THEO FENNELL

An evening with Theo | London, SW3




To my own amazement, I have been designing jewellery and silverware for over forty years. When I started I had no idea that this would become my life. Taking the job I did with an incredibly Dickensian firm of silversmiths in Hatton Garden was pure happenstance. It came as a result of an advertisement my great-aunt had seen when my family had all but given up on my being gainfully employed after a somewhat relaxed few years at art school.
 


But it has been an extraordinary and often absurd journey through a trade I have come to love, meeting and working with and designing for some exceptionally talented and unusual people. I have come across some magnificent characters and many wonderful people with the very occasional rotter thrown in.

 

A huge amount has changed in this time but some things remain absolutely constant. Passion and tenacity allied to great skill produces work that still outstrips all the branding and globalisation that has dumbed down so much of the beauty of jewellery and silverware but good and original designs brought to life by great craftspeople are sought after now more than ever.

Our workshop, next to the studio above our shop in the Fulham Road, is little changed from how a workshop would have been a couple of hundred years ago. We allow the team electricity and running water now and they have a laser welder but the rest of their tools and skills are pretty much timeless. They range in age from nineteen to seventy-three (making at least one person older than me) and the sympathetic way in which the apprentices have been taught by their masters in our workshop over the years is a model for how to enthuse young people into a really worthwhile and satisfying working life and is a testament to the patience, kindness and skill of these craftsman. Half the workshop have been working with us for over 30 years.

Apprenticeships have been monitored by The Goldsmiths’ Hall since the 14th century and, although bought up to date, still teach the basis that allows the mutual respect craftspeople, young and old, have for each other. The same sort of ethos prevails in the studio. The majority of what we make is bespoke which is all hand-made and by really extraordinarily skilled hands.

When we take people around the studio and workshop they are always amazed at the level and breadth of the skills and the pieces on show and seeing this leads them to realising how much more rewarding it is to have an original piece, whether from stock or bespoke, and how much satisfaction there is in becoming involved in a piece that will last generations.

Having everything in one place is very rare indeed nowadays, but it allows us to go from a scribbled, first idea to the gleaming, finished piece under one roof. I can then see every part of its metamorphosis. I believe this is vital as it means the heart and soul of the design is not lost and everyone here is involved in a very collective process.

We do a lot of work with young designers and craftspeople at schools and colleges and with internships and this country has an unparalleled tradition of great design and skill in this trade; our colleges are the envy of the world.

But these skills need to be encouraged and nurtured and the return to patrons wanting beautifully made and thought out pieces will be the thing that allows them to thrive. The monolithic, global brands have been the enemy of creativity, originality and singular craftsmanship so this return to uniqueness and the specialist is welcome.

If you would like to see our workshop and studio we can arrange it... but in the meantime the piece of footage immediately below will give you a small taste of a visit to our studio.
 

 

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