Exquisite alchemy: The art of Cirencester jeweller Louise Parry
- Credit: louiseparry.co.uk
Cirencester-based artist jeweller Louise Parry has the ability to take complex thoughts and ideas and translate them into a simple elegance, often with a practical purpose, says Tracy Spiers
It may be an exquisite brooch made in 2005, but its symbolic, simplistic elegance encapsulates the essence of the Cotswold artist jeweller who created it. I am looking at Creation 1, a striking image of a meteor about to hit earth forged in silver and 18 carat gold, with the meteor epitomised by a black Tahitian pearl. This Kandinsky-style signature piece won Louise Parry an award at the prestigious Tahitian Pearl Trophy 17 years ago, and helped inspire the brand she is known for, both here and abroad.
Professional expertise, a passion for her art and narratives shared in confidence by her clients, are meticulously soldered together in a harmonious way. Playfulness, skill, dedication, and focus are the unseen ingredients mixed into the design and ultimately the finished item be it is a silver and gold gem set clock, highly individual engagement ring, pendant, or pair of sapphire cufflinks. Each mark, each shape and each stone mean something.
Not surprisingly, Louise is a leader in her field. She has won an impressive array of awards and accolades including recent ones such as the Future Icons Accessories Award; a Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Grant to gain experience from renowned silversmith Rod Kelly; a Goldsmiths’ Company Five-day Internship to work with enameller, Ruth Ball and she was Winner of The Craft and Design Magazine Award for her Black Headlight Mechanical Clock, Celebration of Craftsmanship and Design, Cheltenham. Louise has been selected to exhibit at the highly esteemed Goldsmiths' Fair in London on eleven occasions and is a Freeman of the Goldsmiths Company and the City of London. Her work is included in private collections throughout the world, with her Desktop Clock purchased for the Pearson Silver Collection. The exposure given by Goldsmiths’ Fair has been instrumental in the rise of her profile as one of the top designers working in the UK today.
But behind the professional is a warm, caring individual who puts as much of herself into the work she creates as the mix of textures, metals and processes she uses. Thirty-five years on, her work is polished yet powerful, concentrated yet considered, precious yet poignant. This is a designer who knows her tools and what she can do with them to deliver the priceless timeless pieces that will become the future heirlooms in many families far and wide.
Each client has a story to tell. It may be a story of love, loss, celebration, or remembrance but Louise listens and somehow empathetically communicates what needs to be said through the skills she has perfected over the years.
It was a discerning authoritative figure at school who first recognised Louise’s ability to see through a creative lens when she illustrated divergent thinking at a young age.
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‘I was five years old and remember being sent to the headmistress’ office because I had taken a piece of cloth that was supposed to be embroidered and converted it into a teddy bear instead,’ recalls Louise.
‘I thought I was going to be told off, but instead she was amazed at this little girl who had a different view and had created something.’
Inspired by Picasso and the Cubist artists Kandinsky, Klee and others from the School of Bauhaus – famous for its approach to design and combining aesthetics with everyday function – Louise shares their ability to take complex thoughts and ideas and translate them into a simple elegance that has practical purpose. She follows the ‘less is more’ principle which works well for her jewellery and clock designs.
I meet her at her contemporary stylish shop/workshop on West Market Place, which is in the shadow of Cirencester’s magnificent Parish Church of St John the Baptist. Influenced by an intriguing side street shop in Paris, Louise says she has created her own version of the shop she fell in love with in 2010. ‘Like the shop I saw in Paris, I wanted to showcase a small number of covetable items of jewellery. In a less is more sort of way, I wanted to focus on the quality of individual pieces rather than designing items that could be mass produced.’
In a way, Louise’s workshop and shop, based in a gorgeous four-storey building, encapsulates her work process, her own personal story and her beautiful timepieces. It is layered, enthralling and changes in perspective the higher one goes. My interviews are often succinct. Today however the conversation has an ebb and flow that takes us in different directions, often deviating from the topic at hand. We are both artists, mothers, lovers of nature, enjoy humour and playfulness. All aspects are relevant. I believe to understand someone’s work, means understanding the person who created it. Being allowed into an artist’s studio is an invitation into their unique creative space and world. It is where they think, play, consider, make mistakes, learn, and relearn. I am always intrigued by the tools used in a discipline I am not familiar with. Louise’s studio on the third floor, is full of pliers, doming blocks, magnifying goggles, soldering kit, hammer drill, a rather threatening dentist’s drill, and a stone-setting drill. Perhaps her favourite tool is a hammer she uses to create her signature texture, which she found in a barn just outside Cirencester.
I also spot a pair of binoculars, but Louise confides that they were used to watch a Peregrine Falcon which circled the church during lockdown.
She has come a long way since 1987, when having completed her art foundation and degree, established her workshop in New Brewery Arts with the help of the Enterprise Allowance Scheme. Since then, commissions have made up a large part of Louise’s business, including remodelling, an environmentally friendly way of creating new designs. This involves using stones from an inherited but seldom item of jewellery and creating a more updated setting, based on a design agreed mutually with the client. Sometimes the components of remodelling commissions have more sentimental worth than material value.
‘Commissions have included a wide variety of materials such as a shell casing brought back from service abroad and converted into engraved cufflinks, to more recently memorial pieces containing ashes of a deceased loved one. It is a meditative process when working on pieces of such importance for clients. I can often spend a whole day working in silence depending on the piece,’ says Louise.
Another recent commission was an uncut diamond handed down through generations of a family which she has now set in a stunning engagement ring.
‘It originally was brought out of Nazi Germany hidden by a family fleeing the war. It arrived on my workbench in a beautiful hand-carved box that it was originally carried in,’ she adds.
And last year, one of Louise’s favourite commissions was remodelling five gold rings into three pendants for a mother and her two daughters to reflect their individual styles.
‘The mother is a professional cellist, and the designs were musically inspired by adapting one of my previous designs into bass clef shaped pendants.’
Over the past 35 years, Louise may have won numerous awards yet perhaps the greatest testimony is the fact clients who commissioned her at the start of her career, return again and again.
Her work has stretched her, tested her, challenged her, earned her prestige and success, but I sense Louise has reached a place where she can appreciate how far she has come and enjoy her work in a fresh way.
‘Having lived and worked in Cirencester for over 30 years now, I have developed a love for the town and found inspiration through the history and beauty of the place,’ says Louise.
‘Visiting the Corinium Museum one day I was captivated by the simple beauty of the new Stone Age to Corinium exhibition and in particular an iron age coin with a horse on the front.’ It resulted in Louise recreating the coin for sale as a necklace to help raise money for the Museum.
Before I leave, I challenge her to create a piece of jewellery that celebrates the ups and downs of her own journey, her life, successes, victories, hard times, the precious, the celebrations and simply her as a person.
‘Well, I am designing my own engagement ring,’ she smiles. ‘I am calling it the New Wave as it represents the love I have received from a very supportive partner. Having a strong presence of love in the background is very important.’
And it is here where I return to the meteor, a black Tahitian pearl hitting the earth, depicted by a lightning strike in silver and gold. It is simple in shape and style yet loaded with meaning. And perhaps years on, it has a fresh meaning for the jeweller who made it.
Every stone has its perfect setting, and it appears to me, so does its designer.