Hi ho silver for duo’s right Royal metalwork gems

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TWO young silversmiths who only recently started working in Sheffield have designed and created two new silverware objects that will be added to the city’s renowned Metalwork collections.

The pieces by Zoë Watts and Alexander Kerrison, commissioned by the Sheffield Assay office, are now on display in the Millennium Gallery.

They are the latest Little Gems commissions started in 2004 to develop new silversmithing talent in Sheffield and continue the city’s longstanding tradition of metalworking expertise and creativity. Each year the Sheffield Assay Office invites submissions from early-career silversmiths who are part of Yorkshire Artspace’s prestigious Starter Studio Programme for Silversmiths and Jewellers. This time they stipulated that the 2012 Diamond Jubilee Hallmark should be incorporated into each design.

The commissions, worth £1500 each, provide the silversmiths with time and materials to develop their ideas into an ambitious new piece of work reflecting the interests and skills of each individual maker. Hallmarks are usually incidentals, often stamped on the bottom of silver pieces but they both chose to make the Jubilee Hallmark - the Queen’s head within a diamond frame - prominent.

Zoë Watts, who comes from Wootoon Bassett in Wiltshire, chose to continue to perfect her chasing skills having recently been commended for the use of traditional hammering techniques at the Goldsmiths’ Craft and Design Council’s Craftsmanship Awards.

For Little Gems she created a candle and match-stick holder with candle snuffer. Her speciality of chasing and repoussé is hand-raising the metal from both the inside and outside.

“I love the energy that needs to go into the skill of raising and chasing,” she says. “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. “

Alex Kerrison designed a carafe, combining his passion for silversmithing and glass blowing - nurtured from an early age. “I have been glassmaking since I was 15 and went on work experience to Ingrid Pears hot glass studio at Thoresby Hall in Nottinghamshire,” he explains. Later Alex decided to go and study a course combining silver and glass work.

He enjoys the contrast in the techniques required. “With glasswork it’s an intense half-an-hour or so of hard work in the heat. You can’t stop or the thing will drop to the floor - it’s like jelly or treacle.” The glass in the Little Gem piece was the fourth attempt.

By contrast the process of silversmithing is slower and more considered. He plans to develop the Little Gems design into a range of individual and hand-made carafes. Little Gems 2012 will be on display in the Arundel Gate foyer of the Millennium Gallery until September 17 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.