Romilly Saumarez Smith & Lucie Gledhill, Jewellery Makers
Romilly Saumarez Smith & Lucie Gledhill
Sequestered in a cavernous old house in Stepney, two women work together to make jewellery under the name of Savage & Chong, combining their mothers’ maiden names to create a new identity for themselves. “We chose the names because they sound good together and it’s a bit of both of us.” revealed Lucie modestly, yet I discovered that the nature of their work reflects their different life histories in complex and unexpected ways.
“I used to make jewellery but I was no longer able to do it when I became paralysed,” confided Romilly with startling candour, “Yet, after a four or five year break, I was persuaded I should try to find someone I could work with closely and make jewellery again.”
We were sitting in an eighteenth century panelled room, painted in tones of red sandstone, as the Winter sunlight streamed in at a low angle and I realised I had entered a private world in which these two women pursued their activities with a quiet intensity, forged from a unique working relationship.
“We met two years ago,” continued Lucie helpfully, explaining how she began by remaking pieces of jewellery that Romilly had made as a way to advance their shared understanding.“What was exciting was that when Lucie made something and showed it to me, it felt like I had made it,” interposed Romilly, widening her eyes in wonder at this revelation. “We do things in the same way,” admitted Lucie simply, confirming the intimate rapport they discovered as jewellery makers and, consequently, as human beings.
“I still go through the process of making it in my head,” outlined Romilly, justifying her title as a jewellery maker,“Because I’ve done it myself, I understand a lot of techniques – but Lucie has refined my work and made it better.”
Lucie trained as a jewellery maker and graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2009, whereas, for Romilly, the journey was more circuitous. “I never trained as a jeweller, I spent most of my life as a bookbinder, so I didn’t have any formal idea of how things should be done, I made it up,” Romilly confessed to me, “I was bookbinder for twenty-five years, then I started using metal as bosses and clasps, and I really enjoyed it. I learnt to solder and made a pair of copper earrings, and I was so excited, I decided to take a sabbatical from bookbinding – but once I started making jewellery, I didn’t want to go back.”
“We’ve set ourselves rules,” announced Lucie, introducing the jewellery they have created as Savage & Chong, “everything we do is handmade and everything we do is made here. Everything is silver or gold and it is not plated or cast.”
There is a subtle undemonstrative beauty to this work, which plays upon varied tones of silver and gold enhanced by oxidising or heat-treatment – while the forms evoke both the natural world, of seedpods and shells, and the paraphernalia of textiles, threads, buttons and lace bobbins. Rather than jewellery for display, these are pieces designed to give enduring pleasure to the wearer, discreet keepsakes to cherish.
Neither Lucie or Romilly would have made this work alone, it is the outcome of their combined sensibilities, abilities, judgement and experience. “I felt a great determination not to give up my life which I loved, and I still do,” Romilly assured me. Yet, in winning back her art, she has boldly ventured into a new creative territory with Lucie and it gives their work a distinctive quality that is unique and compelling.
Romilly Saumarez Smith
Portraits copyright © Lucinda Douglas Menzies