An eye-watering amount of money is expected to change hands at this year’s Goldsmiths’ Fair – with the pioneers of design once again unveiling their glittering creations for their adoring public.
The two-week celebration of the gold and silver-smithing trade is the primary commercial opportunity for the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths and their members, with individual items of jewellery typically fetching between £1,800 and £10,000 – topping out at £100,000 for the most precious one-of-a-kind treasures.
Sales receipts and commissions at last year’s event totalled £3million.
Those tongue tied counting the zeros shouldn’t feel marginalised; those in the market for the fair’s marvellous metals are already well aware of the cost, and are willing to pay top dollar to add them to their trove.
In fact, for the dedicated audience that weaves into Goldsmiths’ Hall each and every year it is as much about collecting the designers themselves as it is their creations.
Maker Maria Frantzi has no problem ‘being collected’ and says that although the fair is serious business, there is still plenty of fun to be had.
“I think part of the excitement is that the event is so serious. We as makers anticipate sales and the chance to meet customers, but also we have the opportunity to challenge ourselves,” she said.
“We know there is a certain expectation and that we need to raise our game. For me personally it is so important that I will spend months thinking and preparing.”
There is a saying among the Goldsmiths Company that for all the dirty workshops and weathered instruments, producing the finest gold and silver is all about innovation and refinement.
And like nearly all other makers, Maria is steadfast in her belief that the landscape would look a lot duller without the Goldsmiths, such has been the company’s commitment to keeping the trade ahead of the curve down the centuries.
“I just can’t imagine what it would be like without the Goldsmiths or the fair,” she said. “The patrons do an excellent job in introducing what we do to a lot of important people.
“It brings together such an eclectic mix of people, highlighting all aspects of skill and talent that exists in the UK.
“Not to mention the vast history behind the Assay Office and Goldsmiths’ Hall – it’s all so impressive and we take inspiration from that.”
The Goldsmiths Company has never been short of a few bob since receiving its first Royal Charter in 1327, and is among the City’s most wealthy livery companies – always a helpful enabler when it comes to championing innovation.
Last summer it pledged £10million to the new Museum of London project that will see the institution move from its current home at 150 London Wall to a reclaimed site at Smithfield Market.
But while the livery’s external charitable affairs are commendable, it is supporting causes closer to home where the Goldsmiths really shine – particularly through the annual fair.
For Maria, who is preparing for her eighth fair, it is the longevity of relationships first forged at the gathering that have allowed her to pursue her passion.
“There are people who have been collecting my work for years,” she explained. “It is such a wonderful thing. When this happens you tend to know the people you are making jewellery for and start designing around them.
“It is not an anonymous sale; I know what works for a particular person and can make something that will compliment their style.
“Meeting them at the fair every year is an opportunity to discuss new ideas. Some people arrive with broken or outdated pieces of jewellery, or something they have inherited, that they don’t want to part with but need remodelled.
“It becomes interactive with them inspiring us and us inspiring them – a double wave of inspiration.”
For Maria, the opportunity to exhibit at the fair on a regular basis is the realisation of a life-long dream. She hopes her creations will be enjoyed for a life-time, too.
“While everyone grew up playing with toys I grew up playing with jewellery.
“I like to create pieces that can stands the test of time and be passed down through the generations. And this is such a great fair full of knowledgeable people.”
Though the earliest records have the Goldsmiths first setting up shop in the late 1100s, our fascination with the lustrous pre-dates this, with decorative pieces adorning civilisations around the world for centuries.
In Maria’s view, the concept of jewellery finds its roots in the very dawn of mankind’s evolution.
“When you think about it, jewellery is one of the oldest things that mankind ever possessed,” she said.
“Our ancient ancestors would track down and kill beasts, eat the meat, take the fur and skin for clothes, and then use the claws and teeth as necklaces.”
Independent fine jewellery specialist, Joanna Hardy, who has been part of the BBC Antiques Roadshow team since 2007, agrees with Maria that the fair has played a pivotal role in putting the craft behind jewellery into the mainstream.
“Since 1961 when the first fair took place the Goldsmiths have been showcasing the makers who have shown innovation. This came on the back of a dull post-war period when nobody was making jewellery because of the luxury purchase tax – it was simply too expensive.”
Fast forward to 2018 and master craftsmen and women are dealing with more familiar hurdles thrown up by 21st-century life.
“Nowadays designer-makers are up against technology,” says Joanna.
“People are so computer literate now but becoming a great craftsman isn’t something you can do overnight in front of a screen, it takes years at the bench.”
To smooth out some of the bumps encountered along the way the company took the decision to create a training hub all its own.
Based in Farringdon, the £17.5m Goldsmiths’ Centre is the UK’s leading charity for the professional training of goldsmiths, with a clear mission to advance, maintain and develop art, craft, design and artisan skills related to the craft. From here the livery channels financial support and tangible resources to makers as they advance through their careers.
Though a relatively new development, the centre is unique to the Goldsmiths and is as powerful an insurance policy as any as current Prime Warden Michael Prideaux and his cohorts do their bit to ensure livery longevity and a prosperous trade.
“The centre is geared to marrying together the skills of the maker and the capabilities of technology,” added Joanna.
“Technology has become really advanced and it is an exciting part of our journey, but we do not want to lose the skills of the craftsman, otherwise everything becomes too homogenized.”
As for the fair, which will run between 25-30 September and 2-7 October, Joanna says it stands head and shoulders above all similar platforms in the UK.
And with the number of makers on the increase, the signs are good for another exemplary showing.
She hopes that a few new guests will become acquainted with the showcase, and that the price tags of some premium pieces won’t deter people from stopping by.
“I would hate to think that cost could deter visitors. I think that most people love jewellery and the message must be that everybody is welcome and that they would in fact get something out of visiting.
“Even if you leave thinking a little bit differently about jewellery then that’s fantastic; next year you might return and then buy something you like.
“I would say that going to learn, or even if you are just curious, is good enough reason to go – you will learn something without even realising it.
“Have a cup of tea or coffee, talk to the makers and take your time. It is not a pressurised environment.
“This is not a fashion thing. These pieces of jewellery can be for life or passed down through the family. It is all about the quality and uniqueness of the pieces.”
So, while much pageantry resides in the Goldsmiths’ commitment to promoting its trade across the UK, the crown jewel in the 2018 diary – or a diary of any year for that matter – is fast approaching right here in the City.