In conversation with Jessica Briggs
Jessica originally studied Printed and Woven Textile Design at Manchester. Later, her love of drawing, texture, pattern and colour was matched by her discovery of metal. She has combined these passions in jewellery-making, finding infinite expression in the exploration, experimentation and refinement of her inspirations and techniques.
When studying for her MA at Sheffield, she learnt an ancient Korean technique (called Kuem-boo) for fusing gold to silver. This opened up a whole new methodology. Making the technique her own and using it in conjunction with increasingly sophisticated texturing of sheet silver, Jessica established an individual and identifiable way of working. All designs, no matter the origin of the inspiration, are always translated into elegant pieces with subtle textures or are more complex with layered finishes. There is always an inherent simplicity of both form and function.
"I am Jessica Briggs, a designer/maker of contemporary precious metal jewellery."
What is your background?
"I graduated from my first degree in Printed and Woven Textile Design at Manchester Art School in 1981, and had an exciting and varied career as a homewares designer for over a decade.
A desire for change led me to evening classes in silversmithing/jewellery and from the first moment my hammer struck metal I knew this would be my future. I set up a workbench at home and began experimenting with whatever metals came to hand. After a year I set up my business and developed 2 ranges of work: recycled tin alongside silver with gold leaf daisies. Both were widely exhibited and my daisy range became a real commercial success."
"After a few years of daisy production, I commenced a part-time MA in Metalwork and Jewellery at SHU, in order to immerse myself in a creative metalworking environment. There I had the good fortune to share a studio with a Korean tutor who taught me the ancient Korean technique of Keumboo – a way of fusing high carat gold to silver. This proved to be the perfect creative tool for me, when allied to my new love of the rolling mill, which I was using to print texture into metal."
How would you descirbe your jewellery and what makes your work unique?
"It is my use of keumboo, combined with my love of pattern and
texture, which gives my work its USP. I create many differing surfaces on silver, which I layer with sections of gold and often finish with oxidation to add elements of grey.
I use simple forms, gently shaped in some way, to allow the surface design to sing. Each piece is carefully considered, individually made and well finished.
My motivation for making jewellery is to create pieces that people will want to own and love to wear. Even small earstuds can bestow joy, empowerment and protection upon the wearer : jewellery can be very powerful."
Where do you find inspiration when designing and making jewellery?
"I collect anything and everything, having boxes of pebbles, shells, seeds, sticks, insect corpses, feathers, buttons, papers, fabrics, yarns etc etc. I am always surrounded by interesting bits, beautiful objects and fascinating textures. It may look like chaos, but for me it is rich and fertile ground from which ideas grow."
Do you follow rituals when you get into the studio/workshop?
"A contemplative cup of tea, before entering the workshop, is my ideal start to the day. Once I have calmly thought about the work ahead, I will go down a flight of stairs to my workshop. My creative spaces have always been both within and separate to the home."
What steps do you follow when creating a new range of jewellery?
"The creation of new work happens in a variety of ways. I may have a strong vision of a piece, sit at the bench and work it through, directly in metal. Or I may sit and draw an idea, repeatedly, reassessing the design for the perfect balance, proportion and method. Sometimes I begin by building a complex pattern on silver sheet and then consider how best to use the result. And sometimes I just play with things and see what happens. I employ whichever methodology best suits the project.
New ranges will usually start with the making of a neck piece. The ideas which it contains will then be used to create smaller complimentary items, such as earrings."
Do you wear your own jewellery?
"A pair of my own simple studs are my go-to earrings and when going out I like to wear one of my big chains or pendants. I enjoy playing with scale in my chains, making pieces that catch the eye as soon as they enter a room. The right piece of jewellery is such a confidence booster! If a big statement isn’t appropriate, I may wear a brooch. I recently made myself a simple budding twig to mark my first covid jab - a small remembrance of a powerful act."
Do you create anything other than jewellery (not necessarily professionally, perhaps as a hobby)?
"I am always on the lookout for opportunities to make pieces other than jewellery and have recently been shortlisted for The Cooper Art Prize. I do not see fine art pieces as an adjunct to my jewellery making, rather it is an important and necessary part of my reflective practice.
Similarly, I have life drawn intermittently since my art foundation course. It is a wonderful way of connecting eye to hand and if I am ever stuck with my work, I return to life drawing. It is never about the finished thing, always about process and it never disappoints."
Do you have a favourite piece of art, and if so, who is it by?
"My favourite painting is by our son, created at infant school and inspired by Paul Klee. It is a colourful, joyful thing."
Lastly, what advice would you give to someone who has just started making jewllery?
"The world is a very different place for a jeweller now compared to when I started out [no computer or smart phone], but the one thing that doesn’t alter is the requirement for successful work to be interesting [even if very simple], individual and well made. It is important to find your own voice and make well. Be prepared to work hard and the rest will hopefully follow."