Weekend:Archive: Old and New Work Together for the Future; Ross Reyburn Finds There Is Room for Both Traditional and More Off-Beat Methods to Jewellery Making in Hockley's Vyse Street
Byline: Ross Reyburn
The setting is a throwback to the Victorian era - an atmospheric upstairs workshop in Vyse Street with a congested charm of its own, and workbenches facing leaded windows that overlook an inner courtyard. And in the corner of the room is where Louise Bryan makes PVC jewellery that can be bought in shops from the National Portrait Gallery to the Orkneys.
Twenty-eight-year-old Bryan is an interesting example of the new breed of designer complementing the traditional jewellery makers in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter. She studied three dimensional design at Newcastle College of Art before gaining a degree in silversmithing at the Birmingham School of Jewellery.
Her off-beat decision to create plastic earrings, pendants, necklaces, rings and handbags came after she missed the first year of the degree course.
'I didn't have the fine silver skills people had learned in the first year,' she recalls. 'I thought 'I'm never going to become the best silversmith or the best jeweller', so I tried to do something a bit different. I came across this company in Digbeth making a softer PVC for doorstrips for forklift trucks.
'The PVC is very flexible. I have about 50 designs I hand-print on to the jewellery - the eye, the lips and animals such as the cat are very popular. They are fun, nothing serious.'
She shares her workshop with two other former School of Jewellery colleagues, Vanessa Johnson and Glenn Campbell, and they are about to expand into another room. Her decision to stay in the quarter came through the sponsored fellowship design scheme she was on after getting her degree.
'It was European funded and based next door to the school,' she says. 'It was an amazing scheme - you were given a rent free studio space, lots of business advice and lots of help with your products from experts. They turned you from a student into a commercial business in 12 months' Her regional outlets include Birmingham's Pottery & Pieces, the unusual designer giftware shop in Moseley, and she is about to expand her company, Marmalade, by taking on an assistant.
'There are a lot of designer makers of my generation and we all stuck together in the Jewellery Quarter. The area has a really nice feel to it. It a good community,' she points out.
There are fears that arrival of the highpriced city apartments will destroy the area but traditional jeweller Jim Welsh, who has worked in the Jewellery Quarter for more than 35 years, doesn't believe this will happen.
His small firm, Jacksons Jewellery Ltd, employs seven staff including his wife Jill, who runs the administration, and son Rhys, who works alongside his father in the upstairs workshop in Vyse Street. The four pegs laden with traditional equipment have overhead lighting tubes so bright that no shadow is cast on the workspaces - 'They are lit brighter than a showroom so we can see any defects.'
His firm provides new designs - a pair of holly-shaped silver earrings was his most unusual commission last year - as well as carrying out a large number of repairs that range from the predictable to more unusual jobs, such as repairing the broken cap on a Victorian gold pencil. …