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Sarah Ainslie’s Hatton Garden Portraits

April 27, 2018
by the gentle author

In recent weeks, I have enjoyed the privilege of accompanying Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie into high security workshops to meet some of the most skilled craftsmen and women working in the creation of precious jewellery in Hatton Garden and Clerkenwell. These portraits were commissioned by The Goldsmith’s Centre for the exhibition Hidden Treasures which runs until 2nd May.

Russell Lownsbough, Designer, Wax-Carver & Goldsmith

Russell Lownsbough

Dave Merry, Hallmarking Expert at the Assay Office, Goldsmiths Hall“I am responsible for training and apprenticeships at the Assay Office but I am also a maker and a sampler. We employ twenty-two people and test six thousand articles every day. An exciting part of my job is going out on raids with the police to shops where they are selling counterfeit jewellery.”

Dave Merry - “The phrase ‘up to scratch’ derives from the ancient practice of testing precious metals by rubbing them against a touchstone and applying aqua regia – known as ‘the acid test.’ I have had this stone for forty-seven years, since I was given it when I first walked in the door.”

John Taylor, Gemstone Cutter

John Taylor

Pete Rome, Gemstone Cutter

Pete Rome

Steve Goldsmith, Polisher

Steve Goldsmith

Niall Paisley, Diamond Setter “I’ve been in the trade twenty-seven years, I started at sixteen. You learn a lot by heating stones, the hardness of the stones and the stress they will endure – diamonds can take any level of abuse whereas emeralds are brittle.”

Niall Paisley

Jennifer Bloy, Designer of Jewellery, Silverware & Objet d’Art - “I wanted to be a smith but they wouldn’t let me because I am a woman, so I started making reproductions – but then there was a job going as a designer in Hatton Garden and I got it. Because I worked as a maker, I know how things are made, so I can design for making.”

Jennifer Bloy “I bought this stone, I love stones and I love colour.”

Ingo Henn, Master Goldsmith, Henn of London“My great grandfather started in 1900, he was a stone cutter. He came from a family of fifteen and at twelve years old he was sent to be trained. When I was seventeen, I started as an apprentice in the family company but I have been designing since I was sixteen and I have been in London twenty-two years now. Any gemstone is valuable but it is not just down to its monetary value. The key is never to overpower a stone if the setting is too big or the design is too busy.”

Wayne Parrott, Master Engraver - “In 1908, the security engravers at the Bank of England earned more than the governors. I began at thirteen years old, attending evening classes at Sir John Cass College and I was taught by George Friend. Later, I returned to the Cass as a teacher and lectured for over forty years. We are all artists in what we do and I have produced countless designs.”

Wayne Parrott - “I specialise in designing seals.”

Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie

HIDDEN TREASURES, an exhibition of work by the Fellows of the Institute of Professional Goldsmiths runs until 3rd May at The Goldsmith’s Centre, 42 Britton St, Clerkenwell, EC1M 5AD

You may also like to read about

Harry Permutt, Master Goldsmith

At Margolis Silver

7 Responses leave one →
  1. Paul Loften permalink
    April 27, 2018

    Thanks for this wonderful view of the “Garden” . To get to the level of skills that these guys have you have to had started it from an apprentiship on leaving school. I became interested in learning the skills just after I was married in my 30′s and I attended night courses at Sir John Cass and elsewhere in the hope I could become a silversmith and jeweller. Unfortunately or fortunately as the case maybe , 3 children came along and put a stop to that. But I enjoyed it so much I took courses of all varieties after work and made an occasional piece now and then . I seriously picked it up again when I retired from my job in libraries . I know I will never be able to do what they do , but the knowledge that I gained has not been wasted . It is now my passion in life apart from reading the Gentle Author, that is.

  2. Greta Kelly permalink
    April 27, 2018

    Very satisfying to see that computers can’t do everything. Such talent in the hands of these craftsmen and women.

  3. Helen Breen permalink
    April 27, 2018

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, very intriguing piece about these workmen/women. It appears that the youngest one featured has 27 years experience.

    Who will take their place?

  4. Sally Baldwin permalink
    April 27, 2018

    What truly excellent portraits! Hats off to Sarah Ainslie, not easy to get such great lighting and composition in cramped quarters. Loved the story. And I’d love to see a feature on Sarah at work, one of these days!

  5. April 27, 2018

    You’ve taken us inside a rarified world……and thanks to Sarah’s photos, we really feel a part of it.
    I was very moved by this work environment…..all about function and familiarity……where such beautiful things are made by expert artisans.

    Just LOOK at the lovely glint of sunlight hitting that stone in John Taylor’s hand……and the gleam in his eye!

    A stunning series.

  6. April 27, 2018

    It was great to be a part of this. Wonderful photos by Sarah. These are people who are rarely seen by the public, but make the jewellery for famous brands and designers you all know.

    Last few days of the exhibition left, today, Monday and Tuesday. Well worth a visit. Even if I say so myself…

  7. Ros permalink
    April 27, 2018

    I don’t know which to be more delighted by, the fact that such skilled and interesting people still exist, Sarah Ainsley’s excellent photos, or learning how the phrases ‘up to scratch’ and ‘the acid test’ came to be. A lovely post all round.

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