Wear your heart on your sleeve (or neck, or finger, or ears)

I just designed another custom order, and it occurred to me that one of my favourite things about designing for a specific person is that it often allows people to physically wear their interests. The current design is music-themed (a customer after my own heart!), but I’ve recently created a few science and maths-themed pieces. These are in some ways more interesting for me because I’m an Arts girl, so it’s nothing I would ever design for myself.

The three bespoke STEM pieces I’ve made recently are:

  • A large ammonite necklace for my nature-loving grandma
  • An ammonite and amethyst lariat necklace for a Geology student’s ball
  • A set of mathematical symbol studs for a Maths student

The first piece was a commission for my grandma’s birthday. She’s a botanical artist married to a Wildlife Trust director, so she pretty much loves anything related to natural history and plant life. She also likes a statement necklace, so my grandad and I came up with this:

The smaller version of this ammonite necklace is one of the most popular in my Etsy store, so I wasn’t too surprised when I got a custom order enquiry about it, but I definitely wasn’t expecting such an interesting commission. The enquirer was a lovely Geology undergraduate called Mo who was hunting for a special piece for her graduation ball. She’d seen my ammonite necklace and was hoping for a themed necklace to go with the outfit she’d already bought.

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This was a really fun one, because I bloody love designing for specific outfits and occasions. Mo had chosen an absolute show-stopper – a dark purple, v-neck playsuit with a flowing train:

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With a dress that eye-catching, the necklace had to simultaneously match up to and not detract from the dress. An amethyst was the obvious option, and I chose a faceted stone to suggest natural minerals. Paired with the ammonite, it made an unusual, perfectly-themed choice:

The final STEM design I’ve done this season is a set of tiny, delicate, algebraic earrings and a nose stud for a Maths student. I love these, and was tempted to make some for myself, but I felt it might be a bit strange to wear symbols that have no meaning to me…

So, from my recent designing experience, it seems that students wear their interests more than graduates. I suppose this makes sense, since their whole daily lives are defined by their degree choice. ‘Theming yourself’ has another benefit though – it helps you find like-minded people. And, as a relatively-recent graduate myself, I also know how hard it is to meet adult friends once you leave university (or school, if you don’t take the uni route).

Suddenly, for the first time ever, you’re not surrounded by an immediate pool of your peers that you can fish friends out of. How are you supposed to tell if that likely-looking person in your office is actually interesting on a friend level without quizzing them like a creep? (Seriously, if anyone has the answer, let me know in the comments…)

Sometimes it’s easier to start a conversation if you already know you have an interest in common, and interest-based jewellery (or clothing, or accessories) is shorthand for similarly-inclined potential friends to read and start conversation:

Wear a quaver pendant and someone might pipe up, ‘What an unusual necklace, do you play an instrument?’

Ammonite necklace: ‘Ooh, do you like fossils?’

Mathematic symbol earrings: ‘Did you by any chance study maths?’

Boom, instant small talk and a foot in the door to talk to a potential friend (without feeling so weird). I know that probably sounds a bit forced, but there’s also possibility 2: they notice your pretty necklace, comment on how they like it, and you start a conversation about the meaning behind it and find out if you do or don’t have that topic in common. Or you’re already talking and you find something else you both like. Or you decide you hate them and can therefore avoid them. Whatever the outcome, your choice of accessory has enabled a conversation…

The best thing about Etsy is that there are so many wonderful artists you can find something to express your interests. If you can’t find exactly what you’re after, almost everyone will make a custom order if they can (as I may have mentioned before, they’re some of my own favourite design projects). This is just a tiny selection of the interest-based jewellery Etsy has to offer:

So get out there, let your stylish freak flag fly, and meet some fellow humans!

Birmingham: from backwater to boom

My dad came to stay at the weekend, and we, of course went to the city museum, as we often do with guests. At the end of the Birmingham history gallery, he asked ‘so why did Birmingham become a jewellery-making centre if it was such a minor medieval town?’. The answer to that was ‘I have no idea, but I’d like to’, so I did some snooping…

There’s a standard UK city history: a settlement is placed on an easily-defendable location (usually a hill) beside a navigable river (for transport and water supply), and grows following the introduction of a market. At 130m above sea level and with a market appearing in 1166, Birmingham hits two of these criteria, but it’s noticeably lacking on the third. So, why were settlers drawn to this essentially riverless location? And how, over the following centuries, did Birmingham become a metalworking powerhouse?

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The first cartographical representation of Birmingham on the Gough Map, c.1360 (Source: Wikipedia)

Despite its lack of a major river and out-of-the-way location, early Birmingham did have a decent water supply from the much smaller ‘rivers’ Rea, Tame and Cole, as well as Bourn Brook. Because of its height, it was also nice and dry (i.e. not marshy), and timber, iron, and coal were all easily available. Birmingham’s plentiful supply of both raw materials (base metals, timber, coal) and of other tradesmen meant the medieval jeweller could easily get hold of local pottery vessels and iron tools, as well as sheets of base metal for practice and working.The veins of gold discovered in nearby Shropshire probably didn’t hurt the city’s jewellery trade, either.

So far, so good, but how does a village with 9 houses and a value of £1 in the Domesday Book host multiple goldsmiths just three centuries later? Well, it owes a lot to the local ruling family, the de Birminghams, who held the manor in the town for 400 years from 1150. The second lord, Peter de Birmingham, was the person granted a market charter by King Henry II. By the time Peter’s son, William, sought confirmation of the charter from Richard I, just two decades later, the location had changed from the ‘manor at Birmingham’ to the ‘town of Birmingham’.

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Fourteenth century effigy of John de Birmingham at St Martin in the Bullring (Source: Wikipedia)

More importantly, the de Birminghams preferred a hands-off approach to trade regulations, just charging a toll on market traffic, and it was mainly this which attracted craftsmen to the growing market town over the next couple of centuries. By 1327, craftsmen were listed amongst taxpayers in Birmingham. In 1308, seized effects of a Knight Templar included 22 ‘Birmingham Pieces’. There’s also no specification of what exactly the ‘Birmingham Pieces’ were, but they were precious metal objects small enough to be taken into prison, and also well-known enough to need no further explanation. This was in London, meaning that gold- and silversmithing wasn’t just happening on a local level; the trade had already expanded beyond Birmingham.

Fast forward to Birmingham’s Industrial Revolution, and the real growth started as early as 1680. The population exploded shortly after, quadrupling between 1700 and 1750. It was during this time that the Jewellery Quarter rapidly developed, becoming known as its own manufacturing area by the early nineteenth century.

 

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With the creation of Birmingham’s canals (the first was opened in 1769), the large amount of iron available in the area could now be easily transported in and out of the city. Birmingham’s iron supply allowed tradesmen to diversify and specialise in their metalworking efforts, practising everything from buckle-making to locksmithing. On the other hand, although Birmingham was at the front of the canal-building trend, it actually remained relatively difficult to access, meaning that the metalworking of small, valuable objects became the obvious trade to pursue. Hello, jewellery… Perhaps most importantly of all, Birmingham’s lack of guilds meant tradesmen were much freer to change occupation or practise more than one trade here than they were in other cities, since they didn’t have to pay expensive membership rates and belong to just one guild.

Birmingham’s adaptability carried its jewellery trade through periods of depression and both world wars. Today, the Jewellery Quarter still produces 40% of all jewellery created in the UK (mine included!), and boasts both the world’s largest Assay Office and the oldest independent mint in the world. Not bad for a city which was a tiny, wooded backwater only a millenium ago…

 

And there we have it: good local supplies + lack of trade restrictions = an influx of tradespeople. Throw in the Industrial Revolution for good measure and you’ve got Birmingham as the UK centre of jewellery-making. So, Dad, now we know!

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Sources:

https://www.birmingham.gov.uk/info/50050/culture_arts_and_heritage/1258/origins_of_birmingham

http://visitbirmingham.com/what-to-do/heritage/the-history-of-birmingham/

https://www.triposo.com/loc/Birmingham/history/background

http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/warks/vol7/pp81-139

https://billdargue.jimdo.com/glossary-brief-histories/a-brief-history-of-birmingham/medieval-birmingham/

https://therivermanagementblog.wordpress.com/2014/07/11/the-rivers-of-birmingham/

Medieval Goldsmiths, John Cherry (2011, British Museum Press)

How to create gorgeous Instagram flatlays

Ah, the flatlay. If there’s a style of shot that sums up Instagram (aside from heavily posed bikini shots and too-good-to-eat plates of food), it’s the flatlay. It’s one of the most-searched hashtags on the site. Why do I want to do what everyone else is doing, I hear you cry. Well, there’s a reason flatlays are everywhere: they sum up the kind of pretty, curated, visual content people are on Instagram for in the first place. And why not?

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Source: Instagram (obviously…)

Flatlays are also an amazing tool for creative entrepreneurs. If your business is product-based and aesthetic, throwing a couple of pretty flatlays into your Insta feed is a must. They’re shorthand for your style and a great way to showcase your products.

With such beautiful examples already out there (the ones above were the first when I searched just now) it can feel a bit intimidating, but taking a good flatlay doesn’t need to be a chore. Once you get into it, it’s actually quite fun! It can take quite a bit of prep, though, so I often end up doing mine in batches to use later (Blue Peter eat your heart out).

So, here are 3 easy tips to help you take gorgeous (and efficient) flatlays:

1) Background

Broadly speaking, the plainer the better.

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Lots of people favour plain white (I use standard printer paper for this, but fabric and blank walls/floors also work well), but subtle patterns can work too. Marble or small geometric patterns with lots of space between each element are both popular. If you don’t have a stunningly white background to use, don’t worry. Wood (real or fake) is always a good bet. In fact, most of my flatlays are taken on my wooden workbench. It’s not a completely plain background, but I think it adds a bit of character. It’s also already there, which cuts down set-up time!

2) Props, props, props

As I mentioned in my previous tips post about product photography, I like to keep a stock of photo props about, and this is even more important for flatlays. You might have a new book/lipstick/camera that you want to make the focus of your shot, but the props around it are what make the photo complete. They also don’t have to be expensive. I know a lot of flatlays feature Macbooks and iPhones, but they can also feature Poundland tat if you arrange it nicely. One of my absolute favourite props, a ceramic swan planter, was £3 from Tiger:

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Props can be anything you like, but some of my go-tos are: pretty notebooks and pens; coffee cups; tools of the trade (so, for me, a lot of pliers!); fake flowers and plants (see last week’s post for why they have to be fake); jewellery-making materials. Obviously some of mine are specific to my work, but that’s why flatlays are great. You’re an artist? Throw some paintbrushes and paint tubes in there. Flower arranger? Well, duh. General human just taking pretty pictures? Whatever you damn well please. And that’s the point of all this; your flatlays reflect your personal tastes and interests. That’s why people scrolling through Insta never get bored of flatlays, because there’s so much potential for variation.

Here are some of my favourite props:

3) Arrangement/set-up

Whatever background and props you settle on, the way the items are laid out is what will make or break the picture. The short answer to how you get a great shot is really to just play around and see how things look – helpful, I know…

There are a few things you can try, though, if nothing is jumping out at you:

  • Envision how the image will look as a square (I often take a deliberately wide rectangular shot so it’s easier to crop down into a square for my feed)
  • Line items up at right angles to each other and the sides of the box
  • Put like items together (pens in one place, notebooks in a pile, etc)
  • Try ‘The Scatter’ (paperclips, earrings, glitter – if it’s small, scatter it across the space for instant effect)
  • Try putting all the items on one side/one corner of the square, leaving lots of blank space
  • Arrange items across the borders of the image, so some of them are just peeking into view (this gives the image depth)
  • Draw some pretty calligraphy onto your background (as long as it’s paper!). If you can’t do real calligraphy, fake it like I do: write the phrase in nice handwriting, then draw a second line on all of the downstrokes and fill in the space between:

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Now go forth and lay things flat! Tag your flatlays with #tidingofmagpies – I’d love to see them.

 

 

‘Changing Rooms’: Tiding of Magpies edition

I was ‘off sick’ from this blog last week, because it’s hard to be sparkling when you’re 80% snot… I’m on the mend now, but between getting well and the endless wedmin that needs doing, getting back into business has been a slow process. You know how it is; things have piled up and your desk is covered in papers and you can barely remember how to solder (or is that one just me?). I decided the best place to start was with tidying, which then morphed into workspace interior design. It turned out pretty well, I reckon:

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There have been a lot of studies on what might be the best office decor to encourage productivity (natural light and plants are popular, apparently), and I even know somebody whose office floor is carpeted in fake grass (no, she doesn’t know why either). There’s conflicting evidence on whether art on the walls makes people happy or distracted, or both, or neither, but I’m coming down hard on the side of ‘happy’, hence the new picture wall above my desk.

And, whatever office decor trends are happening this month, when it comes to the link between my workspace and my motivation, having a pretty, well-designed area to work in makes me way more likely to get shit done. The amount of time I’ve spent figuring out which pictures to frame and what kinds of trinkets to display might seem frivolous, or like time which could be better spent on Serious Business Stuff™, but this redesign of my space has made me genuinely excited to get into the office for the first time in a couple of months. I’m looking forward to using my workspace for updating my spreadsheets, for goodness’ sake!

So, this week, I thought I’d give you a tour of my office (pretty bits and not-so-pretty bits alike). The beautification of my workshop has been quite a long process (almost a year now), picking up knick-knacks and practical objects here and there, and working out how the space is best used. That last bit has been pretty essential, because it’s a relatively small space; my office is currently one corner of our spare room.

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The early days of my (unusually tidy) office

One of the big benefits of our spare room is its oodles of natural light (obviously an essential for jewellery-making), which is why my workbench is crammed into the far end of the room (past the very glamorous sofabed, filing cabinet, and general storage area).

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All the light

The tight space does make for some pretty creative storage, though, which is why I chose a vintage bureau crammed full of cubbies and shelves for my workbench:

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Then came the organisational whiteboard (you can just see the influence of my primary-school-teacher sister):

And let’s not forget my miniature storage drawers, which are absolute life-savers with so many tiny bits of metal knocking about:

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So, before today’s decoration session, this was my workspace, and it wasn’t quite working for me any more:

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The pinned-up tool rack was a bit of a stroke of genius from the early days of the desk, but over time, the rest of the space has just got more and more crowded around all of the tools. It started to feel a bit like it was all closing in on my actual workspace, and it wasn’t exactly conducive to inspired design… The question was, what to change?

In the same way that making time for important things requires finding your ‘dead time’ and using it more effectively, sorting out your space means using up dead space. So, I cleared the books off my desk and onto the windowsill, moved the boxes from the top shelf of my desk to the more hidden shelves under the desk, and got rid of all the empty butane cans (total eyesore).

In place of the piles of boxes, I put some carefully-chosen ornaments on top of the bureau. Virtually every study ever done about the effects of a workspace on productivity agrees that plants are a must-have for an effective office. Sadly, I’m a plant serial killer, so I’ve gone for some fakes (which definitely do lift my mood, so clearly there’s something in all these plant recommendations):

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Fake succulents are a must

I also added a couple of more sentimental touches, including my snowglobe collection and a light-up globe my grandma bought me years ago, all of which I picked up on a recent trip to my parents’. The Goblin (a steadfast minimalist with a particular hatred of throw pillow) was obviously delighted when he saw the boxes of trinkets I was planning to infest our flat with, but he relaxed when I promised they’d only be in my office, not in the general living spaces…

The hardest part of the redesign was the picture wall, and I’ll admit I spent several hours sorting through my postcard collection, drafting possible layouts, and actually nailing the bloody things into the wall. Once they were chosen and installed, the finishing flourish was provided by a garland of glittery butterflies (a gift from my future mother-in-law; how well she knows me!).

I’m well aware that my insistence that everything be cute before I can poooossibly get to work probably isn’t enormously normal or productive, but it works for me (pun intended). If I’m having writer’s block or the designs just aren’t coming, the amount of pretty, interesting things in my direct sightline helps to inspire. If (like now) I’m pressed for time, and the rest of life is getting in the way of my business, the desire to go and use my ‘new’ workshop is a really helpful motivator which encourages me to make time to work. And, if nothing else, this round of redesigns gave me a legit excuse to go for a stroll in Tiger (where I got all of the photo frames as well as the swan pot); that’s definitely conducive to a good mental state!

What are your workspaces like? Are you a hoarder like me or a clutter-hater like The Goblin? More importantly, is your workspace meeting those needs and tastes? If not, get cracking and make your space match and facilitate your work. Unlike a lot of the stresses and frustrations in life, your physical environment is something you can always change, even if that just means running a duster round the place and putting all your mess in a pile. And if it means sewing adorable flower hoops and sifting through postcards, so much the better!

 

 

Vanity: not always a bad thing

On my recent holiday, it almost seemed that jewellery was following me around the Mediterranean – not that I was complaining about it! Possibly the pinnacle of this trend was the day we arrived in Mykonos to find the Archaeological Museum we were planning to visit anyway (first pottery depiction of the Trojan Horse, anyone?) turned out to be almost completely filled with an exhibition on Cycladic jewellery from prehistory to the present day.

Lifetime TV

The exhibition, titled ‘Vanity’, was laid out in chronological order spanning a very impressive 7 millennia. It was also, as the exhibition leaflet proudly proclaimed, a ‘meta-exhibition’, with the museum itself becoming a giant jewellery box. It all sounded pretty good to me, and that was before we even saw the exhibits.

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Well, come on, it was called ‘Vanity’…

The interpretation was excellent from the off, with all the exhibits in these gorgeously lit boxes with draws to pull out and read more:

There was also some extra reading if you knew Greek:

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I won’t cover everything we saw because there were hundreds of pieces, but here are a few highlights.

We started with Early Bronze Age jewellery, most of which came from Naxos. Like many of the items on display, the majority of these early pieces were found as grave goods, highlighting the important role of appearance and adornment in early Cycladic society. As you can see below, semi-precious beads were a particular favourite. Oh, and check out the phallus charm on the left-hand side; some things never change…

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Pins/fibulae and diadems were also popular during this period:

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After this we hit the Middle Cycladic Period, where coral beads from the Eastern Mediterranean were all the rage (the suggestion being that their owners believed them to have exotic, special properties):

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The Late Bronze Age gave us this absolutely gorgeous necklace made of gold and white glass beads in the shape of lotus flowers. Interestingly, these beads were made in a mould, hinting at a growing market for and mass production of such items. In fact, the display called these shapes ‘standardised’ – the Cyclades were definitely modernising!

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This particular necklace was actually from Mykonos itself

The Geometric period, where the Mycenaean world collapsed and was taken over by Greek culture, pins and hair wires were the order of the day. The pins in the bottom left-hand corner are also from Thera, which I was overly excited about. (No, I’m not being sarcastic; we visited a couple of years ago and I was really excited to see some of the artefacts that aren’t at the site.)

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Much to my delight, almost all of the artefacts from the Classical period, including little human and animal amulets, were from Thera:

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A couple of centuries later, the Hellenic world had completely changed Cycladic jewellery, bringing exquisitely detailed pieces made from gold, pearls, and semi-precious stones. In fact, jewellery got so ornate that Pliny and Seneca complained about the amount being spent on it… Many of the pieces in the exhibition were from Delos, only found because the residents were forced to flee from the pirates of Athenodorus at the end of the 1st century BCE, and hid some of their gems before they left.

Also, here’s Aphrodite riding a goat:

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During the Roman period, the Cyclades were flooded with gold hoops, rings, and bird amulets, much like the rest of the Mediterranean, although the Hellenic styles didn’t disappear overnight:

Sadly for The Goblin and I, the Cycladic Middle Ages weren’t enormously well-represented, because of the limited excavation activity around this period; understandable given the amount of ancient history there is to explore in this part of the world.

There was another reason for the lack of medieval Cycladic jewellery on display: the predominance of Byzantine Christianity, which emphasised austerity and inner beauty. However, as the display highlighted, ‘the human tendency to improve outer appearance and simultaneously highlight social status prevailed and jewellery continued triumphantly to adorn both men and women’. The exhibition had several finger rings and Byzantine cross pendants to prove it:

Post-Byzantine/19th century Greek jewellery was a particularly interesting section of the exhibition, marrying themes from ancient and modern jewellery in the typical, ornate ‘Mykonos’ style earrings made from gold and pearls:

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This diamond cross pendant was a particular highlight of the later part of the exhibition, having belonged to Manto Mavrogenous, who spent her entire fortune financing the Greek Revolution:

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The final historical section of the exhibition featured work by Sofia Thanopoulou. Better known as Maroulina, Sofia was a self-taught creator who was one of the first important Greek jewellery designers in the second half of the 20th century. Her shop on Mykonos (1953-1972) attracted a prestigious, international clientèle, particularly after she began adding jewellery to her ranges of shoes, clothes, and bags in 1955. Combining Art Nouveau and traditional Greek influences, Sofia Thanopoulou created jewellery ‘characterised by the abundant expressiveness of their materials and their dynamic, often unexpected compositions’. Quite the jeweller role-model…

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The final room of the exhibition was one of my favourites (and definitely The Goblin’s pick), in interpretation, design, architecture and, of course, contents. This was the place where the ‘meta-exhibition’ really came to the fore. I mean, just look at this stunning set-up:

This section of the exhibition was dedicated to creations commissioned for the exhibition from 12 contemporary Greek jewellers: Elena Syraka, Ileana Makri, Ioanna Souflia, Deux Hommes, Lito, Minas, Nikos Koulis, Sofia Vamiali, Sophia Kokosalaki, Two Is Company, Venyx by Eugenie Niarchos, Yannis Sergakis.

Venyx by Eugenie Niarchos undoubtedly crafted my favourite piece: a pendant featuring a traditional Cycladic head in a modern, gold setting. As well as being completely beautiful, this necklace seemed to epitomise the exhibition as a whole: ancient and modern Cycladic art and creation brought together in one place and one time.

Photo from huffingtonpost.gr (I didn’t manage to get a good picture on my phone, unfortunately)

Every item in the collection (according to the leaflet) was chosen to highlight that most timeless human trait: vanity. The desire to bedazzle ourselves has been around as long as we’ve known how to thread rocks onto a piece of thread. But it also speaks to the endless creative potential and endeavour of humanity; not only do we want to sparkle, we’re willing to invent and graft to do so. It might seem shallow, but the face (or ear, or wrist) you present to the world can matter, and adornment is a big part of that.

One could even argue it’s part of humanity to deck ourselves in glittery gubbins; after all, ‘Vanity’ has 7000 years of archaeological proof that we just want to be…

shiny moana crab

 

 

Busman’s Holiday: Making our own wedding rings

You may not know this, but I’m getting married in three months. I mean, I never talk about it in minute detail, because it’s definitely not a huge logistical undertaking I should be allowed to put on my CV to show my organisational skills…

Since we got engaged last year, I knew I wanted to make our wedding rings. There was just one problem: I’m a silversmith, and we wanted gold rings. Silver and gold don’t behave that differently, so I did consider just giving it a go, but there’s one big problem with gold compared to silver: it’s a lot more expensive if you mess it up.

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Imagine the scene: ‘Honey, I’m home! Say, what’s that melted lump on your workbench?’ ‘Oh, that? That’s the £300 of gold that was going to be your wedding ring – oopsy-daisy!’ Not ideal. The Goblin is also the fussiest human alive, and the risk of him having hitherto-unknown very strong feelings about the particular hammer pattern I’d used once the ring was done wasn’t really worth it.

Luckily for us, the JQ struck again in the form of The Quarterworkshop, where couples can make their own rings under the supervision of a professional jeweller, Victoria Delaney. I also thought it would be cool for The Goblin to see what I do and have a go himself (and hammer his own ring to his liking – wahey).

The first thing to do was decide on colour and size for our wedding rings, as well as come up with ideas for styles. Our engagement rings are cheap (albeit much-loved) place-holders for the real thing…and it shows. They’re 9ct white gold, with mine measuring in at 3mm wide and The Goblin’s at 5mm. Because of the composition of the metal, they were seriously dinged about within the first month of wearing, so we knew we needed to go with something a bit more permanent and lasting for our wedding rings (how appropriate!).

I decided to slim my ring down to 2mm whilst The Goblin stuck with 5. We both liked the D-shaped profiles of our current rings, so those stayed, meaning that when we got to Victoria’s (adorable!) workshop, this is what was waiting for us:

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Seriously, though, how cute is this workshop space?!

After some coffee and a chat about designs, we got stuck into annealing, cutting and shaping – all just another day for me but really fun to have an experienced goldsmith directing the process and giving hints and tips.

Victoria also introduced me to a method of shaping and cutting through the seam (the bit where you make the ends of the ring line up so you can join them together) which was waaaay simpler and quicker than the one I was taught. Definitely going to be using that on my pieces in future! The Goblin had a lovely time shaping, soldering and filing his ring, and took it all very seriously. Look at this concentration:

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Then came the really fun bit: playing with hammers. The Goblin knew he wanted a subtle hammered effect, but I was torn between hammering and engraving, so we both spent a fair while whacking aluminium with the huge range of hammers in the workshop to find the right pattern.

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I decided to go with engraving in the end and am having a bramble pattern engraved on mine, so I started polishing it ready for engraving whilst The Goblin started beating his up with great glee.

After a lot of hammering (probably The Goblin’s favourite part of the day) and getting covered in polish, we admired our creations:

The rings are now off to be hallmarked with the Brum Assay Office anchor mark, which we love – wherever we move in the future, we’ll always be wearing a bit of the JQ! I can’t wait to see mine once it’s all hallmarked and engraved (I’ll post an update picture here when it arrives). We had a lush day making our rings and would definitely recommend it to anyone else looking for something a bit different for their rings. As The Goblin’s ring shows, no prior knowledge is necessary!

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All pictures are by Victoria Delaney © The Quarterworkshop, apart from the ones of our engagement rings.

Update: the rings are ready! How amazing is the engraving on mine – I would kill for that level of skill…

Let’s put a pin in politics

As I write, the UK election has led to a hung parliament and the Tories are trying to prop up a minority government with DUP support. In other words, politics is looking pretty fucking grismal*, as my mum would say (and indeed has). Now that you’ve all voted (I hope!), all there is to do is wait. You could be forgiven for feeling a bit like this right now:

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Sootmegs on Etsy. Check out her store for some adorable, therapy-themed pins.

So, The Goblin and I spent a large chunk of last night watching Channel 4’s Alternative Election Night (David Mitchell snarking about Brexit? Count us in!), and amidst all the exit poll drama, I noticed the Lib Dems’ Baroness Brinton was showing her party colours in a particularly stylish way:

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Check out that brooch. Not your common-or-garden campaign pin.

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Here it is again + bonus dog

For centuries, pins, badges and brooches have been a decorative way to wear your heart on your sleeve (or lapel). When it comes to political pins, American ‘campaign buttons’ are the best-known examples, dating back pretty much as far as the United States themselves. George Washington’s supporters used to wear his initials on their jackets – awww.

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And then it got weird.

Pins are one of the most versatile forms of jewellery; sartorial shorthand for your world view and core values (whether those are high-falutin’ political beliefs or simply your love of cats). They can also be incredibly beautiful. The emphasis here is on the can

These days, there are a lot of bog-standard, plastic circles floating about on British chests:

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I mean, if you’re going to be vile, at least be more aesthetically pleasing while you’re at it…

But that wasn’t always the case. The 50s were a golden age of stylish enamel pins for all political situations. Here are the two main parties:

Young and politically engaged? You could’ve worn these:

If you fancied a lighter pin, a few decades later the CND spawned a range of badges so niche that they remind me of that ship full of telephone sanitisers and hairdressers from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

And speaking of niche, it was the 70s that gave us this quintessentially British gem:

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But if we’re talking the one historical campaign that had pins nailed, it’s got to be the British Suffrage Movement. Those women knew their pins… The use of colour! The motifs! So lush.

Although these gorgeous vintage campaign pins go for a mint online, the impending centenary of the first legalisation of women’s suffrage in the UK** means there are a ton of pretty and economical replicas/updates knocking about:

If you don’t want to physically wear your party or campaign affiliations, there’s always the lighthearted-enamel-pin trend which exploded on Etsy in the last year or two. Why not try one of these beauties? (Special shout out to one of my fave Etsy pin stores, Veronica Dearly.)

After all, if we’re going to hell in a handcart, you might as well

*Grismal, (adj): a cross between grim and dismal; most commonly used to describe a situation that makes you want to sit on the sofa and groan gently to yourself for the next several hours.

**2018 is the centenary of the enfranchisement of some property-holding women over 30; it took until 1928 for all women over 21 to be able to vote, the same rules as for men at that time.

Letter From The Ephesians

I recently got back from a Mediterranean trip, and things took a surprisingly jewellery-themed turn (even for me) everywhere we went, so a few historical/travel-themed posts are on the way.

One of the highlights of the trip was undoubtedly the ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey. A historic centre of jewellery-making, Ephesus is famous for its Temple of Artemis – one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – where worshippers left beautiful jewellery as votive offerings:

Artemis of Ephesus was a cross between the Greek Artemis and the Anatolian mother goddess Cybele, and she’s been getting giggles from schoolchildren (and probably some adults) for centuries:

Laughing at her many bosoms might not be the wisest idea, though, since she was the guardian of all civilisation, and ruler of all nature. Oh, and she was the queen of bees – a literal queen bee – which is why bees feature so heavily in the gold and silver offerings to her, and even in Ephesian coinage:

Other symbols incorporated into jewellery dedicated to Artemis of Ephesus included crescent shapes (Artemis was goddess of the moon), sparrowhawks, rosettes, and double-headed axes.

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The first mint and gold refinery in Anatolia was founded in the seventh century BCE. In fact, some scholars argue that the first metal coins ever issued were used in in Ephesus around 650. With the amount of metalworking activity going on at Ephesus, it’s little wonder that the vast majority of surviving jewellery in the Eastern Greek style during this period comes from the repository found at the Temple of Artemis – jewellery which is made even more interesting by its Oriental and Mycaenean influences.

Later, around 53CE, Ephesus was made famous for a different reason by St Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. St Paul, misogynist and killjoy extraordinaire, spent some time in Ephesus in the mid-1st century CE, and was not impressed with what he perceived as the excessive covetousness of the locals. Obviously this didn’t go down too well with Ephesian silversmiths, who relied on the cult of Artemis for their livelihood, and a mob apparently dragged some of Paul’s pals to the theatre. Paul himself decided not to go and face an angry mob made up of people who were presumably good with small, pointy tools (probably wise), but luckily for him, the group eventually broke up.

Unfortunately, the silversmiths turned out to be right about the spread of Christianity killing their trade in Artemisian offerings, and the whole episode highlights the importance of Ephesus as a seat of early Christianity. Supposedly the Virgin Mary died there – not really surprising that a cult of Artemis morphed into a cult of the Virgin Mary. It’s quite a sweet little house, actually:

Sadly, our archaeologist guide, Hakan, confirmed that it’s a 6th-7th century church, so definitely not the house of the Mother of God (shocker).

We opted to visit Ancient Ephesus (with its Terraced Houses) and Didyma instead, and I think we made the right choice. (Side note: we went on a private tour with Meander Travel, and it was incredibly interesting as well as being amazing value for money – I’d definitely recommend Meander if any of you visit Turkey (they do tours all over the country, including in Istanbul). We were able to design our own tour to suit our interests and everyone at the company was lovely, helpful and knowledgeable. And no, I’m not being paid to write this – that’s how good they were!)

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The base of an enormous column at Didyma (Florence for scale!)

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Library of Celsus at Ephesus

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The theatre at Ephesus (minus angry mob)

Kusadasi, the port city near Ephesus, continues to ply the jewellery trade into the 21st century. In fact, Turkey as a whole is a major player in gold and silversmithing today, processing 400 tons of gold and 300 tons of silver annually and employing 300,000 people. Unfortunate geopolitical circumstances at the moment meant the sites were incredibly quiet, which was great for us tourists but terrible for the Turkish tourism industry. It’s a real shame, because Kusadasi and the surrounding sites are some of the safest and most stunning in Turkey – definitely recommend a visit if you’re thinking of heading to the Eastern Med!

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Brummie Buttons

I really like buttons. I mean really like them. Like this much:

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p027b3t8/player

Buttons are of local importance as well. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Jewellery Quarter, and Birmingham more broadly, made all the fixings and fripperies needed for contemporary life, from buttons to buckles and hinges to coffin plates. Come the nineteenth century, it also made 75% of the world’s steel pen nibs. Birmingham became known as the ‘toy-maker of the world’, ‘toy’ being another word for small items of fashion such as buttons, buckles and snuff boxes. Apparently, the Jewellery Quarter wasn’t just the home of trinkets and gems.

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And now it’s the home of bars with roof terraces and delicious food

So, Birmingham was originally the centre of the buckle-making trade:

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but when this was massacred by the humble shoelace in the late-eighteenth century, buttons came to the rescue. In 1800 there were over 100 separate button makers in the few square miles making up the city centre. In 1770 there were even two separate button makers in the tiny street where I work, and nine at larger Snow Hill.

Buttons were the city’s miniature money-maker until the early twentieth century. As William Hutton stated on a visit to Brum in 1780, ‘it would be no easy task to enumerate the infinite diversity of buttons manufactured here…’.

Buttons were Birmingham’s stock in trade because they were both functional and fashionable, desirable and essential. Originally made of horn (lovely, trendy, stinky cow-foot buttons), buttons have been made in Birmingham since at least the twelfth century, according to recent archaeological excavation at the Bull Ring. However, in the eighteenth century the trade exploded, with buttons being made of mother of pearl, glass or shell, embossed or stamped, or even covered in silk.

Button-making was also a huge employer, even after the partial mechanisation of the trade in the mid-nineteenth century, due to the fragility of some of the materials.

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As I mentioned before, I love buttons – they’re the epitome of functional beauty, and (as Terry says in the video) a fascinating window into social history. In fact, that great social commentator, Charles Dickens, wrote an interesting (and very, very detailed) article about the Birmingham button trade. You can read the whole thing here if you fancy it, but I’ll leave you with an apt quote from the piece:

‘It is wonderful, is it not? that on that small pivot turns the fortune of such multitudes of men, women, and children, in so many parts of the world; that such industry, and so many fine faculties, should be brought out and exercised by so small a thing as the Button.’

[All designs available at Tiding of Magpies]

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The Pearly Queen

Recently, I’ve had a lot of comments about (and orders for) my Tudor coin necklace; more than I was expecting, actually. Originally the necklace was more of a fun, nostalgic, ‘hey-look-it’s-that-coin-I-saved-from-Kentwell’ design I did on a whim than an homage to Tudor style itself, but people have really responded to it. Turns out people love a bit of Tudors (who knew?!), so I started thinking about how to incorporate Tudor influences into new designs.

The first thing most people think of when you mention Tudor jewellery is vast numbers of pearls, but why the sudden pearl explosion? The first reason is scarcity (or perceived scarcity). After all, what shows wealth and status better than something someone may very well have died trying to pull out of a sea creature? Interestingly, by the 1580s pearls were actually flooding across the Atlantic from the ‘land of pearls’, as North America became known. Fortunately for contemporary privateers and merchants, instead of devaluing the gems, this supply surprisingly did the opposite. Not only were pearls still fantastically expensive, they were now attainable in vast quantities, the better to adorn your way to the top.

The other reason for pearls’ PR boost in the British Isles towards the end of the 16th century was the reign of Elizabeth I, aka The Virgin Queen. For centuries, pearls have been associated with purity and perfection; in Ancient Greek lore, pearls were formed from the droplets of water which rolled off Aphrodite as she emerged from the sea.

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As Elizabeth built her image as the virginal monarch married to her country, symbolism was paramount, and pearls, with their centuries of pure connotations and their glowing luxury, were the perfect fit. She put them on everything, and ensured they featured in every portrait:

However, even this the Pearly Queen couldn’t always afford the vast quantity of precious stones needed for the desired, so the smaller pearls on her clothes were sometimes fake. You’d think this would be an obvious switch, but fake pearls (made from glass or nacre) were actually so common and of such relatively high quality in the 16th century that they were banned in Venice because of the danger they posed to the pearl traders.

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The Tudor obsession with pearls both spawned some truly gorgeous pieces and fed into new trends.

Bracelets came back into vogue in the late 16th century, after having been largely neglected since the early medieval period, and many were made of (you guessed it) strings of pearls:

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Late-medieval and early-Tudor headdresses also gave way to the ferronière, strings of pearls or jewels which festooned elaborate hairstyles:

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And finally, a post on Tudor pearls wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Mary I’s famous La Peregrina, the gratuitously large gem which eventually ended up around Elizabeth Taylor’s neck:

 

Sources:

  • Stoned, Aja Raden
  • Jewellery From Antiquity To The Present, Clair Phillips
  • 7000 Years of Jewellery, Hugh Tait