Golden Age: the jewellery of Sian Evans
A small globule of molten gold glows a deep orange and begins to cool, brightening into yellow-white towards the centre like the embers of a dying star, forming circular surface patterns as it gradually recovers its solid form. It sits on the cracked grey surface of a piece of charcoal, waiting to be shaped and beaten into transformation. It’s a ring Sian is about to make for Goldsmiths’ Fair, and part of a process that hasn’t changed for centuries.
On this scale, Sian Evans hasn’t been a goldsmith for very long – a mere 35 years in fact, using techniques that wouldn’t be unfamiliar to goldsmiths from antiquity and the middle ages. Primarily favouring gold as a material, her work has evolved alongside the processes used to make the pieces, as markers of both time and skill, as she says: “The pieces for Goldsmiths’ Fair come from several collections, what unites them are the materials that they are created from, from gold and stones that I have collected and up-cycled – formally they refer to archetypes. My collections develop over time and are all different, with new pieces being added over years when I develop a new form. I’m interested in ancient technologies, each of these leave a process thumbprint, which becomes part of the identity of the collection.”
Like breadcrumbs along a forest path, Sian’s jewellery possesses both implicit and explicit markers of time and place, punctuating her life as a jeweller while accessing a sense of the deep past.
“I’m just fascinated by old techniques and finding ingenious solutions to technical challenges.
Her ‘Khufu ring’, for example is cast using sand as a mould, a technique which is thousands of years old. As she explains: “The grains of sand create a textured surface, which I refer to as ‘pixelated’ and creates a low-resolution version of the master form used to create the new piece.” Her interest in developing these skills comes from a life-long love of ancient history, jewellery and metalworking with the intention of combining ancient practice and forms into contemporary work. Even her choice of tools reflect a creativity rooted in time: “I use mainly hand tools to fabricate my work and have a superb collection of hammers, punches, triplets, mandrels and formers. I’m not anti-CAD I’m just fascinated by old techniques and finding ingenious solutions to technical challenges.”
Much like how an archaeologist records and collects their findings, painstakingly brushing away the sand to reveal hidden treasure, Sian’s work draws upon this wonder of discovery and the need to connect with the past. But she also treats her skillset in the same way as this archaeologist would treat a newly unearthed object, “I’m a collector of techniques,” she says, “building on a lost base of knowledge, making the unfamiliar, familiar through experimentation”. Of course, it helps if you have this mindset from a young age – Sian was brought up on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset by parents who encouraged creativity and inquisitiveness. The cornerstones for any historian, archaeologist, natural philosopher and yes, goldsmith.
These qualities were needed to develop the passion and patience required to master the ancient techniques that define her work. Her ‘Vintage Sapphire Ring’ was made using processes that a medieval goldsmith would recognise. As she says: “It’s fabricated from wire and sheet made from recycled gold and the stones come from the rings which the gold was up-cycled from. The wires start life as small ingots, hammered and then squeezed through rolling mills and wire drawing plates. It’s laborious work, with many rounds of drawing and annealing to keep the metal soft. But I love the engineering involved in this ring.”
It is then logical that Sian also draws inspiration from another form of natural engineering found in the botanical structures of plants. She is most proud of her ‘Anther earrings’ which draw on the classical representation of 18th century botanical illustrations. “Entirely hand-made, all the sheet and wire elements are made from scratch from recycled gold ingots…they are a study in balance and proportion.” If it can be created and collected, Sian’s jewellery has a place in its interpretation. Sian also counts stones as part of this natural pattern of collecting and codifying nature. She was taught cutting and carving many years ago at the London Met by Charlotte De Syllas. “I think I’m ready to put what I’ve learned to good use,” she says – “I have a collection of stones I have built up by swapping with my customers and am ready to embark on a new technical journey”.
The intriguing thing about Sian’s work is the sense that there is actually no end to this journey of learning from the best that civilisation has had to offer, while discarding the worst parts to the wastepaper bin of history. As a contemporary goldsmith, she turns concepts of natural history, culture, and civilisation into jewellery by selecting the skills, forms and techniques that are worthy of preservation. By making her own collection of these skills and influences and communicating them in precious metal, Sian’s jewellery is designed to not just be worn, but rediscovered again and again.
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