Wendy Ramshaw (1939–2018)

'The Bow Ring’ ringset, 1975 (left)

Ringset, 15 part, 1972 (middle)

Ringset, 6 part, 1971 (right)

“Wendy Ramshaw’s career spans the most remarkable and exciting period in jewellery history…” Clare Phillips, The Elizabeth Gage Curator of Jewellery at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A).

Wendy Ramshaw OBE was one of the most important British post-war artist jewellers. Her iconic ring sets, which she began making in the 1960s and produced throughout her long career, present multiple rings on metal or turned acrylic stands, emphasising their sculptural role. Shirley Bury, curator at the V&A Museum in the 1960s and 70s, confirmed that Ramshaw’s radical ring sets constituted a “typologically new” form of jewellery. In the words of art critic Marina Vaizey, the rings on their stands appear “like sentinels, but of the most beneficent kind.” For jewellery historian Peter Hinks “They are both savage and sophisticated like the emblems of a fierce and ancient priesthood.” Ramshaw herself described her ring sets very straightforwardly as “based on the arrangement of a series of very simple abstract shapes which have come together in varying combinations, scales and relationships.”

Rings below, reading clockwise from left:
‘The Bow Ring’ ringset, 8 part, 1975, 18ct gold, white and red enamel
Ringset, 9 part, 1972, 18ct yellow gold, carnelian, amethyst, tourmaline, pink and orange enamel
Ring, 1976, silver, onyx, gold granules
Ring, 1976, silver, carnelian, gold granules

Rings below, reading clockwise from left:
Ringset, 15 part, 1972, 18ct gold, chrysoprase, amethyst, agate, tourmaline
Ringset, 6 part, 1971, 9ct gold, cabochon green and blue agate, green enamel
Ringset, 17 part, 1972, 18ct gold, amethyst, nickel silver stand

Ramshaw was born in Sunderland into a family of seafarers and industrial heritage, design and materials were a significant part of her visual language. She studied illustration and fabric design at Newcastle College of Art and Industrial Design, followed by an Art Teachers Diploma at Reading University in 1961, where she met her husband, the designer David Watkins. The pair were a formidable creative partnership as well as phenomenally successful independent artists. In the early 1960s they produced acrylic fashion jewellery called ‘Optik Art Jewellery’, which they sold through department stores and boutiques, including Mary Quant’s shop on the King’s Road. This was followed in 1966-67 by the ‘Something Special’ range of paper jewellery, designed to be fun, frivolous and throw-away.
The V&A Collection includes a gold and pearl ring, one of the earliest rings Ramshaw made and sold in precious metal in 1965. She began seriously designing jewellery in silver, including the first of her ring sets, in the late 1960s, undertaking a post-graduate course at the Central College of Art and Design in 1969. Graham Hughes, Art Director of the Goldsmiths’ Company, was a fierce advocate of her work and acquired her jewels for the Company Collection throughout his career, including many ring sets: “Wendy brings to us an ever changing idiom within her constant language of jewellery.” Ramshaw became a Freewoman (one of the first women to be admitted) and Lady Liveryman of the Company, was awarded an OBE in 1993 and a CBE in 2003. Hughes wrote a book on Ramshaw and Watkins in 2009, and on Ramshaw’s death in 2019 the Company held a memorial exhibition of her groundbreaking work. Also to celebrate her work in 2019 the Company acquired Ramshaw’s seminal ‘Three Cone Necklace’, made in 1982 from 18 carat gold and white Wedgwood jasperware. The necklace was one which Ramshaw kept for herself, and wore to the opening of the 1982 exhibition of her Wedgwood collection at the V&A.