The Brooch Unpinned: The Goldsmiths' Company Collection 1961-2021

Understanding Jewellery recently visited The Brooch Unpinned: The Goldsmiths’ Company Collection 1961-2021 at the Goldsmiths’ Centre, Farringdon, where we met with the exhibition’s curator, Dr Dora Thornton.

Left to right: ‘Flow’ brooch (2019), Louise O’Neill, ‘Chaos Parquet Koin’ brooch pendant (2018), Jo Hayes Ward, Brooch (2007), Daphne Krinos, ‘Primavera’ (Spring) brooch (2018), Jacqueline Ryan, ‘Random Master’ brooch (2011), Jo Hayes Ward, ‘Serlio Doorcase’ brooch (1983), Kevin Coates and ‘Moon Brooch A’ (2020), Kayo Saito
© Photographer: Julia Skupny

But, first, some background – the Goldsmiths’ Centre, founded in 2012, is the UK’s leading charity for the professional training of goldsmiths. Trainee and working goldsmiths as well as those interested in jewellery and silversmithing come together in a unique community located within walking distance of Hatton Garden, the UK’s biggest diamond trading centre. The Centre came about through the investment of £17.5m made by the Goldsmiths’ Company – the largest ever made by the Company, representing a unique collaboration between the 700 year old livery company founded to regulate the trade of the goldsmith and its forward focused training arena for goldsmiths of the future.

‘Malloch Street Rose’ brooch / ‘Stair Street Dandelion’ brooch / ‘Renfrew Lane Lily’ brooch, 2017, Jonathan Boyd
© Photographer: Richard Valencia
The Goldsmiths’ Company Collection

And, secondly, some context – in 1961 the Goldsmiths’ Company held The International Exhibition of Modern Jewellery 1890 – 1961. The idea for the exhibition had originated with V&A Museum curators Carol Hogben and Shirley Bury, but when the V&A was unable to host the show Graham Hughes, Art Director at the Goldsmiths’ Company, stepped in and Goldsmiths’ Hall hosted the event. Now sixty years on, it is fascinating to consider the sheer range of exhibits – antique and avant-garde pieces were displayed along with works by independent designers and jewellery studios from around the world. Brooches were pinned to fabric covered pyramids each housed in their own illuminated glass pyramid. Today’s exhibition also uses pyramids in bronze which allow the brooches to be held in place by magnetised mounts, so giving the viewer the ability to view the piece from all angles.

‘Rolling Waves in Moonlight’ brooch, 2017, Ute Decker
© Photographer: Clarissa Bruce
The Goldsmiths’ Company Collection
The brooch is shown from behind, revealing its butterfly clips

The Goldsmiths’ Company Collection – contemporary studio art jewellery in precious metals – dates from the 1961 exhibition, as can also be traced the new and bold era in modern jewellery design, with the brooch sitting at its heart. Of all jewels the brooch covers perhaps the widest design spectrum – from a simple, practical pin through to a full-blown fantastical work of art fashioned in precious metals and gemstones, these and all forms in between are, of course, wearable. In the years since the exhibition the Goldsmiths’ Company has become a major patron and collector of modern studio art jewellery.

‘Amaru’ brooch, 2019, (back and front), Emmeline Hastings
© Photographer: Richard Valencia
The Goldsmiths’ Company Collection

And so, to The Brooch Unpinned – the works displayed cover a rich and varied gamut, from Jonathan Boyd’s trio of silver enamelled corsage pieces, reflecting contemporary objects to be found in the streets of Glasgow to Ute Decker’s Rolling Waves in Moonlight, the first piece in Fair Trade gold in the Company’s collection – a bold, sculptural curled ribbon, its flowing structure taking the viewer on an engaging almost lyrical journey. For Understanding Jewellery, two pieces still resonate with us, Amaru, 2019, by Emmeline Hastings – an intriguing, curvaceous piece created in dense layers of precious metallic scales, the surface of which seems undulate when caught in the light. And, from a group of pieces created at the time of the 1961 exhibition – and all looking timelessly contemporary – the genius maker Andrew Grima’s piece, simply labelled as ‘brooch’, 1962; a desert rose crystal nestled in gold and diamond tendrils. It’s a clever design – from the front the crystal appears to be held in place by the swirling tendrils, whereas from the back it’s the support comes from a circular gold frame. Again, the design evokes movement, this time of sea creatures caught in an ocean’s currents.

Brooch, 1962, (front and back), Andrew Grima (made by H. J. Co. Ltd)
© Photographer: Clarissa Bruce
The Goldsmiths’ Company Collection

There are many more stories to explore in the exhibition, and this is the enduring magic of the brooch and the possibilities offered by its form – whether created in 1961 or just a few years ago.

Further information:

The Brooch Unpinned: The Goldsmiths’ Company Collection 1961-2021 is open until Friday 20th August.

Find out more about The Brooch Unpinned | Visit The Goldsmiths’ Centre site here

The Brooch Unpinned: The Goldsmiths’ Company Collection: the book to accompany the exhibition, written by the Curator of the Goldsmiths’ Company Collection, Dr Dora Thornton, is now available to buy online. Visit here to find out more and to make your purchase.