In London, the Goldsmiths’ Company is about to celebrate its 700 years

LONDON – One of the City of London’s oldest livery companies, or guilds, is preparing to celebrate its 700th anniversary, with a focus on how best to present its industry for centuries to come.

The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, commonly known as the Goldsmiths’ Company, is unusual among its 11 peers as it is still directly linked to the UK goldsmith industry – through its analytical office, which tests for precious metals for sale; the Center des Orfèvres, which provides professional training; and his charity, which awards about £ 4 million ($ 5.3 million) per year in grants to industry and other educational causes.

The sprawling organization has said it is preparing for its seven centenary in 2027 by making changes that it hopes will erase any perception that its business – funded primarily by dividend income and real estate investments, the analysis fee and room rental – is conducted behind elitist and golden doors. .

“Its strength lies in its tradition and continuity, but the challenge lies in balancing this tradition with the modernization of a new era,” said Vivienne Becker, jewelry historian and author who is an associate member of the company , a sort of honorary role.

One of the tasks is to address the diversity of age, sex and race among its 1,835 members and among the craftsmen and apprentices it supports. Women currently make up 29% of membership, and in the 12 months ending March 2021, the society gained 39 new members, of which 19, or 49%, were women. The organization said it had also compiled information on age and breed, but had no details to share yet.

In addition, he creates a digital archive of his century-old 12,000-piece silverware and jewelry collection, as well as his vast accumulation of design drawings and management and learning records. “The collection and archives are the company’s hidden assets, and I believe they are some of the best private assets in the world,” said Lynne Brindley, the company’s 694th chief executive or chair of its board. administration. She is the second woman to hold the post, which has a one-year term.

Dame Brindley appears well placed to contribute to the effort, having served as Managing Director of the British Library from 2000 to 2012, while it was digitized. “Improving access to the collection will change the public’s perception of the company and access to its vast knowledge and inspiration,” she said.

Dora Thornton, the company’s curator, describes the collection as already “a very lively and active collection”. In addition to being used to teach students of the Center des Orfèvres, to be presented in exhibitions and in university research, the collection grows each year with the addition of orders selected by the contemporary crafts committee of the ‘business. Dr Thornton said the selections were primarily based on an individual’s skills and creativity, but the company was also making a conscious effort to expand diversity.

This year, for example, the company paid £ 2,000 for an oxidized gold and silver Caldera ring by Emefa Cole, a London-based designer who uses traditional lost wax carving techniques from Ghana where she was born, combined the skills she has acquired. at the Metropolitan University of London. “I am honored to join the collection,” Ms. Cole said, “and to be one of the incredibly talented designers of the past and present.”

Such inclusions, Dr Thornton said, reflect the significant and creative contribution of immigrant artisans throughout the history of trade in London – represented in the collection by works such as the designs of Protestant refugees fleeing persecution in Europe. in the 17th and 18th centuries; contemporary jeweler Gerda Flöckinger, who came to London from Nazi Austria as a child; and Jeanne Thé, who fled the Indonesian purges in 1965.

Pieces by immigrant artisans and British designers in particular have enriched the contemporary jewelry collection, which currently numbers 700 pieces, Dr Thornton said. And while that number is only a fraction of the overall collection, it’s the fastest growing category today, she added.

He was initiated by Graham Hughes, artistic director of the company from 1951 to 1981. And Dr Thornton credits his “International Exhibition of Modern Jewelry 1890-1961”, held in 1961 at the Goldsmiths’ Hall Company Headquarters, as the kick-off of the modern fine jewelry movement in Britain.

Mr Hughes’ early recognition of jewelers like Andrew Grima, John Donald, Charlotte de Syllas and Ms Flöckinger, who have all gone on to become internationally renowned figures, set a model the company said it tries to follow today. hui in terms of orders and purchases. “We supported people very early in their careers,” said Dr Thornton, “when they experience a burst of creativity, and that’s what makes this collection so exceptional”.

Public access to the collection will also be improved when the Museum of London moves to expanded quarters in the West Smithfield area of ​​central London.

In 2017, the company pledged £ 10million to the project, which will include the Goldsmiths’ Gallery, a permanent home for pieces from the company’s collection, goldsmith demonstrations and the jewelry museum’s own Cheapside Hoard collection. Elizabethans and Stuart.

For Hazel Forsyth, senior curator at the Museum of London and author of “Long Lost Jewels: The Cheapside Hoard”, the new gallery will underscore both the historical and continuing importance of the goldsmith industry in London. “London’s goldsmiths and jewelers played a preeminent role in the international gemstone and jewelry trade: a legacy that remains important for the economy, cultural diversity and skill base of the capital today,” a- she wrote in an email.

While the company’s rotating exhibits at Goldsmiths ‘Hall or the Goldsmiths’ Center draw visitors, the Museum of London has drawn nearly 673,000 people to its current home in the Barbican in the 12 months ending March 2020, a much larger audience. “We have something that needs to be shared with London and the rest of the world,” Dame Brindley said.

The company said it plans to expand its reach beyond London through online courses and improving links with entities such as the Sheffield cutlery industry and the Birmingham Jewelry Quarter. . Additionally, as Dame Brindley acknowledged the ever-increasing budget cuts and challenges facing arts education in Britain, she said she felt positive about a new generation growing up. actively and engages in the making and appreciation of traditional craftsmanship.

“There is a real opportunity here. Kids today want to do things like that and develop practical and creative skills, ”she said.

And while pieces from the company’s permanent collection have traveled the country as part of this inspirational effort, they are kept behind a high-security vault door in an undisclosed location, an address that no is not made public for insurance reasons. There the shelves are crammed with everything from antique silver plates to contemporary silver carvings, while the drawers contain the collection of modern jewelry.

A 16th century cup believed to have belonged to Queen Elizabeth I is one of the earliest pieces in the collection and also one of the most important.

According to legend, the newly crowned queen drank from the heavily decorated gilded silver vessel – measuring 49.3 centimeters, or 1.6 feet, in height – during her coronation in 1559. Known today as the the Bowes Cup, it was the first piece of silverware recorded as a gift to society, donated in 1561 by Sir Martin Bowes, a first guardian and mayor of London.

Although there is no evidence of his royal role, the story persists that Bowes was awarded the Queen’s Cup in exchange for his duties as Chief Butler at the coronation. “The collection is part of the company’s DNA because it really shows who we are and what we do,” said Dr Thornton, the curator.

On another shelf was an equally imposing yet surprisingly modern mug by RY Goodden, the winning design of the company’s 1953 competition to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. After the Queen had drunk from the cup, she returned it to society in remembrance of Elizabeth I.

Also preserved are the Cups of the Court, a selection of silver coins that are the fruit of a corporate tradition dating back to 1957. Each member elected to the board of directors, called the Court of Assistants, orders a cup from an individual. Leading artist-maker to use when dining in the lobby. An old, eccentric, coarse-textured gilded silver cup was designed in 1957 for Sir Henry Tizard by Louis Osman, who also designed Prince Charles’ crown for his investiture as Prince of Wales in 1969.

In 2009, Dame Brindley commissioned hers from Jane Short and Clive Burr. A large and elegant cup in gold and silver decorated with waves of colored enamel to represent her love for Cornwall.

Dr Thornton observed that the stories of artisans and their clients are even more engaging than the pieces themselves. “It’s not about bling,” she said, pointing to the shelves around her, “it’s about the human connections behind all of the things you see here.”

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