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Issue 12 - Add a sparkle to your life

Scotland Magazine Issue 12
January 2004


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Add a sparkle to your life

Scotland is famed for its exquisite jewellery. Kate Patrick picks out some gems

Face it, girls, there’s nothing like the thrill of a new diamond – except, possibly, when it’s set in platinum in a ring, earring or pendant.

Fifth Avenue, Bond Street, Place Vendome and Via Montenapoleone have a lot to answer for, although it’s not as if we can escape the seductive lure of precious gem and metal in Scotland.

For those of us living here, there’s plenty from Scottish jewellers – both made in Scotland and judiciously imported – to set our pulses racing.

The Laing brothers, Stuart and Michael, who are custodians of the family firm of Laing the Jeweller which has been in business since 1840, are diamond-buying experts who regularly travel to Antwerp to pick up these and other coloured sparklers.

The majority of finished pieces in their Edinburgh and Glasgow (and also Cardiff and Southampton) shops are designed and manufactured at their own workrooms in Scotland, but they also sell luxury branded jewellery from the likes of Bulgari, Chaumet, Cartier, Chopard and Gucci.

Trends, they say, are currently towards substantial right-hand rings, and to that end they are featuring the glorious ‘hearts on fire’ diamond: the world’s most perfectly cut, sparkling, round specimen.

It is already 100 million years old, so it’ll be good for a few anniversaries to come.

Fellow Edinburgh jeweller Hamilton & Inches is a shop worth visiting if only to admire the architecture of the interior.

With ornate plaster ceilings and Corinthian columns dating from 1835, it’s a stupendous setting for H&I’s traditional and contemporary jewellery, watch and Scottish silver collections.

Over the shop there are three storeys of workshops that you can visit by appointment: here you can see the skill that goes into making a silver square-link chain, a gold orb pendant, or a thistle-embroidered quaich, and the clock room, in the eaves, has a commanding view of the Firth of Forth.

For chic and savvy shoppers doing the rounds in Glasgow, there are a number of very different choices.

Orro bridges the gap between user friendly jewellery shop and highbrow gallery, in premises that have a striking, gold façade on the corner of Bank and Cowan Streets (and another branch in the Merchant City).

Designer Graeme McColm and his business partner, Neil Smith, show clean-lined, sleek, contemporary designs: some are Graeme’s own, others are the work of leading contemporary Scottish and international jewellers such as Jess James, who makes the ‘prayer rings’ – notably worn by Ewan McGregor.

You might find jewellery incorporating titanium or rubber here: a neat fusion of artistry and science.

Eric Smith is a more traditional designer and goldsmith, but his work is no less hard to resist.

All the jewellery in the Newton Mearns store is made in his workshop, including the ‘Morse’ pieces which have personalised Morse Code messages ‘written’ in diamonds (Bill Clinton has one in his collection).

Diamond watches, platinum rings, rubies, aquamarines and strings of pearls are all to be found here – and it’s a place to treat yourself after a hard year’s work. (Or should that be hard week’s work, given that this is spendy Glasgow?)

Meanwhile, at Starry Starry Night, off the Byres Road, vintage meets bespoke (two irresistible trends): silversmith Bethsy Gray’s work is a lively complement to the romantic treasure trove of vintage and theatrical clothes.

She incorporates moonstones, garnets, turquoise and amber, and is regularly commissioned to make bespoke pieces.

The further you get from the central belt, the more celtic becomes the jewellery... and this is where Orkney has blazed a trail.

Orkney silversmiths have become synonymous with the use of whisper-fine silver filigree that is expertly twisted into celtic knots, crosses and other traditional icons.

Ola Gorie is the best known: from her dedicated team of craftspeople in Kirkwall come collections with names like Machair, Mistral and Ninian’s Isle – this one inspired by a tiny Shetland isle, on which there is a ruined chapel from the days of the first Christian missionaries where a horde of gold and silver treasure lay buried for centuries.

Gorie’s is an award-winning, family business, and all her pieces – which are widely sold not just around Scotland but also in the rest of Britain and the US – are finely-crafted and probably the best in the genre.

The other Orkney company that has gone international with its work is Ortak.

Founded in the late 1960s, Ortak specialises in gold and silver jewellery with strongly historic – and romantic – themes running through it.

Orkney was settled well over 6,000 years ago, and there is a wealth of architectural sites and remains from which to draw inspiration.

Ortak’s runic rings, for example, incorporate the Viking characters for love, loyalty and friendship.

The designers have an eye to fashion too, using precious and semiprecious stones to enhance some of the flowing shapes: top sellers are an enchanting 18ct gold woven celtic ring with a diamond, and a curvy silver pendant with an amethyst.

Although Ortak is sold in its own and other jewellery shops around Britain and overseas,the manufacturing base remains in Kirkwall, the capital of the islands referred to by local writer George Mackay Brown as “like sleeping whales beside an ocean of time.”

Elsewhere in the country, I should stop to mention Cairncross in Perth, established in 1869, which is a spacious shop and probably best known for its jewellery that incorporates Scottish pearls.

Pearl-fishing ceased in Scotland some years ago, but Cairncross still has supplies. In Aberdeen, Sandy Menzies, at the Academy Centre, is a fashion-led jewellery designer with a very inviting, contemporary shop.

And I always enjoy a look round Skye Jewellery when I’m passing through Broadford: it started ten years ago, making rings that were set with Skye marble, and now produces full collections based on Skye’s scenic highlights – Loch Coruisk, the Cuillins etc – incorporating a whole rainbow of gemstones. There’s always a friendly welcome here.

In North Berwick, L’Argenette is run by Gillian O’Brien: a goldsmith and gemologist who specialises in one-off commission pieces in precious metal. Her workbench is, rather engagingly, in the front of the shop.

So if you’re planning to pop the question on North Berwick beach, as a friend of mine did the other day, you could do worse than look in here on the way – or the way home.