Although her work may not be familiar to U.S. retailers, Breda Haugh is one of Ireland’s foremost jewelry designers. Like several of the top designers in Ireland, her early training and career began elsewhere. Haugh attended the famous John Cass College in London and continued to build her career in that city, subsequently returning to Dublin where she now has her workshop. Haugh has for many years worked Celtic influences into her jewelry pieces—but with a striking contemporary twist.
“Ireland is moving toward higher quality in jewelry—partly due to the ‘Celtic tiger’ economy—and designers, manufacturers, and retailers are responding really well to the challenge,” says Haugh. She works mainly in silver and gold, and the majority of her pieces are hand finished. Although she sells mostly to independent jewelers, she also exports to both Germany and the United States.
Along with a handful of other designers, she was chosen to take part in a special initiative, called “The Art of Gold,” which was established last year by the Crafts Council of Ireland to promote the use of 18k gold. All of the designers who participated in the event were given a quantity of 18k gold with which to work.
Haugh produced a beautiful collection of pieces for the exhibition, incorporating minimalist geometric shapes with leaf motifs cut from sheet gold. She used a variety of gold colors, including red. It is a testimony to her popularity that she was commissioned to create special designs for the National Museum of Ireland.
Inga Reed, of English and Irish parentage, was brought up in Belfast but studied art at Loughborough College in mainland United Kingdom. Her jewelry combines the structural approach of a piece of sculpture with the simplicity of high design. In many ways, her jewelry reflects both Celtic passion and Anglo-Saxon understatement.
For the “Art of Gold” exhibition, Reed highlighted the three-dimensional look of her pendants by using a variety of materials and colors: for example, a white and rose gold pendant worn with an onyx and coral chain. She generally works with both silver and gold and makes one-of-a-kind pieces for special commissions such as the “Art of Gold” exhibition. “It was the first time I had made a large collection in 18k. The exhibition gave me the opportunity to play, which designers don’t normally get the time to do.”
Reed has returned to full-time jewelry making following a 10-year absence, during which she reared a family. She is “delighted” to be back in jewelry design, and her pieces sell in select locations including Dublin’s prestigious Designyard. She plans to continue working in 18k gold and already has made a collection in 18k with pearls.
Céline Traynor is another designer who took part in the “Art of Gold” exhibition. She produced the “Loop Collection,” which comprised simple but dramatically different pieces. These catwalk-style pieces could be worn, for example, on the upper arm. “The collection was very well received as a contemporary design, although it is less commercial than my other work,” says Traynor.
Her highly original and unusual approach to designing chains and links, with their constructed swirls and flourishes, is no doubt influenced by her passion for music. Traynor originally studied at the University of Ulster and spent a number of years as a musician, which she acknowledges was “a big influence in my work.” She returned full time to jewelry designing in 1997. “So much has happened in Ireland in the last few years,” she says. “There now exist great opportunities for us designers.”
Kevin Emmanuel is an English-born designer who has lived in Ireland for the past eight years. He trained at the John Cass College in London and did an apprenticeship with Collingwood, a well-known Bond Street jeweler.
Emmanuel also was chosen to take part in the “Art of Gold” exhibition and produced a collection of rings that—true to his innate style—work on their own or in combination with each other to create a whole different look. “My main idea for the exhibition was to design a ring collection which could be built up,” he says. To enhance the overall effect of the rings, and to give them greater impact when worn in combination, Emmanuel created pieces in white, yellow, and rose gold and added diamonds.
Emmanuel’s jewelry is available only in selected high-end stores in Ireland and can be found in London’s cult jewelry store, the Electrum Gallery. He is particularly enjoying the higher demands of the Irish jewelry buyer: “The Irish jewelry consumer has become much more open-minded. This really is an expanding market.”
Seliena Coyle and Berina Kelly
There’s a crop of recently graduated jewelry designers who will continue to introduce the contemporary look into the Celtic tradition. Among these are Seliena Coyle and Berina Kelly, who also were selected to take part in the “Art of Gold” exhibition. Coyle’s work (left) has a strong geometric element, reminiscent of a certain European style. Spheres and circles were used to dramatic effect in her “Art of Gold” works. Berina Kelly’s pieces (right) combine strong shapes with delicate metal work. Her pendants and chains have a youthful appeal and are fun to wear.
The trend toward higher-quality jewelry in Ireland is creating a market of opportunities for jewelry designers, who increasingly are beginning to work in higher karatages of gold as well as in platinum. The Irish market grew by a staggering 15% in 1999, a record year. The Federation of Jewellery Manufacturers of Ireland did not expect the same growth rate in 2000, but is, nevertheless, optimistic that this dawning Celtic market will continue to expand.