Bronze Age treasures in our museums are testament to our heritage and skill for making some seriously shiny stuff out of metal
Visit the Ór, Ireland’s Gold exhibition in the National Museum Dublin, and get versed on Ireland’s rich history of jewellery design. Once you start shopping, you'll then be amazed at how the Celtic era continues to provide inspiration for modern jewellery designers across the island.
“The Celts were passionate and renowned internationally as exceptional artists in metal and jewellery,” according to top Irish designer Melissa Curry. “The Torc [a traditional necklace] was socially versatile, often prestigious and held strong ritual association. It was thought they acted like a talisman offering the wearer mystical forms of protection. Jewellery was very much a part of a way of life in Celtic culture.”
Jewellery is still very much part of modern design in Ireland with many designers drawing inspiration from their surroundings and sometimes even their customers. Fiona Kerr can be found rustling up simple but rather brilliant and quirky collections in her County Antrim workshop. “Some of the most interesting pieces of jewellery I have made were specially commissioned items from local people,” Fiona says of her creations.
Ali Nash, meanwhile, bases a lot of the work displayed in her Dublin workshop on the colours, textures and shapes that surround her: “Ireland’s sea and mountainous landscape inspire my creative design process. I use a lot of rough cut stones and Aqua Marine in my work. For me, this is what makes Ireland so beautiful. Ireland is a contrasting space, hard and soft and both large and small in scale.”
All that glistens
If it’s diversity you’re after, there’s no shortage on this little island: The Steensons in Belfast sell their own beautiful bespoke designs, as well as those of Northern Ireland jeweller, Jill Graham. Her influences stem from organic structures and elements of plant life. And Merle O’Grady’s futuristic style obsession has decked out women in statement pieces, including R&B stars Beyoncé and Rihanna.
Peer to peer inspiration
So where do they look to for inspiration? Ali Nash says Leitrim-based Erika Marks “has always been a great source of inspiration”. She also loves “the design point of view that Laragh McMonagle and Ruzica Ruane bring to the table”.
To admire (and perhaps purchase) a plethora of jewellery at once, stores such as the Designworks Studio in Cork city or Dublin’s Designyard both stock a great variation of designers. Fiona Kerr, though, likes to pop into Space Craft in Belfast as “it’s full of lovely handmade craft, there is always something new and interesting to look at”.
Ali Nash adds: “The National Art Gallery in Dublin is one of my favourite places. The direct correlation between art and design has always been very important to me and I feel that the National Art Gallery presents this balance extremely well.”
Inspiration, it’s everywhere, it seems. But wouldn’t it be nice if it found its way to decorating your wrist, ear or neck?