The Goldsmiths’ Company

Posted by Jo Beckett on

Goldsmiths’ Fair celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, and I’m thrilled to be taking part once again. I realised that although us jewellers are very familiar with The Goldsmiths’ Company, there’s more to it than simply the Fair - you may not know the full breadth of what The Goldsmiths’ Company does, nor how rich their history is. I’ve put together an overview of its activities for you, and I’ll share the stories behind the four pieces of my jewellery selected for its permanent collection.
 
First of all, what is The Goldsmiths’ Company?
 
The Goldsmiths’ Company is a livery company (that is a Company of the City of London descended from the medieval trade guilds) and membership organisation, that has existed for nearly 700 years.
 
The Goldsmiths’ Company aims to contribute to national life by: 
 
  • Supporting craftspeople, and the industry as a whole, by offering training, education and promotion, particularly through The Goldsmiths’ Centre.
  • Protecting consumers – by testing and hallmarking precious metals at the London Assay Office
  • Improving lives  - by working with charitable, educational and cultural partners to help people improve their lives.

 
History
 
Officially named the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, the Company was founded to regulate the craft or trade of the goldsmith, and received its first royal charter in 1327. It’s been responsible for testing the quality of gold and silver since the 1300s, platinum since 1975 and palladium since 2010.
 
Fair
 
Goldsmiths' Fair is an internationally renowned showcase the UK’s most extraordinary silversmiths and goldsmiths. It celebrates the best established and emerging goldsmithing and silversmithing talent, bringing exemplary creativity, innovation and craftsmanship to Goldsmiths’ Hall each year. The Fair is held in the last week of September and the first week of October and is open to members of the public to browse and buy directly from the participating designers and craftspeople. Originally an event known as ‘Loot’ was held in 1976 where 2000 exhibits by 300 makers were displayed, with every item being on sale for less than £50. The fair in its current form has been running since 1983 and celebrates its 40th anniversary this autumn. 

Goldsmiths Fair
 
I feel extraordinarily lucky to have exhibited at Goldsmiths’ Fair every year since 2007. Being part of such an illustrious community of designers at the Fair has undoubtedly been instrumental in finding new clients and growing my business. It’s an absolute pleasure to meet customers face to face. Some are new to the Fair, others are regulars and sometimes I get visits from old friends who’ve supported me and purchased pieces right from the start - it’s such a treat to see them all. They share a passion for goldsmithing, silversmithing and jewellery in general. So thank you Goldsmiths’ Fair - I am forever grateful that you provide such an exquisite event to showcase my work.
 
The Goldsmiths’ Company Collection
 
3 Edge Lace bangle in 18ct yellow gold
The Goldsmiths’ Company has one of the most impressive collections of around 8,000 pieces of gold and silver jewellery and art medals, dating back from 1350 to the present day. The Goldsmiths’ Company purchases and commissions pieces for their Modern Jewellery collection each year. The Curator and the Deputy Curator put forward pieces or potential commissions for approval by the specialist advisers on the Contemporary Craft Committee, working to ensure that the highest standards are maintained. They use a variety of networks to find pieces that demonstrate innovative design and excellence in precious metal, both from established jewellers and emerging talent.
Random Master Brooch I feel extremely lucky and humbled that The Goldsmiths’ Company have selected four of my pieces for their collection over the years. I’ll tell you all about the stories behind the Three edge lace bangle and aluminium and gold brooch soon - they deserve their own write up!
 
Chaos Parquet Brooch and Pendant
I made the Chaos Parquet brooch and pendant in 2018 and it was bought by The Goldsmiths’ Company for their collection the same year at The Goldsmiths’ Fair. It is created in 18ct yellow gold and set with 15 white needle baguette diamonds. It has a double pronged pin and also a removable chain so can be worn either as a brooch or a pendant.
 
Oval lace ring in 18ct yellow gold
The most recent item that The Goldsmiths’ Company selected of mine was the Oval Lace ring. I was absolutely thrilled - it’s a ring very dear to my heart as it’s a refined version of the first gold ring I ever made when I launched my brand in 2006.
 
Made in my signature aesthetic, the Oval Lace ring is formed of hundreds of golden cubes positioned meticulously in a domed formation in order to catch the light.  Delicate markings on each individual cube add depth and texture. Light hits the cubes and shadows form around the delicate structures when it’s worn, it comes to life dramatically - that’s the magic.
 
Dr Dora Thornton, The Goldsmiths’ Company Curator, said this about the Oval Lace ring:
 
‘This ring joins three of Jo’s pieces in the Collection—two brooches and a bangle—going back to her student days at the Royal College of Art, showing how the Company has long supported her work through purchases and a commission. All her jewellery has a completely contemporary aesthetic while sharing an affinity with the best textured gold from the 1960s, making this a particularly suitable acquisition in the year in which the Company celebrates 60 years since the founding of the Modern Jewellery Collection.’
 
The London Assay Office
 
The London Assay Office is a key function of The Goldsmiths’ Company. All items sold within the UK with elements of gold, silver, platinum or palladium are legally required to be hallmarked. Hallmarking originated in the 15th century when London craftsmen were first required to bring their artefacts to Goldsmiths' Hall for assaying and marking.
 
Jo hayes Ward hallmark
 
The above image is the hallmark on one of my rings. It is a mark unique to my jewellery, indeed each jeweller has their own makers’ mark. The crown indicates that the piece is gold, the numbers the fineness of the gold. In this case, 750 stands for 18ct which is a gold alloy; the metal contains 75% pure gold and 25% other metals eg. silver. Fine gold is very soft so alloying it with other precious metals makes it more hardwearing. The panther head is the symbol for The London Assay Office, there are also Assay offices in Birmingham, Sheffield and Edinburgh. Finally, the letter refers to the year the piece was hallmarked. The font, case, and shield shape all change to signal one specific year.
 
I love the tradition of the UK hallmark. It means that in years to come the jewellery I have made can not only be traced back to me but also tell you where and when the piece was made.
 
Goldsmiths’ Centre, The Goldsmiths’ Company Charity and The Goldsmiths’ Company Library
 
As part of The Goldsmiths’ Company’s commitment to supporting the industry, it funds apprenticeships and assists with training upcoming craftspeople through The Goldsmiths’ Centre.
 
The Goldsmiths’ Company also supports a diverse range of charities. From theatre projects, homeless charities, dance groups, the Museum of London, music projects and charities reducing poverty - there’s a clear focus on local and arts based charities.
 
Last but not least, The Goldsmiths’ Company library was established in the 1950s and is dedicated solely to silver and jewellery in the UK with over 8,000 books and 15,000 images, magazines, journals, films, research collections and files. The library includes The Goldsmiths’ Company’s archives, which date back to the 14th century.
 
I hope this has provided you with an insight into this extraordinary organisation. As I’ve mentioned, the next Goldsmiths’ Fair marks its 40th anniversary, and as such is set to be bigger and more exciting than ever. Please lock 27th September until 9th October in your diaries, I do hope to see you there, if not before. 

Goldsmiths Hall Staircase

Image credits:

Goldsmiths Hall - 19th centuary hand coloured engraving of Goldsmiths Hall from a drawing by Thomas Shepard

Goldsmiths Fair - View of the ballroom and Jo at Goldsmiths fair.

Three Edge Lace bangle (Made in 2006, purchased in 2007) - Photograph by Jo Hayes Ward

Random Master Brooch (Commissioned in 2011) - Photograph by Jo Hayes Ward

Chaos Parquet brooch and pendant (2018) - Photograph by Jo Hayes Ward

Oval lace ring 2013 (purchased 2021) - Photograph by Jo Hayes Ward

Goldsmiths Hall's grand staircase

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