had to be attached directly:

Fashion:Victim - In Memoriam ALMcQ - WIP  - 139

I also took delivery of the pomegranate element which will hang from the mouth of the snake, stone-set by one of my students, Inness Thomson:

Fashion:Victim - In Memoriam ALMcQ - WIP  - 146

Fashion:Victim - In Memoriam ALMcQ - WIP  - 148

Inness is an exceptional stone-setter. This wouldn't look anything near as good if I had attempted it myself! It is set with rhodolite garnet "seeds" and the top is set with Mali and Tsavorite garnets, orange and yellow sapphires, zircons and spinels.

At the end of the day today, the whole piece looked like this:

Fashion:Victim - In Memoriam ALMcQ - WIP  - 142

Fashion:Victim - In Memoriam ALMcQ - WIP  - 145

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Newly-discovered Resources for Jewellers in Scotland

Over the last week, I've just discovered two amazing resources for jewellers which are based in Scotland.
I've been working - as many of you know - on my "Fashion:Victim" piece for the ACJ "ICONS" show which is being held later in the year and that about ten days ago, I took delivery of a carved-wax snake from one of my students, Carol Docherty:

Fashion:Victim - In Memoriam ALMcQ - WIP  - 116

She does a lot of wax-carving and as this is bigger than my usual casting, I decided that I couldn't afford to have it fail and that I would use an external casting company and went with Carradale Gold Foundry in Argyll to do it. Not only were the ridiculously easy to deal with but they were incredibly fast too, the finished casting being back on my desk in 7 days:

Fashion:Victim - In Memoriam ALMcQ - WIP  - 135

Fashion:Victim - In Memoriam ALMcQ - WIP  - 136

I recommend them!

Today I jumped on my bike and headed across the city to the West of Scotland Mineral and Lapidary Club - who don't have a website! - after meeting the organiser of the club, Alan Gilchrist at Maira's gemstone event in college last week. I went along with one of my students, Inness, who has an idea for a rather special project which will involve custom-cutting a gemstone and both of us signed up as members there and then to start work on learning to cut stones next week.

The club is based in an old school building in Knightswood, Glasgow, and has the most amazing equipment available for the members to use, from enormous slab saws to faceting machines. Here you can see Alan demonstrating a slab saw to Inness:

West Of Scotland Lapidary Club - 1

Some of the belts and laps:

West Of Scotland Lapidary Club - 2

And they also have some quite sophisticated jewellery-making equipment:

West Of Scotland Lapidary Club - 5

I was very pleased to see how incredibly easy it is all going to be...

West Of Scotland Lapidary Club - 6

And after the engraving-frenzy of the weekend, I completed all of the leaves I had to do:

Fashion:Victim - In Memoriam ALMcQ - WIP  - 134

Saturday, March 15, 2014

March Onwards

Another two weeks has passed since my last entry. I envy those people who manage to make time to blog regularly and always feel slightly guilty when I realise that I've not posted for a week, ten days, two weeks...

Before relating the workshop news, there is an update on the fashion shoot from last October and I have taken delivery of my Ten30 "Salmon" peacoat and am so happy with it that I've been wearing it everywhere since!

Ten30 Harris Tweed "Salmon" Peacoat - 2

It has attracted positive comments everywhere.

In the workshop, I've managed to complete "Die Entführung aus dem Serail", the piece I started to showcase a piece of custom-cut quartz by Jamie Slade:

Die Entführung aus dem Serail - WIP - 6

The finished piece looks like this:

Die Entführung aus dem Serail - 34

The large coin element is a "2 Zolota" Ottoman coin from 1782, almost exactly contemporary with Mozart's opera and the chain is set with a vintage glass "evil eye" bead.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail - 30

The main quartz crystal can be removed from the lantern element.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail - 31

The catch is set with an Ottoman iron "token" and an included quartz:

Die Entführung aus dem Serail - 33

The wonderful Maira at Gemstones Brazil came to visit this week too. Always a temptation. Her family own mines in Brazil and she has the stones cut to the highest standards. This visit yielded a supply of unusual quartzes, garnets and peridot:

Gemstones From Brazil - 1

We had a party of Portuguese students visiting us too. Unfortunately, due to a misunderstanding, they were not jewellers but graphic designers, which meant that we had to beg help from our colleagues in Photography and Art and Simon, one of the fashion technicians, ran an impromptu workshop in screen-printing, so they ended up having a great time. We took them to the finest Victorian pub in Glasgow on their last night, The Horseshoe Bar, apparently the longest bar in Europe! Despite how this photograph looks, I was sober...

Portugese Visitors

As I was selected for the the ACJ "Icons" exhibition, an important show at the National Centre for Craft and Design, I have been spending a lot of time working on my Alexander McQueen tribute piece, "Fashion:Victim". I finished the first ball/handbag, "The Illusion of Freedom Buys The Power of Destruction" and have now started on the second ball/handbag, "Before The Fall". I've enlisted a host of help for this piece and there is to be a snake element which has been carved for me by one of my students who is exceptionally talented at wax-carving, Carol Docherty.

Fashion:Victim - In Memoriam ALMcQ - WIP - 116

This has been sent off to Wallis Hunter in Carradale for casting - those of you in the UK, Mike Hirst is not only reasonably-priced but offers a superb service and the finish on the castings is the best I've seen; I leave him to do the spruing too! - and should be back next week.
I've been gathering up the stones for this piece and preparing the settings mostly - there are nearly 250 gemstones on this element:

Fashion:Victim - In Memoriam ALMcQ - WIP - 117

Fashion:Victim - In Memoriam ALMcQ - WIP - 119

Fashion:Victim - In Memoriam ALMcQ - WIP - 130

In between all this, we found time to take the 3rd-year degree students to Dundee to visit their fellow students at DJCAD there.  We are working on a collaborative project between the two groups to create a piece of jewellery based on the irrationality of Φ and the impossibility of rendering it digitally. We also gave them a presentation on the use of digital technology in the jewellery industry:

GKC + DJCAD = ? - 5

GKC + DJCAD = ? - 7

GKC + DJCAD = ? - 9

I've been commissioned to make another of my post-apocalyptic cocktail rings, which is always pleasing. This one is going to use a monumental (69 carat) natural amethyst which I bought some years ago:

(It's The Time) Of April Snows - WIP - 1

In conjunction with some raw tourmaline crystals. I love the colour combination of these:

(It's The Time) Of April Snows - WIP - 1

So far, I've only managed some scrap-paper doodles of what I'm planning...

(It's The Time) Of April Snows - Workbook 1

And to bring it right up to date, I've been engraving today. Lots and lots of tiny silver leaves for "Before the Fall":

Fashion:Victim - In Memoriam ALMcQ - WIP - 132

Fashion:Victim - In Memoriam ALMcQ - WIP - 133

Sunday, March 02, 2014

A Peep Of Spring

Pinhole Spring

At last the terrible weather and 'flu have abated and we've had a few decent days which, along with light for my bike ride to and from work, always raises my spirits!

I've finally completed the Verdura-inspired cuffs for my client and am very pleased with the results:

Fencing With Fulco Verdura - 15

Although the original cuffs on which these are based are much more random and less formal, this was what I discussed with my customer and she was pleased with the results. I love the colour combinations in these especially. The original cuffs looked like this:

It was a really pleasing commission as I had been looking at these last year when I was working on my Chanel-inspired "Sautoir". I would love to have been able to hinge them but time and budget were against that.

I was delighted to have been asked by Judy R Clark if I would accessorise her lookbook for Milan Fashion Week 2014. Naturally, I agreed and by a strange twist, it was photographed by my colleague, David Stanton. I hadn't realised that David knew Judy until these photographs were taken.

Judy R Clark - Regency Lookbook - 1

This is the first outing of the (still incomplete) Fashion:Victim - In Memoriam ALMcQ which is especially pleasing as Judy worked for Alexander McQueen some years ago.

While I was looking for something else in the workshop - a strip of embossed iron which I found in a field in Sussex some years ago - I found a beautiful carved quartz which was given to me by the talented lapidary, Jamie Slade at Aeon Quartz.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail - WIP - 6

I completely forgot that he had sent this to me and I started making some sketches which started to remind me of my visit to Istanbul, notably this:

Cafe Kybele - 1

As the drawings progressed, I thought that it should be possible to remove the quartz from any setting I made and allow it to "escape"... hence the birth of "Die Entführung aus dem Serail", a pendant based on the narrative of Mozart's opera/singspiel.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail - WIP - 7

Amazingly, I also have in the workshop an Ottoman 2 Zolota coin, dating from 1782, almost exactly contemporary with the writing of Mozart's work:

Die Entführung aus dem Serail - WIP - 15

Thus the whole thing started to come together. The setting for the quartz was designed in CAD (Rhino) and milled out, then constructed:

Die Entführung aus dem Serail - WIP 11

Die Entführung aus dem Serail - WIP 9

For me, this method of working really suits. I am not happy with the idea of making things wholly in CAD and then simply setting stones and polishing the result. I need the work to be more than that, to quite deliberately use CAD as another "tool" in the arsenal.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail - WIP - 18

This being a tale of the Ottoman Empire, love, kidnapping and freedom, the main elements are shown here:

Die Entführung aus dem Serail - WIP - 21

As regular readers of the blog will know, I have a long-standing commitment to a group of young people with learning difficulties whom I work with on a Thursday afternoon. I've posted work by them before but this time I feel compelled to post this Work-in-progress by one of my group. The lad who is making this has been with me for two years and this is his own idea, from drawings he made... a raised copper scorpion:

Every Thursday, I work with a group of students with learning difficulties and sometimes I'm blown away by their work. Here is a hand-raised copper scorpion being made by one of them.

He's made the legs too, but they haven't been attached yet. It was such a pleasure to see him just completely understand how metal behaves under the hammer. All I've had to do is leave him to it each session!