The next stop was a visit at the contemporary jeweller shop of Lucy Ann’s. She combines handmade lace textiles with jewellery making, using a combination of metallic and silk threads, fine wires and tiny inserts of coloured silk fabrics and specialises in Bridal wear, decorated with tiny seed beads abd swarovski crystals.
By that time we were a little bit tired and so we stopped for a quick coffee before moving on to the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter. Originally it was the Smith & Peppers wholesale jewellery manufacturing company, which was founded in 1899 by Charles Smith and Edwin Pepper. Birmingham had and has still the largest and biggest Assay Office in the world, we were told by our tour guide Sarah. 4000 people are still said to work in the jewellery quarter, although in the past it was about 60 – 70 000 people. An apprenticeship lasted 7 years then.
On avwerage, Jewellers earned more 20 years ago than now, she explained. But still 70 % of the UK’s jewellery is produced here.
In 1981 the family members running Smith& Peppers retired, they had no heirs and none of the other relatives wanted to take over the business. Nobody wanted to buy the business either, so they just closed it one day and left everything as it was, in the hope there would be a possibility to continue production later when the recession was overcome.
In 1990 the Birmingham Council bought the premises to restore it as a museum.
Smith and Peppers sold their products via a wholesale catalogue and specialised in “bamboo bangles”. In the WW2 they continued to make jewellery in the afternoon and air pressure parts for planes in the morning.
The symbol for Birmingham jewellery is the anchor, but it might not necessarily be on the jewellery, but the Smith & Pepper hallmark should be. The hallmark for Edinburgh is the castle, for London the Lion and Sheffield originally had a crown before it was changed to a rose. The symbols were decided by tossing a coin, so that’s why Birmingham got the anchor without being situated at the sea.
Smith and Pepper never made any ring as the market was saturated, but they specialised in bracelets, earrrings and brooches.
The design doesn’t look aged at all, as the 1914 design came back in fashion. The bangles are light and hollow, and Sarah demonstrated how they were made at the workbench. The factory originally was also a family home till 1961, after when they converted the buildings. The white tiles on the outside of the building were used to reflect the light into the work space.
Our group was able to try out some of the tools and after a demonstration of the more heavy equipment we were able to eat our free sandwiches in the neighbouring cafe.
Walking back to the NUJ conference, leaving the rest of the group to further explore Mathew Boulton’s Soho House, home of the Lunar Society, St Pauls Square and the Royal Birmingham Society of Arts in the afternoon.