“Antique-inspired yet wholly contemporary”
Her first career in international development took Ella Fearon-Low all around the world. This journey would see her collect and acquire inspiration from everywhere she went. Several years later, those visual memories would be translated into a beautiful and distinctive jewellery collection, and a new career.
Ella Fearon-Low is exhibiting at Goldsmiths’ Fair for the first time, and the joy of this is palpable. “It’s been one of my career goals to exhibit at the Fair,” she tells me. “It’s just such a huge privilege. Everybody who is on a jewellery journey is looking to the Fair for inspiration. It’s an amazing event that’s different from anything else there is.”
Ella could almost be describing her own work: unique collections of brooches and earrings made from her signature material, Lucite (a type of sheet plastic) and inspired by her childhood and, later, travels in South East Asia.
“I think the influences of my childhood are evident in my work,” she says. “I was surrounded by the language of art and design growing up and this has really influenced my work because it has given me such a rich visual dialect and a deep understanding of the motifs that filter into design over time” she explains.
“I just love it [Lucite] because it’s light and soft, and despite its humble origin it can be hand carved and polished to give it a stone like quality – a rich deep lustre with a historical context.
“I also acquired an interest in the South Asian sub-continent through stories and images of family who had lived there over generations. This led to my first career in international development after completing a BA in South Asian and Development Studies at SOAS University. I think there are visual cues in my work from my time in South Asia, the colours and shapes are so distinctive, and I love them.”
Ella’s work has been attracting quite a following since she launched her jewellery business in 2016. Rachel Garrahan, Watches & Jewellery Editor at Vogue, has described her collection for Goldsmiths’ Fair as ‘antique-inspired yet wholly contemporary’. The award-winning Vogue journalist selected Ella’s Lancelot brooch as one of her top six picks from the hundreds of pieces on show by 136 exhibitors. “I was absolutely delighted to be selected,” Ella says. “It was very unexpected and exciting”.
So why Lucite? What first attracted Ella to this material?
“I started training as a jeweller part-time at Morley College. While there, I worked on a project that got me started working in mixed materials, which is when I came across Lucite. I quickly developed an intimate relationship with the material.”
She goes on, “I just love it [Lucite] because it’s light and soft, and despite its humble origin it can be hand carved and polished to give it a stone like quality – a rich deep lustre with a historical context. Lucite gives great energy to my work and allows me to make luxurious and fun pieces on a much larger scale than I could in stone or precious metal. And the colour is just so pleasing to the eye.”
Working in non-precious metals has given Ella the creative range and freedom to develop strong statement pieces – “I don’t do tiny jewellery” – that has caught the eye of younger jewellery enthusiasts. Nonetheless, she has relished the challenge to incorporate more precious metal into her Goldsmiths’ Fair collection.
“The Lanceolate Brooch is one of the most luxurious pieces I have made. It’s reasonably large and looks quite arresting when worn. It has a beautiful gold vermeil back plate which offsets the sheen of the polished black Lucite and vintage pearls: the pearls are particularly lovely and I kept them aside especially for this brooch.” She adds, “It is also the first piece I have made using 18ct gold which was interesting as it is softer than 9ct which I usually use for my rivets and pins.”
Ella’s collections are always centred on brooches, almost exclusively for this year’s Fair. “I adore brooches. They are miniature wearable art works. I had no idea, when I started creating my latest work, that the Goldsmiths’ Company would be staging their first online exhibition on brooches. I am thrilled that they are, and I hope this will shine a light on these, sometimes underestimated, pieces of jewellery.”
The creative process Ella goes through to design a brooch can take years. “I often collect visual fragments and ideas for months or years before they find the right place in my designs,” she says.
The challenge comes with translating those visual fragments into pieces. “I think the challenge I face is filtering and realising my designs. I always start with lots and lots of little sketches that almost fall out of me, but then I have to decide which ones are strongest and can be realised in a way that I will be pleased with and will fit with my practice.” The final hammer blows that rivet the pearls she is so fond of applying to her work, is a challenge of a different kind. An almost nail-biting process.
“I use riveting in most of my work. Because I use mixed materials, I can’t join the components together with heat or fire and so I create tiny gold pins that are positioned through my materials and hammered at both ends in turn to create a small pin head that prevents them from falling away from each other. This is often the final part of my making process – all other finishing has occurred apart from the adding of pearls. It is nerve-wracking to take a hammer repeatedly to pristine finished surfaces – polished, oxidised, waxed and plated. It can all can be scratched and ruined so easily.”
So, what’s next for Ella on her jewellery journey?
“Hand carving my Lucite has definitely led me to be interested in stone carving. I would love to learn this skill with someone like Charlotte De Syllas. The translucency of stones and the depth of colour could be interesting to explore in my work. I would also be interested in using these techniques to carve non-precious stones and other materials.”
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