Jennie Gill - the Sheffield-based jewellery maker
PUBLISHED: 00:00 09 July 2019 | UPDATED: 09:26 09 July 2019
Jennie Gill has been designing and making jewellery in Sheffield for 28 years. This month she’s exhibiting her work at the inaugural Goldsmiths North summer selling fair.
I'm based at Persistence Works in Sheffield, the country's first purpose-built art studio complex. I've been here for 20 years - since the building opened - and I love it. It's a brilliant environment to work in: creative, supportive and productive. It's an exciting place to be. You don't feel isolated here, because there's around 60 of us under one roof, including textile artists, painters, ceramicists, silversmiths and book-binders. We've all got our own spaces, but generally we'll end up in each other's studios for a cuppa or a chat. Equally, when you need to get your head down, you can just lock your door and crack on.
I used to make jewellery for high street fashion labels such as French Connection, Phase Eight and Oasis; but now I've pared everything back and work on commissions for individual clients, which is my biggest pleasure. They'll choose a stone and then I'll create a design which I hope they're going to love. I design and make a lot of rings, but I'll also design earrings and necklaces and I've just been working on large diamond cuffs.
I work in a traditional way, with hand tools and basic machinery. Do I get nervous about handling diamonds? Well, they're one of the toughest stones you can work with, so I don't really think about it. Emeralds and precious stones can be a lot more nerve-wracking because they can chip and crack more easily. My favourite material has to be 18 carat gold which is perfectly malleable; but I also love working with oxidised silver. And, yes, I love diamonds too because they make me smile. It's funny: when I accidentally drop a stone and I'm on my hands and knees looking for it, I always find the one I dropped last week…
My workshop is about 60 square metres with its own balcony. I have an area where people can discuss commissions, but my favourite part of the studio has to be my beautiful workbench which was designed by David Mellor (the late Sheffield-born silversmith and Royal Designer for Industry, famous for his cutlery) for the then Sheffield College of Art back in the 1960s. I found the bench in a secondhand shop and bought it not realising he'd designed it, but one of his classmates told me its history. I used to work for David so it's lovely to have that connection with him.
I was born in Whitby, did a diploma at York College, and then came to Sheffield to do a silversmithing degree. I didn't plan to stay here, but the city absorbs you somehow. The shows coming to Sheffield are getting more exciting. I'm one of 60 independent makers from across the UK who have been chosen to exhibit at the Goldsmiths North fair. I'll be showing new pieces of handmade jewellery, including octahedron diamonds which look rough and raw. I've been mixing them with lovely, cut faceted diamonds and oxidised silver. I've also got a bit of Whitby jet on display, too - obviously!
The best thing about what I do is that I genuinely feel as though I've never had a proper job in my life. I just love coming in here of a morning, putting the kettle on and having my own creative space.
Goldsmiths North, Cutlers' Hall