A Freeman of the Goldsmiths’ Company, Founder Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Arts Scholars as well as a regular contributor to BBC Television's Antique Roadshow, John Benjamin sits down with Gem-A to discuss his passion behind antique collectibles.
One of the key speakers at this year's Gem-A Conference, John Benjamin will be presenting a talk on the fast-changing period of jewellery history. John will take attendees on a journey of jewellery design from the grim mourning slides of the early 1700s to the dainty sentimental lockets of the Georgian era, highlighting many of the notable gems in fashion throughout the eighteenth century.
Gem-A caught up with John Benjamin amongst his preparation for the Conference presentation, ‘Skulls, Steel and Sentiment: A Short Tour of Jewellery Design in the Eighteenth Century', securing some exclusive insider knowledge...
Q. What is it about antique jewellery that captures your interest?
I was lucky enough to start my career in 1972 at Cameo Corner, a wonderful antique jewellery shop located in Bloomsbury, 50 yards from the gates of the British Museum. In those days Cameo Corner boasted an unrivalled stock of superb antique jewels ranging from ancient gold torc collars through to Renaissance stomachers, Georgian parures and Victorian diamond diadems. Surrounded by such beautiful objects taught me that antique jewellery is invariably beautifully made, has great integrity and unique charm.
Q. In your presentation at the Gem-A Conference 2017, what should we expect to hear and learn from you?
My presentation will examine English and European jewellery from the reign of Queen Anne to George IV touching on many of the changing fashions and influences in this fascinating and turbulent period. I will also be looking at some of the gems which were used in the 18th Century including how they were cut and set.
Q. What is your most memorable antique find to date?
Unquestionably the remaining stock of the Falcon Studio, a collection of around 120 items made by Henry George Murphy, a brilliant Goldsmith, Silversmith and Designer Craftsman whose output spanned Arts and Crafts through to Art Deco.
Q. In such a fast-changing period of jewellery history, would you say that the inclusion of gemstones has always been a key feature in jewellery design?
I am equally enthralled by a simple medieval gold ring deficient of gems as I am by a Georgian necklace dripping with rubies and diamonds. The addition of a gem – whether rudimentary or sophisticated – will always add an additional level of interest (and associated value) but it can often be the case that “less is more” and a plain unadorned setting can have just as much impact as one overburdened with gemstones.
A Napoleonic neo-classical malachite cameo and three-colour gold cannetille work parure.
- 'Skulls, Steel and Sentiment: A Short Tour of Jewellery Design in the Eighteenth Century’ by John Benjamin will take place Saturday 4 November 2017 at 11:15-12:15pm.
- To purchase your tickets to the Gem-A Conference 2017 and full listings of the programme, please visit the official website here.
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Cover image John Benjamin featuring an 18th Century ruby and diamond brooch fully silver-set with old-cut and rose-cut diamonds and vari-cut rubies.
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