Most people you see looking up at London’s architecture are trying to decide on the best Instagram filter to use. Vicki Ambery-Smith is usually puzzling over how to turn one of the iconic buildings into a pair of cufflinks.
From the Shard to the Sydney Opera House to your semi-detached suburban, the Oxford-born jewellery designer has built a successful career creating ornate pieces inspired by the built environment.
It’s this somewhat unique niche that has established her as a popular attraction at the annual Goldsmiths’ Fair, which opens next week. The event, now in its 34th year, is one of the largest exhibitions of contemporary designer jewellery in the UK.
Held over two weeks in Goldsmiths’ Hall, it showcases the design talent and craftsmanship of 150 emerging and established British goldsmiths and silversmiths.
A freeman of the Goldsmiths’ Company, Vicki has participated in the fair for more than a decade and will this year display her talents during the first week of exhibitors. She says the event offers an opportunity to demonstrate what is possible when it comes to architectural designs, and prompts people to start thinking about the buildings that mean something to them.
“It’s incredibly personal; I designed the London ring for a woman who used to work in the City and was struck down with ME [chronic fatigue syndrome] and was forced to stay home,” she says.
“She wanted to have the City with her, so we came up with a design that included St Paul’s Cathedral, Mansion House, St Stephen Walbrook, and St George’s Bloomsbury.”
But requests certainly aren’t limited to architectural icons. “I once created a ring for a couple in Letchworth who had their house, the town hall, a lovely arts and crafts building, and their local Morrisons – obviously very important to them,” she says. “It was the first supermarket I’d ever done, I’m just glad it wasn’t a Sainsbury’s and I only had to etch the ‘M’.”
City-inspired designs on a slightly grander scale include the Globe Theatre, the Tower of London, the Barbican and, her personal favourite, the MI6 building. King’s College has been turned into a pair of salt ’n’ pepper shakers, while the Shard has proved popular as a pair of earrings and matching pendant.
Vicki is a big fan of architect Sir Christopher Wren, but also takes inspiration from further afield. New York’s Guggenheim Museum, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Siena’s Cathedral tower have all been recreated as ornate miniatures, the latter currently on display at the V&A.
To succeed with a craft so detailed, the Hornsey Art College-educated designer says you need a great deal of patience and “something good to listen to on the radio”. “Of course there are computer-assisted design programs and three-dimensional printing but, at the end of the day, you still need those skills that have been around for centuries.”
Renewed interest in bespoke handcrafts bodes well for Vicki and other exhibitors at the Goldsmiths Fair, but there remains frustration within the sector over cuts to training and education funding. “The Goldsmiths’ Company funds some apprenticeships and courses but there isn’t enough out there, which is why the fair is so important to generate awareness that handmade still has its place,” she says.
For Vicki, there remains plenty of untapped inspiration within the Square Mile – St Bride’s is “just waiting for it” but there are some that are considered off limits. “On principle I wouldn’t even think about doing the Walkie Talkie, I just think that’s such an ugly building. “Also St Pancras is so detailed – I probably wouldn’t go near that, purely for health and safety reasons.”
The Goldsmiths’ Fair is held from 27 September to 2 October and 4 October to 9 October Goldsmiths’ Hall, Foster Lane EC2V 6BN.