Jaqueline Mina on John Donald

Jacqueline Hurwitz’s (later Mina) summer vacation job with John Donald in 1964

I studied jewellery at the Royal College of Art from 1962–1965. The latest craze in Modern Jewellery at that time was to set natural crystals within a randomly arranged textured surround. The work of Andrew Grima, John Donald, and others in Britain exemplified this trend. Abroad, goldsmiths such as Arnaldo & Gio Pomodoro and Gilbert Albert made texture their main theme. Although we were not taught at the RCA by any of these notable designers, we admired and were inspired by their jewellery, so tended to emulate their ideas. It seemed such a fresh approach compared with High Street or Fashion or Antique jewellery. We were also lucky enough to have witnessed the famous 1961 International Exhibition of Modern Jewellery at Goldsmiths’ Hall. Although I was not studying jewellery at that time – I was at Hornsey College of Art concentrating, on, amongst other subjects, Silversmithing – this exhibition made an enormous impression on me and my (previously disdainful) view of jewellery as a possible art-form.

In the 60’s I and my fellow RCA jewellery students regularly visited the dusty premises of the mineral suppliers, Gregory Botley in Old Church Street, Chelsea, to seek out suitable crystal formations to use in our own creations. It was like an Aladdin’s cave, and I still have a collection of many crystals that didn’t become a piece of jewellery!

In the summer of 1964, I had no holiday plans so ventured to ask John Donald, whom I had never met, if he would allow me to work for him during my vacation, and to my surprise, he agreed to take me on! My wage was set at £5 a week (my weekly rent for my Kensington 2-room flat was £7.50) which he kindly increased to £6 after I had been there for 2 weeks. His workshop then was in a little mews coach-house in Bayswater – it took me half an hour to walk there from my flat, through Kensington Gardens, a lovely start to my day. The space was divided by a screen into a modern design studio at the front, where John worked drawing up his designs and organising his commissions, and a jewellery workshop at the back which accommodated 4 jewellery benches. My duties were to make whatever was required, and on Fridays to sweep up and mop the floors. I had never worked in gold before, so I was quite disconcerted when, for my first job, I was given a long chain to make from start to finish in18ct gold for a client. It entailed taking round gold tubing, cutting it into 25mm lengths, melting the ends so that they closed in on themselves and the tubes became distorted, then connecting each unit with soldered links. I was thrown in at the deep end but managed somehow to keep my head above the water!

I was then given a brooch design to make out of square tubing, cutting it on the diagonal into 7mm units, then joining the units in a random grouping, echoing crystal-forms, fusing rough gold filings into the crevasses and polishing just the diamond-shaped ends for contrast. A typical John Donald jewel. Work continued like this until I had to return to my studies in September.

John had two very young craftsmen who travelled up from Sussex at some un-godly hour, and I was very fortunate to have beside me at the bench an experienced German jobbing jeweller who kept an eye on my work and offered me helpful tips, about how to hold my file, about soldering, fitting components, and so on. I gained so much knowledge about making from this experience – probably more than I learned during my 3 years at the College. I also learnt a great deal about handling precious metals in an uninhibited and experimental way. And on top of all this, it was thrilling for me to be working for one of my jewellery heroes!

Jacqueline Mina
London, January 2015

Jaqueline Mina, ring, 1974, 18 carat gold set with a conical shell and one diamond. The Goldsmiths’ Company Collection