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Little Gems 2012 – New Commissions Made by Next Generation of Silversmiths

29 Mar 2012

Two young silversmiths who only recently started working in Sheffield, Zoë Watts and Alexander Kerrison, have been commissioned by the Sheffield Assay Office to design and create two brand new silverware objects that will be added to Sheffield’s renowned Metalwork collections.   The pieces will go on public display in the main reception area of Millennium Gallery, from 26th March until September 2012.

The Little Gems commissions project was started in 2004 to develop new silversmithing talent in Sheffield and continue the city’s longstanding tradition of metalworking expertise and creativity.  The project gives up and coming makers a unique opportunity to see their designs join the work made by some of the UK’s leading silversmiths in the city’s nationally significant metalwork collections. The Sheffield Assay Office has to date commissioned 18 of the new Little Gems pieces, created by talented early-career silversmiths who are part of Yorkshire Artspace’s prestigious Starter Studio Programme for Silversmiths and Jewellers.

All of the Little Gems artworks reflect the interests and skills of each individual maker.  These commissions, worth £1500 each, provide the silversmiths with time and materials to develop their ideas into an ambitious new piece of work.  For Little Gems 2012 the Sheffield Assay Office requested that this year’s Diamond Jubilee Hallmark would be incorporated into each design. 

The Little Gems pieces are displayed in the main reception area of Millennium Gallery for a period of 6 months, after which one piece will be taken into the collection of the Sheffield Assay Office and the other will become part of Museums Sheffield’s Metalwork collection.

For Little Gems 2012, Alexander Kerrison designed a carafe, combining his passion for silversmithing and glass blowing.  He says:  “My idea to combine the two materials developed since I was awarded a place on the Starter Studio Programme at Yorkshire Artspace.  I think this work has great potential to be taken into many different directions and product ranges.  I am passionate about these materials because they are so different in the way they respond to the making process: glassblowing gives instant results but can so easily go wrong; shaping the silver is a much slower process and requires more planning.  I think they complement each other beautifully.”

Zoë Watts chose to continue to perfect her chasing skills having recently received a ‘Commendation’ for the use of traditional hammering techniques at the Goldsmiths’ Craft and Design Council’s ‘Craftsmanship Awards’ held in London earlier this month.  She used the Little Gems opportunity to create a candle and match-stick holder with candle snuffer, an ambitious and time-consuming set to make as Zoë explains: “I love the energy that needs to go into the skill of raising and chasing. You really have to know the capabilities of the material you are working with.  It takes hours of constant hammering and heating which, if you are not careful, can wear the silver thin and brittle to breaking point.  This particular piece has been a real challenge for me but I’m very pleased with the results.

Ashley Carson, Assay Master at the Sheffield Assay Office said: “The Assay Office is proud to have been involved in the career development of so many young silversmiths who have been supported by Yorkshire Artspace’s Starter Studio Programme.  We believe it is important to help younger silversmiths in this city as they start their career and we are particularly proud of the fact that traditional skills are passed on by the more experienced generations who have made their home in Sheffield.” 

Little Gems 2012 will take place at the Millennium Gallery from 26th March to 17th September 2012


All images copyright of Museum Sheffield/Hazel Drummonds zoe-watts-little-gems-2012

Christopher Jewitt and Chris Heaton

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