Making the Unprecious Precious

I’m really feeling my mojo since my creative change of direction!

A particular area of interest of mine has always been the social and cultural history of jewellery as talisman and amulet, and the use of symbolism for storytelling and commemoration within a jewellery and metalworking context. These past few months I have become obsessed with found objects and lost, discarded and broken things with hidden personal stories.

I think it’s in my blood… I was born two weeks late, and my parents were sure that I was going to be a boy. Literally convinced; I was going to be called Thomas Oscar, and they were going to keep me in a box and use me as a doorstop. On the very day I was due, my mum was pottering in the garden with a hand-trowel, and found this broken piece of Victorian china. The rest is history.

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A similar thing happened in March, although not quite as profoundly spooky. My parents live in York, one of my favourite cities and not too far from where I was born and grew up (and where GIRL was found). My mum told me that on their property there is a tree which is going to fall, so for safety’s sake they have decided to take it down. She was chatting to their neighbour next to the tree, and as they talked her neighbour bent down to pick something up off the ground. “Oh, look at that!” she exclaimed, and passed something to my mum: a little piece of broken early Victorian china, printed with the word LOVE. The neighbour (incredibly) didn’t want to keep it, so she gave it to mum, and mum gave it to me.

Where else would I put it, but in a handmade custom setting in 18ct yellow gold, to join my other strange and intrinsically worthless personal talismans?

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I especially love LOVE because the shape reminds me of a hanging chrysalis.

Some of my other bits and pieces I wear in regular rotation are a vintage 9ct gold spinner charm which, unusually, reads WHY WORRY. Pieces shown below include other amulets created from ‘worthless’ found objects, which I also set in recycled 18ct gold.

There’s the porcelain Frozen Charlotte (who’s become known as the original Baby Sappho) from my work for the Bowes Museum last year.

There’s another piece of broken china which I found on my allotment during 2018’s long hot summer. It immediately made me smile - at first the creatures on it reminded me of fleas, but I think they’re meant to be sheep. Sheep are a huge part of farming and local life here; in fact, this year’s lambs and their mothers are grazing directly outside my studio window today.

The next piece is a fossilised crinoid from a piece of Frosterley Marble. My home is famous for this specific decorative stone which has been quarried a mile or two from my house for over 700 years; there are Frosterley Marble columns in Durham Cathedral which date from around 1350.

I engraved the gold paw; it’s my greyhound’s pawprint. She horrifically broke her leg last year, and if it wasn’t for the kindness and generosity of so many of you I don’t know what I’d have done. This piece reminds me not to be afraid to ask for help (ah, the curse of belligerent self-sufficiency!).

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Recently I’ve discovered the joy of working with original Neolithic flint arrowheads. The ones I’ve been working with so far come from the Sahara. Local nomadic people often find them in the shifting dunes as they travel around with their herds; they collect them and then sell or trade them on. They all date from around 4000BC, so are around 6000 years old. I love their shapes and colours, which are surprisingly very varied.

So far I’ve not kept any Arrowhead Talismans for myself, but I’m sure this will change - I’m just waiting for the right one to come along. I normally set them in recycled 9ct yellow gold or sterling silver, but I’m planning to release some in recycled 18ct yellow gold too.

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I love the process of making a custom setting, for of course each little piece (whether it’s an arrowhead, shard of china or any other found thing) is a totally different shape from anything else. Everything is hand-made to fit whatever I’m working with, and no two can ever be the same. Each piece is a complete one-off. I find it very satisfying indeed.

My next personal project I’m planning is one I’ve wanted to create for many years, but I kept putting it safely in a drawer in my studio, where it lay out of sight and so drifted in and out of my memory.

It’s a corroded livery button. Livery buttons were worn by liveried servants who worked for wealthy and noble households - footmen, coachmen etc - on their coats and uniform. Typical of many buttons, they often fell off and got lost. I haven’t been able to identify this one yet, but I think it is probably Georgian or early Victorian.

If memory serves me correctly, this was found in the village I grew up in. It’s been around as long as I can remember, and was kept in the box labelled ‘Garden Treasures’ in the pantry. I’ve always loved the slightly sinister curls of the snake, his open hissing mouth and the details of his scales and forked tongue.

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Do you have a precious shell from a favourite beach, a small china fragment you found in your grandma's garden, or a lock of hair from someone cherished? Or any bones, feathers, beads, small fossils, teeth, coins, pebbles, cogs, screws, locks of hair, scraps of fabric ... anything you have which is precious to you. Have you always wanted to do something with them, but never known where to begin?

Send them to me and I will weave my magic. I work in sterling silver, 9ct yellow gold and 18ct yellow gold.

Or come and set your own pieces to make your own talismanic charm bundle. I’m hosting a two-day course at Lund Studios near York in October. Bring a handful of your favourite found objects and interesting oddments to this fun and challenging weekend to learn how to turn them into talismans you can wear. The aim of the weekend is to come away with a handmade charm necklace in sterling silver which is personal to you. Find out more and book your place direct via Lund Studios.


I’d love to hear about your own found objects and their hidden stories. I’m hoping to write more on the subject of how - and why - the intrinsically ‘non-precious’ can become something deeply personal, and change into something extremely precious. 


Please do comment below if you’d like to share your opinions and thoughts.


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