Goldsmiths’ Fair at 40

By Sophia Tobin, Deputy Librarian

This year Goldsmiths’ Fair will appear on the calendar for the 40th time. Descended from the annual Loot exhibition, which was established by the Goldsmiths’ Company in the 1970s, the very first Goldsmiths’ Fair was held in April 1983 and was described in the Review that year as an ‘experimental venture’. This new event aimed to attract not just those in the trade, but the general public, inviting visitors into the gilded surroundings of Goldsmiths’ Hall to meet makers selected by the Company. Today it attracts collectors from around the world and provides a showcase for goldsmiths at all stages of their career paths. We asked four craftspeople – two established exhibitors, and two newcomers – what Goldsmiths’ Fair means to them.

Ruth Leslie

“It’s wonderful to let people handle the work.”

Newcomer Ruth Leslie exhibited in the online Fair in 2020 and in person in 2021, and for her the sense of community has been vital. “I’ve met so many jewellers I admire, which is inspiring… whilst there is a lot of prestige surrounding the event, the Fair team and other exhibitors are supportive and welcoming,” she says. “I relish feeling like part of the community.” Direct contact with customers has also been rewarding: “It’s been wonderful to let people actually handle and play with the work. Doing the Fair can definitely help boost confidence with talking about your work – something I’ve never found easy!” The Fair has also had its desired effect: getting publicity. “I have gained much exposure and press. It has put my work on the radar.”

Fred Rich

“Meaningful bonds and relationships are created.”
Fred Rich at work in his studio. Photograph by Jayne Lloyd for The Goldsmiths’ Company.

Fred Rich has been exhibiting at Goldsmiths’ Fair since 1983, with the occasional break. “Right from the outset it felt like being a part of an extended, friendly family of makers,” he notes, and mentions how this complements the quality of the work. “There is so much amazing work, all so different, and I feel a real honour to be part of it.” As someone who is based in a workshop full time, the Fair affords him “a fantastic shop window”. Relationships are at the heart of the Fair – with makers but also customers. “Once interested, people can take several years before they actually buy something, but in that time meaningful bonds and relationships are created.” He also values the “instant feedback” for new work, crediting Fair conversations with the creation of a new direction for his work. “I devised a technique where the enamel was in relief with areas of textured silver between them,” he says. “The new pieces went down incredibly well and so I developed the idea further, making them more ambitious and technically demanding… in the process a whole new look had been created.”

Vicki Ambery-Smith

“People invariably get inspired.”

Vicki Ambery-Smith was an exhibitor at the very first Goldsmiths’ Fair, and as a young maker she admits she found it “daunting”. In her mid-20s, she had already set up her workshop, but “this was the first experience of interacting directly with potential customers”. Returning to the Fair in the early 2000s as an established maker, she brought confidence and experience to the event, but still appreciates its unique nature. “Goldsmiths’ Fair was, and still is, the only week of the year that I meet potential clients and sell directly,” she says. “People invariably get inspired by the possibilities of having something specially made and I get a great variety of commissions. I have made rings based on Oxford, Cambridge, London, Venice, Sydney and Letchworth (including a supermarket!).”

Sheng Zhang

“It’s a world famous fair.”

For new exhibitor Sheng Zhang, it was Goldsmiths’ Fair’s reputation as “a world famous fair, celebrating the most significant achievements of contemporary jewellery and silversmithing in the UK today” which meant so much when he was selected for Goldsmiths’ Fair Graduate Bursary Scheme in 2019, just after graduating from his MFA Jewellery at Edinburgh College of Art. As a designer of jewellery and silver that “questions the relationship between the work and its surroundings as well as the role of function”, Sheng’s work was even acquired for the collection of the Goldsmiths’ Company. He is “grateful to Goldsmiths’ Fair and the Goldsmiths’ Company for discovering and recognising my work in my early career stage”.

Forty years since its inception, Goldsmiths’ Fair continues in its mission: to build a golden network of relationships between craftspeople and clients; to uncover and support talent; and to put those who create beauty in direct contact with those who wish to purchase it. Long may this ‘experimental venture’ continue.