All That Glitters Episode Four: Brooch and Ear Cuff

As All That Glitters returns to our screens, we caught up with Rebecca Skeels, Lecturer in BA (Hons) Jewellery and Objects, to discuss the episode and get further insight into the world of jewellery making.

It is contemporary materials week and the first challenge is to make a best seller brooch that is a big and bold statement piece, which is also inspired by Birmingham.

The brooch is perfect this week as the airing of the show coincided with the Birmingham City University’s School of Jewellery hosting the private view of the Association for Contemporary Jewellery (ACJ) 25th anniversary touring show, Meanings & Messages’, in the foyer space. The exhibition showcases an exciting and varied collection of up to fifty unique brooches portraying a range of meanings and messages. It is well worth a visit to see the pieces and handle the materials, it will be open until the 1 November 2022, when it will then move to its next venue.

The MA Jewellery and Related Product students work is also on display in the School of Jewellery’s main hall, showcasing a brilliant range of work, contemporary design and varied use of materials selected to communicate their design ideas and yearlong research project.

Despite only five contestants left, there was a good range of pieces produced, with ACJ Wessex member, David, using his contemporary materials to bring in colour to his well-made BT tower inspired brooch, to Piers using string and wood to add realistic qualities to his excellently crafted anchor.

There was also a range of quality and as a jewellery designer I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get to see the backs of the brooches. Backs of brooches and other wearable items can be as important as the fronts. The ceremony for the wearer of selecting the brooch to be worn, engaging with the back, the personal message and meaning for them and fixing it securely and intentionally in the place where the viewers will see the message and meanings they wish to communicate. The materials and craftmanship is as important at the back of a piece as it is the front.

Dinny Hall said: “If they don’t learn about other materials they can’t push the boundaries of design”. This is very true, as a tutor on the BA (Hons) Jewellery and Objects course, the approach to design is very important for students to develop and exploring materials is one part of that design approach that we encourage students to undertake for every project. We teach and introduce many jewellery and metalworking skills early on in the course and these can be used to help explore various materials to see which is best to communicate their design idea.

The bespoke challenge was to create an ear cuff for TikTok star and musician Elliot to wear to a Gay Times Honour awards ceremony. Elliot asked for the piece to be ‘loud and proud’ and celebrate his love of music and accentuate his hearing aid.

This was an interesting round, where the makers really started to show their design skills, the contemporary materials consisted mostly of dipped rubber, which was a little surprising as it is more of a coating to add colour rather than stand-alone material. However, Piers, Emma and David made good quality pieces in the time scale, with bright colours and a well-fitting piece.  Ears are pretty unique to each person, so this is no mean feat.

One word of warning about dipped rubber is the toxicity of the material when being used is very dangerous, so don’t rush out and buy some unless you can use it under extraction or outside. I found the use of the rubber and perspex interesting, as materials being used today have moved on quite a bit; jewellers, designers and crafts people are considering various aspects when they design and make, and one high on the agenda is the impacts on the environment and sustainability. Issues around environmental impact and sustainability are hard to navigate and can start from the mining and sourcing of materials including metals, to the use of processes, materials and waste materials to the longevity of the finished item or how it can be repurposed or materials reused as well as the message they give to the wearers and viewers. Nearly every stage comes with a challenge and decision of how to do what is right.

Piers won the challenge with Elliot taking his piece home, ready to be worn at the awards ceremony as well as being awarded star jewellery of the week. Which one would I have picked? Well I wouldn’t mind Emma’s piece, with the great sense of movement, craftmanship and thoughtful design. I can’t wait until next week, to see what happens next. Only four contestants left, adding to the stress of making in front of cameras, under bright lights and in competition with others to a time scale in a strange workshop, good luck to all of them. 

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