“It’s not always about bright and shiny!”

Jewel Citizen talks to ‘The Gold Polishing Guru’ Stephen Goldsmith

Stephen Goldsmith is a gold and silver polisher at the top of his game – ‘The Gold Polishing Guru’ as he’s affectionately known – who has a string of post-nominal letters after his name. He’s a fellow of the Institute of Professional Goldsmiths and is also their official ambassador.

In his long and illustrious career he’s polished everything from Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s wedding gifts to a solid gold coffee table for an Arab sheikh.

In this photo Stephen can be seen polishing an 18 carat gold sculpture of Kate Moss as a naked angel.

 

His skills are so esteemed that he’s been tasked with polishing the Queen’s teapot, as well as other royal pieces held in the Tower of London. But it’s not all about high profile clients and deluxe objects because Stephen now teaches his skills to a new generation of jewellers and aspiring polishers.

In the very first of our Jewel Citizen Interviews we speak to Stephen about his career and current projects.

Jewel Citizen – Stephen, you started a foundation course at the Medway Arts College in Rochester, Kent, when you were just 15 years old. With a surname like Goldsmith did you ever consider a career making fine jewellery?

Stephen Goldsmith – It’s a question that is often asked because my name is Goldsmith, but in truth I was advised by the careers officer about the foundation course because I was very good at metalwork and art.  They thought my dream of being a cartoonist wasn’t going to work out in the long run!

The pre-apprenticeship course covered all aspects of the trade including jewellery design, mounting, setting, silversmithing, polishing, and ceramics.

One of my tutors was a silversmith and worked at C J Vander near Hatton Garden. I really wanted to be a silversmith but there was an opening for a silversmith’s polisher and, being desperate to work in the trade, I applied for and was accepted onto a 4 year polishing apprenticeship. It offered 3 years day release in silversmithing at my original art college in Kent which meant I could visit my mother in Canterbury at weekends. On the way back to London I’d stop off at Rochester to study silversmithing. This worked out very well because it gave me more of an understanding of how things are made.

As an young apprentice in the 1970’s.

 

JC – What was it like being an apprentice polisher in the 1970s? Was it very different then compared to how you’d be treated as a trainee today?

SG – Very much so. I worked with 7 other polishers and approximately 15 silversmiths, a team of cutlery makers, and 3 silver spinners. There were apprentices all over the building and, as most “boys” do, we made the tea, cleaned the workshop and ran errands. I only took orders from my master and was not allowed to take advice from any other polisher in the workshop; I was not allowed to address my master or other craftsmen by their first names. The apprentices of today wouldn’t even make you a cup of tea let alone call you sir!

The apprenticeship of today is very different. There’s a lot of form filling and there are yearly inspections to make sure the apprentices are being trained correctly. The Goldsmiths’ Company oversees the training and there are regular social and training events held at the Goldsmiths’ Centre, a charity run by the Goldsmiths’ Company.

Make Your Mark at Goldsmiths’ Hall in London.

 

JC – Tell us about your career progression once you’d completed your apprenticeship.

SG – My apprenticeship was indentured by the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, who made sure I was trained accordingly. There were various strange rules to observe, such as sleeping under the bench, no swearing, no gambling and no fornication!

Once I had completed my time, I had to produce a masterpiece and then go to Goldsmiths’ Hall to show the Prime Warden that I was worthy of receiving the Freedom of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths. For this I made a silver gilt centrepiece and was accepted as a Freeman, after which I made my way to the Guildhall to receive the Freedom of the City.

Shortly afterwards I moved on to Stuart Devlin and worked with 7 polishers and a team of craftsmen. Their style was different, very forward thinking for the time, in much the same was as Theo Fennell’s is today.

Then it was on to Nayler Brothers, the main workshop for Garrard’s, who were at that time the Crown Jewellers.

JC – You’ve polished items for many rich and famous people including royalty. Can you remember which Royal Wedding gifts you polished for Prince Charles and Princess Diana?

SG – I remember polishing a silver centrepiece, which held a punch bowl and tumblers. It was an extremely busy time as we had had the Queen’s Silver Jubilee year in 1977 and the Royal Wedding in 1981, so there were lots of presents and commemorative items to be polished.

Many will know that I looked after the Queen’s teapot, which held just enough for 2 cups! What is less common knowledge is that I also polished the inscription plates for the coffins of Princess Diana and the Queen Mother.

I taught Camilla Parker Bowles’ (now Prince Charles’ wife, The Duchess of Cornwall) former butler how to look after silver.

JC – What do you think are the most important qualities that a gold and silver polisher needs to have?

SG – Attention to detail plus patience. In my own work I’ve become much more arty in my finishes, and Theo Fennell gives me free reign to embellish as I see fit.

Stephen at work polishing a piece of fine jewellery for Theo Fennell.

 

JC – If you were able to choose any item in the world to polish what would it be?

SG – It’s a difficult question as I have polished most of the famous sports trophies in the world apart from the World Cup. Although I’m not a soccer fan I might as well complete the set!

JC – The next question is for our jewellery-devoted readers. Is there anything you’d recommend to keep our jewellery looking its best and free from scratches? Any do’s and don’t’s?

SG – Looking after your jewellery is easy. Wear it!

You need a bit of knowledge about the hardness scale (Mohs scale of 1 -10 with 10 being diamond and the hardest), and which type of stone will scratch another. Did you know that most of the dust in the air contains quartz? Quartz has a hardness of 7 and there are plenty of stones softer than that. So be very careful if you rub your dusty jewellery because the quartz in the dust might well scratch it. Another example is that a diamond will scratch an opal or pearl so don’t store them in the same compartment in your jewellery box. When cleaning jewellery never rub the stone first but wash it with soapy water. And don’t wear your jewellery to the gym!

JC – These days you’re often away teaching your skills to students in workshops, courses, and master classes. Can a jeweller or precious metal worker learn the skills in one of your short courses to make their work really stand out from the competition?

SG – You can’t learn everything I know in a day or two but I do try to give students tips from my experience and help them lift their creations to another level. Quite often my former students will return for a completely different course and usually this involves helping them with a particular project.

JC – It was a pleasure speaking to you Stephen. Finally, where do you teach? How can we find out more about your workshops and master classes?

Stephen in one of his recent polishing master classes.

 

SG – I teach wherever I’m asked to go but am mainly based at The Goldsmiths’ Centre in London, JASSO near Oxford, and at In the Studio Jewellery School in Kegworth. I teach in Ireland at The School of Jewellery Ireland in Dublin, and also at the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland based in Kilkenny. I teach in my own studio. And finally I run courses for companies who need my services and will work throughout Europe.

Full details can be found on www.goldpolishing.guru

About

I’m always happiest when surrounded by beautiful sparkling things, be it top designer jewellery, antique objets d’art in auctions and museums, or simply gemstones destined for my own creative projects.

Every piece of fine jewellery and every gemstone has a unique story to tell. I want to bring you some of that magic by exploring jewellery from ancient times through to the work of modern day designers, makers, and artisans. From luxe to boho, from couture to raw emerging talent, and interviewing everyone from designers to connoisseurs along the journey, I’ll showcase amazing pieces that you’ll probably never find on the high street.

I hope you’ll enjoy reading this blog.

Helen

 

What do sapphires and chameleons have in common?

Jewel Citizen looks at rare colour-change sapphires

Here’s a little ‘corundum conundrum’ for you – can a gemstone change from one colour to another? Well, yes and no.

Some gemstones, particularly the sapphire variety of the mineral corundum, sometimes show a remarkable shift in colour. Rare and exceptional specimens display a full change of colour. There’s no alchemy in this process, it’s just the presence of trace element impurities such as vanadium or chromium, in combination with a change in lighting conditions that causes this illusion. Nature’s conjuring trick can visually transform a blue sapphire to a purple or pinkish-purple one, or a purple example to pinkish-red. Who wouldn’t be captivated when their classic blue Princess Diana style sapphire ring scintillates a rich shade of purple by candlelight? Such sapphires are however the exception rather than the norm, and something very special for the enlightened few.

        

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Ceylonese sapphire changes from blue to violet…

and then to pinkish-purple

Those lucky enough to own one of these chameleon gems remark that it’s like owning two different jewels at the same time. Each stone is unique and possesses its own character. Personally I adore them and keep a weather eye out for new listings at auctions and for designers brave enough to use them in their collections. I covet them as unashamedly as a fashionista who longs for an Hermes Birkin bag.

Paradoxically a gem’s rarity can keep it relatively unknown, an example of this illustrated by the response from some jewellers I’ve spoken to who’ve never seen a colour-change sapphire. “Do you mean Alexandrite?” one once replied, citing the better-known green to red colour-changing stone first discovered in Russia in the early 19th century and popularised by leading jewellers including Tiffany. No actually I didn’t, but while on the subject of Alexandrite I’ll be posting soon about this amazing stone.

But let’s turn back to sapphires. Rarity and a lack of knowledge play a part in this more cautionary tale: I remember a few years ago being told by a friend about how a provincial auction house once listed a Belle Epoque ring with a bluish-purple stone as ‘an early twentieth century ring with large amethyst-type stone’. The guide price was in the low hundreds. My friend had seen the ring and said that the colour seemed different depending on the lighting. He thought little of it at the time. The ring ended up selling for a good few thousand pounds, and in my mind there’s no doubt that someone thought it actually contained a rare colour-change sapphire. It caused a stir for five minutes or so – antique dealers seem love it when an auction house ‘misses’ something and apparently the rumours were flying around the sale-room after the gavel fell. So assuming a large rare sapphire was mis-sold as an ‘amethyst-type stone’ the sale price was probably a fraction of its true value. Sadly without a full gemological report to confirm variety, origin, and any treatment to the stone it was never destined to realise its true value.

In the photos at the top of the article you can see a 15ct Art Deco sapphire ring under different lighting conditions: it appears blue or violet in daylight (candescent light), yet the same stone exhibits a remarkable change of colour to pinkish-purple in incandescent (in this case lamp) light. This is a colour-change sapphire in the true sense of the word.

A shift in colour, such as a subtle change from one shade of blue to another, is seen much more often than the rare and sought-after phenomenon of full colour change. When you’ve worn a colour-change stone it’s really hard to get excited about something that merely shifts colour to a slight degree.

Connoisseurs and collectors of these stones value them according to the degree of colour change above all other criteria, rating the change as weak, moderate or strong.

Many excellent examples of colour-change sapphires on the market come from mines in Sri Lanka (Ceylon) where they are still found to this day, although stones are also mined in Thailand and in parts of Africa. It is rare to find examples weighing in excess of 5 carats, and even more difficult to find larger examples that haven’t been heated to improve their colour.

A 1930s colour-change sapphire sautoir with an exceptionally large and impressive 76.11 carat stone was sold by Sotheby’s in Geneva in their Magnificent Jewels Sale in November 2011.

Something once considered a rarity reserved for gemstone collectors, these gems are now regularly achieving astounding sums at auction. In the November 2015 Magnificent Jewels Sale at Christie’s in Geneva, a 16.81 carat unheated colour-change Ceylon (Sri Lanka) sapphire ring realised CHF 389,000 ($388,485).

The Natural Sapphire Company has a great selection of sapphires in a variety of colours including some spectacular colour-change examples ranging from under a carat up to a little over 16 carats (as of June 2017). The great thing is that many of the sapphires come with full gemological reports from laboratories such as the GIA.

         

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The photos above show a 5.08 carat violet to purple colour-change cushion-cut sapphire from The Natural Sapphire Company. The stone is unheated and untreated. It comes with a GIA certificate. This stone and a full inventory of sapphires, rubies, and jewellery can be viewed on the website www.thenaturalsapphirecompany.com  (photo courtesy of The Natural Sapphire Company)

It seems like the secret of these amazing stones might finally be coming out. Jewel Citizen will be closely monitoring top jewellery auctions and designer trends for further developments.