Once in a while I get a challenging commission which I both love and hate.
This is the second incarnation of a gent’s leather bracelet that I was asked to make for a client. The first incarnation failed to stay on the wrist and so it came back to me to have the catch redesigned.
Designing catches is something that I enjoy but I find it fiendishly difficult to come up with something that is simple, yet secure and that also can be operated with one hand.
Putting this one together took the best part of two days and involved a lot of mucking about with different configurations and tiny springs made from guitar strings. Any thought of making a profit disappeared very early on but there’s still a pleasure to had from staggering over the finish line and ending up with something that looks good … and actually works! You can see some of the stages in the construction in the gallery below.
So far client and bracelet have remained integrated and I’m hopeful that they will remain so, as I’m not sure I could face designing the Mk III.
I’ve always been somewhat left of centre in terms of my attitude to money, possessions and ownership. I was inspired, as a young man, by the example of the very early days of the Christian church where no one viewed anything they had as their own and all needs were met from a common pot. Sadly it’s not quite the same picture these days.
It could be that things are slipping for me as well and that my early ideals are degenerating into something less laudable. There’s a crab apple tree outside my office window and it’s laden with overripe fruit from last Autumn. The little apples have clearly reached that stage where they are soft enough to eat because there’s a blackbird that has been visiting it most days for the past month, now, that’s been slowly pecking its way through the harvest.
What’s disturbed me is that I’ve found myself thinking, “Mate. You want to get all those apples of the tree and stash them somewhere so that no one else can get them. In fact, you could also start selling them to the other blackbirds as well.”
This may just be the corrosive effect of being too long in business in a capitalist system but I think it may be time to tear up my Communist Party membership card.
We’re in the middle of Christmas madness and I was just reflecting on the fact that it’s not as mad as it used to be.
When most of what I made was going to the shops rather than direct to the customer, the nightmare started around September a reached a pinnacle of lunacy towards the end of November.
Not so many years ago I was supergluing little pads of leather onto the ends of my fingers because the skin had been polished away. You know that it’s time to do this when your finger tips start to ooze blood and picking up a cup of coffee makes you scream.
As Wordsworth said ‘Those days are gone and all their aching joys are no more and all their dizzy raptures.’ (There was a man who knew what it was to make jewellery) It’s early December and I’m sitting here finding time to write a blog. My fingers are largely intact and I don’t have that pale, haunted look that used to worry my relatives at this time of year. For this I have my delightful customers to thank. One of the chief joys of selling direct is not the shorter hours or the higher profit margin but the fact that most of those to whom I sell my wares seem to be such damn fine people. It’s a joy to deal with them and their appreciation makes the whole thing feel worthwhile. Working for the shops, especially the big boys like John Lewis, was really pretty miserable at times but these days. for you, Madam and for you, Sir, I would gladly give up the skin on my fingertips.
“Getting your goods to market” used to mean loading up the cart with turnips and trundling off down the road. In modern parlance means finding any way to get what you produce to the customer.
Here, we meet the legendary figure, ‘The Gatekeeper’. The man or woman who stands between you and the customer and, as often as not shouts ‘You may not pass’. Of course, to the customer this person is known as the ‘shopkeeper’ not the ‘gatekeeper’.
Before the Internet (a concept that genuinely baffles my children) I had great difficulties getting past those gatekeepers. I would take a sample set around to the various shops that I thought would like my work and try and convince them to take a punt on it. It’s a big ask in some ways as they have to commit shop space and money to something that they may not be able to sell.
One guy who was prepared to take that risk was Paul Moore who runs ‘Loot’ in Winchester with his wife Alison. I went into this tiny boutique-like shop tucked in behind WH Smith, about 18 years ago and walked out with two thoughts. The first was “Yes!”, the other was, “Aghh, I’ve got to make it all now.”
Over the years they have been extremely supportive and have promoted my work and become close friends. Now, after 30 years of running the business they are selling up and moving on to other things. Paul is a restless innovator and not well suited to retirement and so there are other plans afoot including a range of personalised jewellery called ‘Family Treasures’.
I want to take this opportunity to thank him and Alison for letting me through the gate and selling so much of my work over the years. Loot will be a big loss to Winchester and another step towards the branding and blanding of the British High Street.
It’s been a while.
In fact I’ve been slacking over the summer whilst business is slow and now the apples have come early.
There are a lot of trees around the area where we live and the apples just tend to ripen, fall and rot. My Scottish ancestry just doesn’t allow me to stand by and see all this waste so I tend to harvest and press as many as I can to provide apple juice for the good times and cider for the bad.
This year the apples started dropping at the end of August so I’ve been doing the work that comes in and using the rest of the time to collect, press, pasteurise and bottle for the months ahead.
It’s a little tedious but, to be honest, I quite enjoy this little taste of subsistence living. It reminds me that for most animals and a great many human beings, life consists of merely finding enough food to survive another day. I really don’t think I’d mind living ‘the good life’… so long as I can get a youthful Felicity Kendal to live it with me.
Next week I’ll make some jewellery.
I’ve been doing a stock take and am quite appalled to see that my stock figure has increased by about 50% since I last did a complete inventory.
The odd thing is that I don’t have much more stock.
It’s actually a reflection of the rise in the cost of materials that we’ve all been ‘enjoying’ over the past few years. Gold, as you’ll know, has reached new highs as the World economy plumbs new depths and this has led to a rush to trade in old jewellery in order to pay for that alluring holiday or meet the next mortgage payment. Sadly many of the companies that will do this for you are paying out much lower values than they should, based on the general public’s ignorance of the current gold fix.
All this raises questions about what actually has intrinsic value. I’ve been asked on a number of occasions to sell a diamond that a friend has been left holding after an abortive attempt at engagement. At that particularly sunny period of their life, they are thrilled to know that the stone they paid £2,000 for will fetch about £300 when sold back into the trade. For this we have De Beers to thank in large part … but that’s another story.
The point here is that the worth of jewellery had better be in what it means to us rather than what we perceive its monitory value to be. We’ve come a long way since the days when jewellery was a way of making your wealth portable and displayable. These days it needs to be valued because it was given to you by someone you love or because you love it as a beautiful object or because you feel it enhances your appearance. Although I use ‘precious’ materials, I would rather that my jewellery was valued for these aspects and I personally think that they endow the work with a more significant value than the vagaries of fluctuating commodity markets.