Meet the Artisan jeweller: Will Bishop
PUBLISHED: 16:48 13 September 2016 | UPDATED: 10:52 27 October 2016
Boxford jeweller Will Bishop specialises in work that is unique, has personality and reflects his early days as a sculptor
Once a year, jeweller Will Bishop has a good clear-out. He gathers up the carpets under his bench, carefully folds up the leather pouches that catch debris from his work, empties the filters underneath various machines. Then, rather than chuck the whole dusty lot in the bin, he posts it, registered, to one of the precious metal recovery companies in Hatton Garden.
In return for his trouble, he receives a chit explaining how much value was in that unpromising envelope of dust, and a cheque that quite comfortably covers the cost of a family holiday.
“They filter out any tiny shards of precious metal and turn it into bullion,” Will explains. He works from a studio, a purpose-built space behind his home in Boxford, a village that made its name from weaving in the 14th and 15th centuries. A glance round his snug space suggests that the annual clear-out is, perhaps, due. Diamond-tipped drill bits stand in a wooden block, making one part of the room appear not dissimilar to a manic dentist’s surgery.
Elsewhere there are cutters, pliers, some with minutely-fine tips, soldering irons, the wherewithal to gold-plate silver, to measure, hammer, saw and buff. Scattered in between the tools are works in progress, glinting pieces of silver and gold being fashioned into bumblebee earrings, vintage car cufflinks, or one of his signature chunky barrel rings. And yes, he does spend time scrabbling around on the floor in search of dropped earrings or butterflies.
“My old studio had wooden floorboards which were a disaster – I kept losing stuff. This laminate floor is much safer!” He works on several projects at once. “There’s always something going on at every station and, yes, it can appear a bit chaotic I suppose.” His wife, Catherine, also a jeweller but more often to be found managing Will’s accounts, commissions and workflow, keeps him on track. She writes a to-do list on the whiteboard. When I visit, he has a blue topaz cocktail ring to make, a silver and pearl heart necklace, and some personalised necklace letters. Recently crossed-out completed jobs include a gold vermeil coil ring and a pearl bracelet with bee charm. He’s currently loving making a gold ear cuff, a delicate arrangement of tiny intertwined ivy leaves and minuscule cultured pearls for a client in London.
Will completed a first degree in sculpture. His interest morphed into jewellery after time spent in Africa. The influences of the continent are clear. Whatever the metal and whether plain or set with semi- or precious stones, his pieces are textured and organic, his designs bold, wearable, colourful and full of personality.
“I don’t want to make things that look as if they’re from the high street or machine made. It’s a truth that the human eye doesn’t like perfection, finds imbalance more pleasing than symmetry. I think people are going back to this, looking for things that are unique.” He makes most of his pieces to order.
“We’ll discuss a job over the phone first, but I like the client to come in if possible, and even to see the piece as it’s being made.” He doesn’t court celebrity (he’d quite like to make Victoria Beckham a ring, though), but admits it would have been fun if U2’s Bono and bass player Adam Clayton had popped in to see their commissions underway. “I made them rings to wear on a world tour. Adam’s was a fun piece. He sent me a massive heart-shaped emerald that I set in a chunky gold ring.”
Will often creates pieces in silver first – it’s cheaper to make mistakes than in gold or platinum – before ordering any gold and gems – ethically sourced of course – on approval from trusted dealers in London’s Hatton Garden. He will sometimes make similar versions of a piece to display in his studio cabinet, where a beautiful array of jewellery catches the light – gold and ruby eternity rings, a silver bangle set with diamonds, pearls, turquoise and sapphires, opal and diamond earrings, bee brooches and cufflinks.
His immediate surroundings provide inspiration – ivy scrambling over the garden wall, insects that bring his garden to life, pebbles on a beach. “I enjoyed making a silver drum ring with a polished carnelian, inscribed with the date of a romantic walk. The client had found the stone while walking on Southwold beach and asked me to set it in a ring.”
I leave carefully. Should I should check the soles of my shoes for slivers of precious metal? Will shrugs off my concerns. “But I do like your earrings!” he says of my simple, hammered silver pair. Praise indeed from such a skilled craftsman.