Davenham jeweller Yvonne Chadderton marks 40th anniversary

Three opal rings

Three opal rings - Credit: Archant

Jewellery designer and silversmith, Yvonne Chadderton from Davenham, is marking a special anniversary, writes Peter Harris.

Rolling machine

Rolling machine - Credit: Archant

Designer jeweller, silversmith and gemmologist Yvonne Chadderton has marked a special ‘ruby’ anniversary at her home studio-cum-workshop in Davenham. It is 40 years since she was granted her personal hallmark by the prestigious London Assay Office.

‘It means whenever I produce a new piece of jewellery it can be stamped with my initials Y.E.C. so future generations will always be able to trace it back to me as the original maker, it is my own hallmark,’ she said, as she sat at her wooden workbench which was created by her late father from an old bank counter.

‘Once I have stamped my initials into the gold or silver it is then sent off – without any gemstones that may be used in the final piece – for the carat value to be officially tested. That’s the way it has been for over 400 years in this country.’

Yvonne, who for two years worked for Cartier in New Bond Street in London, was only a young child when she became intrigued and captivated by the magic and mystery of precious and semi-precious stones. ‘My late father, Norman, and my mum Eva, who is now 82, worked in the jewellery trade in the Oldham and I became fascinated hearing them talk about diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, rubies and garnets.’

Trillion shape opal pendant

Trillion shape opal pendant - Credit: Archant

After leaving school, however, Yvonne initially took a job in air traffic control. But at 21, she enrolled on a four-year course in jewellery and silversmithing at the former Sir John Cass College in London, now the Guildhall University.

‘At the end of the course I had qualifications in gemology and diamond grading and I was fortunate to get in the diamond and gemstone department at Cartier, one of the great internationally-recognised names in the jewellery world,’ she said.

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‘The Cartier workshops were on the second floor so I never really had any face to face contact with clients but I was frequently aware that I was choosing and grading stones for commissions that were worth millions, often for very wealthy people from overseas and the theatre world. I always had a good eye for colour and this helped me to select and grade the stones.’

Yvonne visualised a glittering career at Cartier but the family-run company closed its London workshop, transferring to Paris. She then returned home to Lancashire where she opened a jewellery shop and ran it until 1999 when she sold up and took off to see the world.

Her backpacking adventures over the next year took her across South America and Australia, fortuitously including the ‘Opal Capital of the World,’ the remote mining town of Coober Pedy, in the desert region of South Australia near Alice Springs. There she bought her first rough, unpolished opals that, in the raw, looked like nothing more exciting than broken fragments of crockery.

‘It’s very much like the Wild West in Coober Pedy with prospectors from all over the world staking their claim and digging for opals.’

Although considerably less expensive than diamonds opals quickly became Yvonne’s favourite gemstone and she has since made return visits to Coober Pedy to bring them back to fashion into unique works of art. ‘Most opals made into jewellery are either round or oval but buying them in their raw state enables me to grind them into more unusual and creative shapes. No two opals are ever alike and the highest quality stones and best colours come from Australia,’ she said.

‘Opals used in jewellery usually have a backing behind the stone so their beautiful spectrum of colours can be seen. Without the backing they will often look just very pale and translucent.’

With a loyal customer base from Cheshire and the North West much of her work is devoted to one-off commissions, producing contemporary jewellery, frequently using recycled family pieces handed down.

‘Older members in a family who pass jewellery down to children and grandchildren are usually happy to see these old pieces melted down and given a new lease of life. What’s more, if there is any precious metal left over it can be sold as scrap and offset against the price of the new item,’ she said. ‘One of the most common commissions is to fashion old gold into new wedding rings.’

Over her 40 years trading in her own name, 62-year-old Yvonne has worked with almost all the 50 or so different gemstones, including those found only in the British Isles, such as Blue John from the Peak District, jasper, garnet and agate from Scotland and jet from Whitby, that became fashionable after Queen Victoria used it for her mourning jewellery following the death of Prince Albert.

Yvonne also fashions pieces which she exhibits and sells at fairs, including the Great Dome Art Fair at Buxton and the Crosby Hall Education Fair at Liverpool. Every now and again, Yvonne turns her expertise to fabricating objet d’art and museum pieces. Some years ago she was asked to make a solid silver replica of the 40-metre bridge that links the medieval block at Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester to the new music school. And, more recently, as a tribute to her grandfather Private Clifford Chadderton, she created a World War One commemorative medal with his photograph in a solid silver frame encircled by a barbed-wire wreath hanging from a silver rifle and a blood-red ribbon.

Frequently, too, her workshop looking out over pastoral Cheshire, becomes a classroom for students undertaking one-to-one jewellery-making courses. ‘I teach them all the basics, like sawing, filing and polishing of metal, enabling them to make their own jewellery at home. I also have couples who come along to make their own wedding rings. Some students return to be taught more advanced techniques later on and at least one client went on to convert her hobby into a career,’ she said.

When Yvonne is not either crafting a necklace, ring or bracelet or teaching she is indulging one of her other passions, travelling around the artistic gems of Europe – and especially Italy – with her husband in their open-topped Morgan classic car. w

For more information, go to www.yc-jewellery.co.uk or www.yc-jewellery-courses.co.uk

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