Gold standard: Be dazzled by these three talented jewellery designers
Tucked away in his dinky courtyard garden studio at his Suffolk village home, Will Bishop creates jewellery so immediately wearable he has a problem stopping his daughters walking off with everything he makes.
They have good taste. Will’s silver, gold and platinum pieces combine precious and semi-precious gems in pleasing shapes and textures which summon his early days as a sculptor; easy-on-the-eye his signature gem-studded coil and chunky drum rings, honey bee necklaces and gold vermeil molten hoop earrings are bold and beautiful – I too would happily walk off with every one.
“I completed a degree in fine art sculpture but became interested in jewellery making after a period of travel across east and south Africa – everywhere you go people are making jewellery out of anything that comes to hand. My girlfriend at the time, now my wife, was in the middle of completing a jewellery making course and taught me the basics and after completing a diamond setting course at the London Guildhall University I set up my business,” says Will who has been creating and selling his jewellery for 23 years.
Inspiration comes from outside, both travels in far-flung places and nature ‘s gifts closer to home. “Living in rural Suffolk, I am surrounded by nature. I have a pond outside my studio which brings in dragonflies and damselflies, the ivy on the wall is humming with bees and just looking at the light playing on the surface of the pond is enough inspiration in itself,” he says. “I use platinum, silver and gold and many semi precious and precious gems and particularly enjoy working with silver as it's extremely versatile – and because it's cheaper I can be more experimental with it. I like manipulating the surface of my jewellery, texturing and hammering to create a bold organic feel. ” Will moved to the Suffolk countryside from London 17 years ago and is proud to call it home. “It is a nice gentle county, a properly rural farming county full of interesting people. We are surrounded by writers, artists and musicians – creative people of all sorts.”
As well as his collections, Will creates bespoke pieces – some from scratch and others remodeling old, unworn and often inherited jewellery using the same materials to safeguard sentimental value but creating a new form. “Making lots of interesting bespoke jewellery and the chance to be creative is what I enjoy the most. It's wonderful seeing people wearing my jewellery,” says Will, who makes most of his designs to order meeting a growing demand for more personal and unique pieces. “I can chat with the client over the phone initially but it’s lovely for the person to come in and see the piece being made.” While Will does not court celebrity he has made items for U2’s Bono and bass player Adam Clayton. “I once made a praying mantis brooch for a ruthless city lawyer. Perhaps I could make some snake in the grass cufflinks for David Cameron to give to Boris Johnson!”
Will’s first memory of jewellery is attached to his mother. “Growing up my mother had two particular rings, one a big amethyst and one an aquamarine. My father gave her the amethyst when my brother was born and the aquamarine when I was born. I remember always going through her jewellery box so I could find 'my ring'.” Currently flat out making commissions for Christmas gifts, Will says his customer base is a broad church. “What's really nice is that all ages and genders wear my jewellery. Young people seem very keen on my honey bee signet ring and small pendants. Also personalised jewellery is ever popular, I am often requested to stamp or engrave initials and dates on my jewellery. Christmas is definitely my busiest time, with things starting to get going at the end of September, beginning of October. A typical week sees my wife Catherine edit all the jobs for me to do and filled out diary of appointments for me, I stick on the radio and get cracking.” Future plans include making the business more environmentally friendly – “it is difficult working with manufacturing to make it entirely green but we are now using recycled metals and are ever looking out for new ways to reduce our carbon footprint” – and writing his own Christmas list. “A really good hand cream is on the top spot as by the time Christmas day comes along my hands are always in a terrible state from making everybody else's presents.”
A desire to find jewellery to match her personal style led Sarah Palmer to create her own collection. It turns out that Sarah’s eye for shape and texture is a winning formula – the jeweller is celebrating 30 years in the business and still loves her craft as much as ever. “Every day is different, that is the joy of my business. Routinely my day starts with a dog walk with my Jack Russell Terrier, Pip. This time gives me a quiet opportunity to mull over design ideas and plan the day ahead. A typical day is spent meeting clients, creating pieces at my work bench, heading up to Hatton Garden to personally choose all the precious stones I set in my designs and discussing redesigning of sentimental pieces to produce heirlooms of the future,” says Sarah who works from her home in the charming village of Barrington, near Cambridge.
“I set up my first studio in 1989 in my parent’s garage and, 17 years later, I built a gallery/workshop here in my garden at home. My light-filled workshop allows me space to design and create and the adjacent gallery displays my collections in Scandinavian designed cabinets.” It’s a delightful setting and Sarah’s Gallery on the Green opens it doors on alternate Saturdays throughout November and every Saturday in December offering the chance to see collections and commissions and meet the jeweller herself.
“I work mainly with 18ct and 9ct gold and silver. I focus on texture using reticulation (heating) and planishing (hammering) techniques and enjoy working the metals to their limits and the unpredictability and rustic finish of the method.” While Sarah’s collections feature a range of earrings (delicately-shaped studs to elegant drops of aquamarine), necklaces (reticulated silver and gold chains to chiseled bunches of glistening laboradorite), bracelets (beautiful bangles with filigree studs to textured gold and silver beads) and rings (diamond and sapphires on rose gold to brilliant diamonds on golden coils), there is a distinctive style throughout. “I work hard creating original, classical, contemporary designs that are wearable and distinctively Sarah Palmer. I ask my family and friends to wear my new collections before I finalise designs so I can amend the pieces to ensure their wearability. My handmade chains, for example, can be worn in numerous combinations, round the neck, long or short, with a pendant or worn as a bracelet. This makes each piece extremely versatile. I especially love mixing gold and silver with different textures and using techniques to add depth to my designs. Inspired by the tones of the sea, I work with coloured diamonds and stunning sapphires to take the rings to a new dimension.” Making designs for all ages, Sarah’s silver stacking rings with tiny studs are proving particularly popular with teenagers. “I still have many of my original customers from my Fisher Hall Craft Market Days, where I first started selling jewellery 30 years ago, who I now consider to be my friends.”
Working directly with her customers means Sarah is on the front line of trends. “I am finding my stacking rings in silver and 9ct gold are particularly popular and there has also been an increased interest in signet rings of late. The stacking rings work well together or people like to add them to their existing collection.” Sarah recalls the thrill of opening her mother’s jewellery box stuffed full of beaded necklaces, silver bangles and sparkly earrings and the excitement of delving deeper to discover hidden sentimental treasures from her Canadian grandmother. Looking ahead Sarah plans to add precious stones to her stacking rings and continue to push her designs to create original and cherished pieces of jewellery.
Before a well-earned break at Christmas – her wish-list includes a glass of fizz, putting her feet up with Pip the dog, and someone else cooking Christmas lunch – Sarah is busy creating commission pieces and preparing for her open gallery days and a number of events, including demonstrating her jewellery making at Primavera on King’s Parade (9 November between 2pm and 4.30pm) and exhibiting a special anniversary collection in Bircham Gallery in Holt, Norfolk. If she was granted a Christmas wish to design a piece of jewellery for anyone it would be Darcey Bussell. “She is elegant and edgy with a sense of fun – like my designs.”
Eleven Fifteen Jewellery
“We’ve both had a passion for jewellery for as long as we can remember, but our decision to design our own pieces came from a longing to go back to the basics,” says Sarah Humphrey of contemporary jewellery brand Eleven Fifteen. “When we’d shop for jewellery in recent years, everything on the market just seemed a bit fussy. We really wanted something timeless - classic, simple and elegant pieces that were actually wearable,” says Emma Clough who completes the duo behind the Cambridge-based brand.
Classic, pared down and striking, Eleven Fifteen has fulfilled its remit and collected quite a following since its launch just this summer. “We’re trying to build the perfect capsule jewellery box, so we are starting with the basics, doing them best. Fast fashion has had its day – it’s time to invest in fewer, higher quality pieces that don’t go in and out of fashion but that you really can wear forever,” says Emma who loved playing with the jewellery on her grandmother’s dressing table when she was a girl. “I would spend literally hours there, taking each piece out of its box, letting the chains wind down into my palm, stacking her rings on my little fingers. I remember it so vividly – it felt so special.” Sarah admires the elegance of her mother’s jewellery. “She has impeccable taste and has always curated her jewellery with real care – always simple, always gold. Elegant snake chain necklaces, thick gold bangles, oversized pearls. It’s really inspired me to go back to the classics in our designs. Timeless pieces that work for women of every age, which you’ll go back to again and again.”
Both working mums – “oh, the juggle! We’ve both got two young children all between 9 months and 3 years so the to-do list is never done” – the friends met by chance. “I was walking down Trinity Street, having just signed on the dotted line to move from London to Cambridge. My husband Ed and I were literally having a conversation about whether we were crazy - we'd left all of our friends and family behind and I was six months pregnant with our first baby. Then this gorgeous girl walked out of Reiss pushing a buggy and with an enormous grin on her face – she recognised Ed from uni. Sarah had moved here a year before in exactly the same situation. We chatted non stop all the way through town and when she left I thought, "wow, everything is going ok... not just ok, but great". She's had that effect on me ever since. Our baby was born on 15 November, just like hers had been one year before, and that is where the inspiration for the name Eleven Fifteen comes from.”
The now business partners make the best use of precious time to design their collection. “We can be found working at our kitchen tables and any coffee shop that will have us, and on the sofa in front of Strictly,” Sarah laughs. “We have dreams of working from a beautifully curated space with views of the countryside and pilates classes over lunch…” says Sarah. “But for now we are throwing everything into making sure our products are perfect and our customers can find us online. The rest will come.”
Working primarily with sterling silver and 18ct gold vermeil, the range at Eleven Fifteen also includes some special 9ct solid gold pieces. By using gold vermeil (sterling silver plated with a thicker layer of 18ct gold than normal gold-plate), the jewellers are able to create a high-quality, gold aesthetic without the price tag of solid gold. “Durability is key for us as we want to offer something that can be worn all day, every day so we plate to the highest level of microns possible, meaning you really can live in our items,” Emma explains.
Simplicity is at the heart of Eleven Fifteen but the understated and minimal pieces have the knack of catching the eye. “Eleven Fifteen is designed to be worn all day every day, at work and play, and to take you from day to evening. Regardless of your age, regardless of your interest in fashion or trends,” says Sarah. The dynamic duo has a long list of people they would love to design for. “Ooooh, so many people! Gwyneth Paltrow, Victoria Beckham, Emma Watson, Olivia Palermo, Alexa Chung, Carey Mulligan and of course, the Duchess of Cambridge – all women who exude chic and effortless style,” says Sarah. “That said, when we design our pieces we firmly have in mind our friends, our sisters… real women who want something beautiful but also versatile. There is a real thrill seeing our friends wearing our jewellery day in, day out – plus, the power of social media means we see our items on holidays, on wedding days, on nights out. The other day we saw a new mummy post a picture from hospital announcing the birth of her new baby boy and she was wearing our open circle necklace – that was pretty special.”
They love being based in Cambridge and are in the process of designing a Cambridge Collection as an homage to “the wonderful city we call home.”
In the shorter term Sarah and Emma are planning events, including a launch party in both Cambridge and London (fancy joining them for drinks and to see the collection? Email email@example.com for details) and a pop up at Boudoir Femme, King Street, Cambridge on 30 November.
“We expect 2020 to be a really exciting year for us. We have new stockists, new collections, some exciting collaborations and we are even being stocked in New York. We can’t wait to see what people think,” Sarah says. “We’ve never felt more alive or more passionate about what we’re doing and we are immensely proud of what we’ve created so far. Seeing people buy our pieces and fall in love with them – wearing them every day or for nights out – is truly amazing.”
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More by this authorLisa Millard