Wednesday, March 17, 2010


We are in England today visiting the Birmingham Botanical Gardens and Glasshouses.

It is a stunning area where redwoods, and cedars, herb, and Japanese gardens fill the length of its 15 acres. England is also the home of featured jewelry designer Coll Smith.

Smith's stunning and innovative handmade jewelry blends multi-colored merino wool, gold-plated wire, and Swarovski crystals with vintage pieces.

Her creations are reminiscent of designs by Liz Law (USA), Camille Peace (USA), and Susan Speidel (USA) who each build their lines by collecting and mixing eclectic jewelry components.

To my surprise, however, some time ago I came across a blogger's rather disparaging assertion regarding the mechanics of handmade jewelry. Though the comment was a short, blanket statement  not directed to a specific designer, the blogger believed this form of jewelry making was not on the same caliber as goldsmithing. I completely beg to differ.

Essentially the art of goldsmithing is done with the use of the artist's hands. Goldsmiths implement hand held tools like hammers and files to produce desired textures and many make their own mold casts.

I also believe the same type of instinctual knowing, artistic vision, and forethought is required; understanding how to strike the right balance of color, texture and overall arrangement. Just like metalwork, handmade jewelry reflects a unique perspective about form and textures.

A self-described "small-town girl," Smith, like Liz Law, did not see a future immersed in constructing baubles. "It doesn't surprise me that I am involved in making jewelry now because I have always loved making things," she says.

"I started making jewelry for myself and my daughters, who also share my passion. The decision to take it further was inspired by a chance opportunity."

Once a full-time player in the public relations field, Smith's interest in studying a few jewelry-making techniques began in 1995. "I gave my daughter a silversmithing course as a present and I thought I'd go along with her. I would have loved to have pursued this further but I did not have the time or space to invest in the tools needed to continue," she explains.

"In 2008, a local school offered beading and wirework courses so I enrolled, and these techniques have been the basis of much of my work. I knit with wire to create the cuffs and then embellish them. I usually start with a piece of vintage costume jewelry to rework and then build the wirework around it."

The designer is a staunch believer in broadening her base of jewelry-making techniques . "Last year, I took an aluminum jewelry course, and this style will be included into my collections at a later stage.

My work with merino wool is a result of a felt-making course I took the results of which are the candiicollars. I will also be taking a day course in PMC, silver clay jewelry, and I hope this medium will be useful for my work."

Smith's "chance opportunity" to present her work to a broad audience happened when a friend asked her to participate in a local art fair. It would only be a matter of time before she would establish her company ArmCandii.

"I'd already started recycling or up-cycling beads from broken necklaces and in fact made a very different necklace for this `exhibition' using a beautiful recycled vintage diamante buckle which I thought no one would like," she recalls. "I was wrong, it was snatched up. The rest is history as they say."

I love the concept behind Smith's jewelry; the idea that something vintage does not have to be associated with something stagnant and inflexible. The jewelry is fresh and vibrant with great color combinations of glass beads, freshwater pearls, seed beads, and cotton candy-like wool scarves. There are the eye-popping, statement-making designs and others of streamlined elegance and femininity.

"It's a bizarre mix of a green conscience with glamour and glitz! It's sort of a remake of old-style Hollywood glamour," she enthuses. "It's the sophistication, glamour, and power of those leading ladies like Ava Gardner, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, and Marilyn Monroe.

I love the idea that someone else's once loved but now discarded piece from a long gone era can be lovingly reworked into a 21st century piece; joining a past story with a new story."
Photo 1 (top right): Delicate Retro Butterfly Pendant on Sterling Silver Chain
Photo 2 (bottom left): Knitted Gold Wire Cuff with Vintage Brooch and Glass and Gold Beads
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