A Fair to Remember

Design excellence and buyer enthusiasm energized the recent and highly successful Goldsmiths’ Fair in London. Open to the public and held at the history-steeped Goldsmiths’ Hall from Sept. 29 through Oct. 5, the show celebrated its 21st anniversary with 6,500 attendees—2,300 more than last year.

Fifty-nine jewelers and 31 silversmiths showcased their wares. All were eager to explain their work, and their obvious love and enthusiasm for their craft was a plus for consumers used to dealing with retailers rather than artisans. But the high caliber of craftsmanship and design also makes this little-known exhibition a treasure trove for retailers looking for distinctive new lines. Life stories were often exchanged along with payment, and many loyal customers were created on the spot or reunited with designers from whom they had bought or commissioned pieces at previous fairs.

Sales were sprightly. “I’ve already had two orders for the watercolor box,” said Essex silversmith Alex Bernard just hours after the show’s opening. His pocket-sized sterling watercolor box with central water pot and built-in brush was just one of his attention-getting designs. He also topped sterling silver cylinders with acrylic pool and snooker balls to create fun, contemporary homeware, including pepper grinders and cruet sets.

As with Bernard’s billiard balls, design inspiration came from many places. London’s Alan Craxford built on his earlier use of the Hindu and Buddhist sacred mandala, this time in two “Raindrop Mandala” brooches. Taking the circular form of the mandala, the pieces are painstakingly hand-engraved and carved to recreate the pattern of raindrops falling in a puddle. Tiny sparkling diamonds are set within myriad incised concentric circles, creating an interplay of light, shadow, and movement that’s close to the real thing. The pieces—one in dark oxidized sterling silver with 18k white gold and diamonds, the other in sterling with 18k yellow gold and diamonds—represent night and day.

Cornwall silversmith and jeweler Michael Bolton also exhibited a sterling silver watercolor box. Bolton’s inspiration came from the colors of the tiny pans of paint: “They’re just like little jewels,” he says. His small, rectangular box—with space reserved for paper—already has attracted a following. Actress Judi Dench had, in recent years, purchased one for her (now late) husband, and other fans have suggested that Bolton create new versions—but with makeup within. “I don’t know about that,” he said.

Chain mail was the starting point for London jeweler Russell Wright. His study of European and Japanese chain mail patterns spawned a collection of tactile jewelry that feels remarkably like clothing. His intricate pieces—available in sterling, 18k, and platinum—mold themselves to the body in designs that are comfortable as well as beautiful.

Wright, who maintained an interest in jewelry making through two previous careers as a soldier and a marketing executive, has a clear vision of his prospective customer: “I’m aiming for the assured woman—the businesswoman who is buying for herself and looking for something a little more understated.”

Other standout items were presented by Fred Rich, an award-winning enameller from Croydon who showed sterling and enamel pieces with themes ranging from florals to frogs, and Edinburgh’s Donna Barry, whose jewelry consists of thin discs of precious metal fused together to resemble delicate spring buds.

And London’s Carol Mather, creator of delightful small animal sculptures in patinated silver, had grown so attached to one particular creature that she admitted to having reservations about its possible sale. Her enthusiasm for—and appreciation of—her calling was echoed by every designer on the premises, making a visit to the Fair a truly enlightening and enjoyable experience.

Next year’s fair will be held Oct. 4-10. Designs by a number of Fair exhibitors may be seen on the Goldsmiths’ Company directory Web site,www.whoswhoingoldandsilver.com.