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New Designs From Old Treasures

September 30, 2014
by the gentle author

Renaissance Bronze bridle motif embellished with gold and set upon a silver pin

Jewellery maker Romilly Saumarez Smith has long been fascinated by all the small pieces of metalwork from previous ages that litter our landscape, endlessly lost, buried and rediscovered. The majority are not of significant quality or value to merit inclusion in a museum yet – however modest they may be – each of these items possesses a potent magic of their own. They speak of their makers and owners who inhabited this land centuries ago, evoking other times and other ways.

Over the last three years, Romilly has developed a collection of jewellery that cherishes these artefacts, presenting them in settings and mounts which are sympathetic to their material and form. A cardinal principle is that no object is damaged and the patina acquired over time is preserved.

“Because they come from the landscape, I decided to put them back into a landscape,” explained Romilly, referring to the subtle sculptural form of her work which exploits the possibilities of burnt and oxidised silver and gold to produce muted tones that offer a natural complement to the worn surface of old metal.

“Many of these are things that people have lost, maybe they fell off a bridle on the battlefield, and were once searched for,” Romilly told me, as I wondered over the great variety of her ancient treasures laid out upon her table in Stepney.  Each one has been rescued now for perpetuity, ingeniously worked into brooches, mounting on rings or attaching onto pendants, so they will be valued and preserved safely by their new owners.

Upon closer examination, you realise that each piece consists a puzzle –  or rather – a solution to a puzzle. Every artefact possesses different qualities of form, challenging the designer to conceive of the ideal means to present it sympathetically – proposing a dialogue between the original maker and the jewellery designer today. It can be a conversation in which each speaks a different language with results both humorous and poetic – such as the pair of gold rings, entitled ‘King & Queen,’ in a setting which is unexpectedly revealing of the quirky personalities manifest in two old buckles.

There is an irresistible romance in these exquisite pieces that declare their elegant contemporary handmade quality while also engaging with the distant past so affectionately and respectfully. No longer discarded junk metal, they become precious talismans – setting the concerns of our moment against the wider perspective of history, offering a welcome consolation and a necessary sense of proportion to the fortunate owner living in our modern age.

Dark silver brooch with a Roman turban nail head, gilded pins and a piece of eighteenth century paste

Medieval button and Renaissance finial mounted upon a silver ring

Nineteenth century buckle with teeth encased in gold

Eighteenth century thimble with silver embellishment

Broken eighteenth century thimble with gold edge attached to serve as  a ring

Renaissance metal finial from a leather belt set upon a gold pendant

Medieval enamel button mounted upon a gold ring

Nineteenth century thimble with gold

Nineteenth century cut stone mounted in reverse in gold with pearls

King & Queen, buckles mounted as rings

Bronze Saxon brooch with traces of original gilding and addition of gold ring

Medieval buttons mounted upon gold earrings

Saxon bronze pin head mounted upon a silver ring

Golden hand from an effigy mounted upon a silver ring

Medieval castle brooch adorned with pearls and gold pins

Eighteenth century clasp filled with black pearls and gold pins mounted on a gold ring

Silver and gold pendant with black pearls, nineteenth century paste and earlier studs, finials and nail heads

Saxon ring embellished with pearls threaded on gold wire

Nineteenth century thimble mounted upon a gold ring

Saxon ring  embellished with pearls threaded on gold wire

Medieval button mounted upon a gold ring

Nineteenth century thimble embellished with gold and silver wire

Photographs copyright © Lucinda Douglas Menzies

NEWFOUNDLAND – Joint exhibition of Romilly Saumarez Smith‘s jewellery alongside the work of Edmund de Waal runs Friday 10th to Sunday 12th October, 11am – 5pm

If you would like an invitation to attend the exhibition please email

You may also like to read about

Romilly Saumarez Smith & Lucie Gledhill, Jewellery Makers

15 Responses leave one →
  1. Susan permalink
    September 30, 2014

    These are beautiful. Is there a website to connect to, or does one have to go to the show? (I live in Canada, so that’s not likely to happen…sadly.)

  2. September 30, 2014

    Brilliant idea

  3. September 30, 2014

    Fantastic idea! And Romilly Saumarez Smith found a market gap with it. — Would like to purchase some of these unique masterworks, but you do well to be quiet about the price…

    Love & Peace

  4. Rupert Neil Bumfrey (@rupertbu) permalink
    September 30, 2014

    delightful recycling……….

  5. Maya permalink
    September 30, 2014

    Really unique pieces – not ‘samey’ like in most shops!

  6. September 30, 2014

    Wonderful artefacts beautifully photographed.

  7. September 30, 2014

    There was something familiar about these pieces. I checked and last year you had done a blog about Romilly. These pieces are simply brilliant! I liked her work last year and this year they are even better.

    Beautifully done, well presented, lovely to view.


  8. Candice Lyons permalink
    September 30, 2014

    All I can say is “awesome!” Amazingly beautiful.

  9. September 30, 2014


  10. annie s permalink
    October 1, 2014

    What stunning, original work – love it

  11. October 1, 2014

    what an amazing collection…fabulous!

  12. October 1, 2014

    Thanks so much for including the link to your post about the jewellery makers. The jewellery is amazing, and their way of working together is even more so.

  13. October 2, 2014

    Lovely and creative.

  14. Viky permalink
    October 3, 2014

    Beautiful pieces, very creative. 🙂

  15. October 26, 2014

    These are fantastic, and so beautifully and thoiughtfully made. Had I not been out of the country earlier this month I’d have definitely gone to the exhibition. Will there be another London show? In the meantime please check out my own jewellery etc made from fragments of clay smoking pipes that I collect from the Thames foreshores:
    Thanks, Jane

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