Talismans of tomorrow
Ellis Mhairi Cameron can usually be found at her workshop at the Goldsmiths’ Centre in London – she’ll probably be holding a small wax mould, deep in concentration, using handmade tools to carve and shape the wax into a 3D version of her initial designs. Carving and casting is one of the key techniques she uses to create her one-of-a-kind pieces, meticulously adding character, detail and finality at each step, using techniques that can be traced to goldsmiths of antiquity.
It may sound like a simple process but it’s one that has many challenges along the way, with multiple stages. Ellis says: “First I design on paper, then move into wax. I then cast my samples in bronze, and work into them with tools, to refine the surfaces and add detail. When I am happy with the design, I take a rubber mould of the bronze model. This mould is then used to make a wax, which is then cast in gold.” Most pieces she makes can take 4-6 weeks of just conceptual refinement before the exploratory modelling can begin.
She favours 14ct gold as it complements her preferred use of cognac diamonds and describes her work as sculptural yet easy to wear. But more than this she wants her work to have a resonant meaning, that echoes beyond today, she believes that “jewellery should not be left only for special occasions, but worn and enjoyed every day, to eventually be passed down through the generations.” It’s not just about aesthetic but also about longevity – Ellis would go a step further than the poet John Keats in that a thing of beauty should be a joy forever: the toughest of quality assurance procedures and a prerequisite for her skill as a goldsmith.
“symbols have always had a certain power and can help connect us with this vein of culture and history that runs deep through our psyches.
What better place for this desire of longevity to be captured than by using examples from the past that have already been through this most difficult of tests. Growing up in the Highlands of Scotland, Ellis “fell in love with its history; the ancient buildings, the rugged seascape, and the many artefacts and jewellery hoards which have been found buried within the earth.” Her most recent pieces refine this idea by using a particular set of historically significant native objects, that of talismans and the social and historic meaning of their use. Ellis describes them as “objects created throughout our history and worn as forces of protection, as well as for their beauty”. A piece that defines this sense of protection and longevity is the XVI Diamond Shield Ring, a bold statement ring that showcases her love of texture, colour and unusual diamonds. “It took a lot of design exploration from initial sketches and modelling to develop into this final piece.”
Ellis has also used the Gaelic language to help inform the design of her pieces. She points to the Scottish Gaelic word caim as the starting point for this work. “Caim can be traced back to the word sanctuary as a caim was “an invisible circle of safety, drawn around the body with the hand, a reminder of being watched over and cared for, even in the bleakest of times. In ancient Scottish jewellery, the circle is used continuously as an emblem for strength and courage.” The significance of such inspiration given the context of the current day is not lost on her – “symbols have always had a certain power and can help connect us with this vein of culture and history that runs deep through our psyches.”
Her talisman collection is then her “signature form which holds strong narrative meaning” and positions her jewellery as pieces to be judged as part of a wider, shared meaning of heritage, where they become instant artefacts. Take the LXIVV Cognac Diamond Half Eternity Band as a prime example of this. Longevity is a beauty that holds rewards beyond how something merely looks; there’s always a sense of something deeper and more fulfilling, and to do this with a sophisticated cultural sensitivity is something to be treasured.
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