Applied Design in the Precious Metals – Peter Wylie Davidson



JEWELLERY in its design and execution embraces the finest and most elaborate decoration of the goldsmithing craft. The training of the jeweller must tend towards infinite creations in the precious metals in harmony with jewels and enamel. The craft might truly be termed the prototype of the painter and can justly be termed a fine art.

In modern times the Art has suffered largely from our industrialism. Whilst the technique of the craft has been perfected, and the wealth and value of the jewels and material has often attained to a fabulous figure, the artistic standard has appreciably deteriorated. Multiple production with its objectionable lightning repetitions has resulted in much of the output becoming stale and commonplace. As in all fine arts, each production should be an individual effort, otherwise the artistic merit of the work inevitably suffers.

From the primitive onwards, we can trace through the successive generations a recognisable and similar pattern, which is all-embracing even in modern times. On this tradition it is desirable to further build and evolve new and fresh ideas suitable for present-day requirements, and to retain all that is best from the heritage of the past.

Gifted with a fertile imagination, combined with an intimate knowledge of the language of the tools and the material, the possibilities for the artist jeweller are unlimited. Jewellery in its execution demands delicacy with strength, combined with a true appreciation of  craftsmanship.

As gold and silver may be wrought, raised, stamped, drawn and cast to almost any conceivable form, it is advisable to avoid flat-surface ornament in jewellery. Aim rather at that desirable filigree of line and movement which is the delight and life of all the best work. In the production of jewellery there are certain recognised styles and methods of working, all more or less common to the craftsmen of the various nations.  In practising the craft it is inadvisable to pursue too closely any special vogue or school.

The aim of the artist-craftsman must ever be to invent new and beautiful forms, with harmonious line, section, and colouring. This inspiration is possible only from an intimate and thoughtful meditation with nature in all her varied moods. The knowledge so acquired may then be transferred through the tools to the material with all the recognised cunning of the master.

A faithful adherence to the above principle will eventually develop a certain individuality which will give each effort a new and distinctive note, entirely different from each other. In the execution of objects in the precious metals there is practically no limit to the variety, colour and possibilities of the tools and the materials employed. Almost  any metal, from gold to pewter, may be introduced to suit different colour harmonies and unique processes. The jewels utilised may be precious or semi-precious ; even ordinary sea pebbles or shells may find a place in the scheme of the work.

Simple and apparently commonplace mediums such as horn, wood, erinoid, and even leather have all a decorative possibility and value to  the inventive outlook of the artist. From the following descriptive list, photographs and other illustrations some of the principal styles and possibilities of the jeweller’s craft may be judged.

Diagram 38.—Silver brooch with lapis lazuli and moonstones mounted in plain box settings. In its execution units of square wire and grains compose the entire decoration. The general effect is simple and pleasing, the silver, moonstones and lapis lazuli forming a perfect colour scheme, quite suggestive of peasant jewellery.

Diagram 39 is a typical example of unit jewellery ; it is evolved from simple scroll forms in wire of various sections combined with small grains. The units employed are traditional, even primitive in character, and common to the work of all nations. This type of work affords excellent practice for the apprentice jeweller or student in the development of pattern and design from the use of tools and material. In its execution oblong wire will be found the most adaptable, as it responds most readily to the pressure of the pliers.

Diagram 40.—Brooch, silver gilt, motif ” The Swallows’ Flight.” This work is chased from light silver plate, and on completion released from the background with the fret-saw, and completed on the obverse side with a light backing of sheet silver. The gilding is quiet in tone, suggesting the old gold of a tobacco-leaf shade.

Diagram 41.—This brooch is a copper electrotype, silvered, from a wax matrix ; it is left direct from the modelling tool, and retains all the individual charm and ‘ touch of the hand.’

Diagram 42.—Brooch, ” Virgin and Child,” in gold, silver and enamel. The kneeling figures of the shepherds are in chiselled silver with carbuncles and crystals superimposed throughout the decoration ; translucent blue enamel with the star as a jewel forms a desirable setting to the Virgin and Child, in gold.

Diagram 43.—A sculpturesque treatment prevails in this work ; the figure of Christ is modelled in bold relief with the vine leaves, tendrils and garnets interlacing, and providing the desired contrast to the severe line of the cross.

Diagram 44.—This brooch is developed from plate and wire ; it embraces several and varied processes, including silversmithing, chasing, carving, engraving and setting of stones. It is this form of work which gives an art student a unique and varied experience of the craft, without any immediate intention of pursuing it as a profession.

Diagram 45.—This example is entirely evolved from wire of different section and scale, with an amethyst mounted in a claw setting. It is photographed actual size and provides a strong contrast to the previous form of work.

Diagram 46.—-This work is cast from a chased matrix of metal, incised plaster or modelled wax : this type of decoration can be cheaply and conveniently reproduced for commercial purposes.

Diagram 47.-—The galley is executed as a filigree of wire and sheet metal with mother-of-pearl and opals can be cheaply and conveniently reproduced for commercial purposes.

Diagram 47.-—The galley is executed as a filigree of wire and sheet metal with mother-of-pearl and opals.

Diagram 48.—This is a form of direct piercing with the saw from the silver plate ; a slight relief is obtained with the chasing tools from the obverse side ; it is finally rounded and softened at the edges with the file and burnisher.

Diagram 49.—Work of this type is adaptable for a large output, especially when required as a badge or as a school brooch. It is usually cut in the steel die from a chased, modelled, or incised matrix.

Diagram 50.—Silver chasing applied to jewellery is liable to appear flat and uninteresting, unless a good section is obtained in the modelling ; however, with the introduction of stones, enamel and small piercings, many extremely interesting results are possible. Enamel, combined with jewels, may also be applied to jewellery with pleasing effect. Great care must be exercised to preserve the precious quality of the two mediums and to ensure a perfect harmony of line, section and colour.

Enamel is rarely a success in jewellery if introduced in flat surfaces of garish colour ; for the best results panels in enamel should be small, perfectly designed, and cunningly mounted, otherwise they tend to be crude and disappointing.