Rebecca Sellors is an in-house designer at C W Sellors, a family-run jewellers that was established in 1979. She has been working to bring an exclusive collection of Blue John jewellery to Gemporia, which we're now delighted to launch. Here, we speak to Rebecca about her journey so far and on working with Blue John, a very special gemstone that is only mined in one small location in Derbyshire, England.
How did you start in jewellery design?
Having grown up within the family business, I have always had an interest, fascination and passion for the jewellery industry. Aiming to define an area I wished to develop into I studied at the Birmingham School of Jewellery for three years, where I graduated receiving a First-Class Honours from the Jewellery and Silversmithing BA Design for Industry Degree Course. In among many fundamental hands-on industry skills, it allowed for valuable study time ‘at the bench’ and a perfect start to my career within C W Sellors.
Providing a large part of my study at university and an area which continues to drive my passion for jewellery design was the work done with CAD (Computer Aided Design) and rapid prototyping. Advancements in technology, combined with traditional skills are a fascinating combination for the modern-day jewellery designer and will continue to open up so many avenues and design opportunities.
What inspires your designs?
Depending on what any design or specific collection is for there are many channels for inspiration. In a broad context, as with any creative process, I try and take in all kinds of trends and influences adding my own interpretation which hopefully always push the boundaries of design a little further, yet I’m always mindful I want any collection/piece to be worn and enjoyed.
Through my designs and collections, I also feel I have retained a continuity over the past ten years which has combined the early influences of the vibrant and eclectic surroundings of the Birmingham School of Jewellery, to on-going inspiration taken from all types of modern architecture, nature and patterns, and the structural forms that lie within them – my Flore collection remains an on-going attribution to these observations. Although this may sound a little industrial, I am passionate about designing and handcrafting unique, striking pieces of British jewellery with a feminine edge.
What made you want to include Blue John in your designs?
C W Sellors is a business which proudly has British gemstones at the heart of any design, with Blue John the first gemstone the company began to manufacture over 40 years ago and turn into wearable pieces of jewellery. Therefore, with any new design, it isn’t a case of what makes me want to include Blue John, it’s more a thought process of what metal, design or other elements work well with this special gemstone, using the natural beauty of the stone to inspire the overall design.
Whether working on simple shapes and settings or designing wonderful Diamond-set Blue John pieces, I am trying to raise the bar for the gemstone and allow it – quite rightly – to sit alongside the most favoured pieces of any jewellery collection or shop window. It is also no surprise for anyone who has seen any of our work with Blue John that the internationally revered jewellery brand Fabergé have aligned with us to produce a limited-edition Blue John collection, for which I enjoyed the personal input.
What is your favourite thing about Blue John?
In a crowded world of gemstones and jewellery design, the popularity of established favourites such as Emeralds, Rubies and Sapphires will always take centre stage, yet should you be prepared to delve a little deeper for gemstone discovery then you will find Blue John is quite a unique material, with a fantastic array of colours and patterns which are perfect for jewellery setting. Being a finite resource, its rarity and exclusivity to one hillside in the heart of Peak District, Derbyshire, also holds a wonderful and romantic appeal.
In addition, and unlike other gemstones, Blue John has a fantastic British heritage, from the early manufacturer of bold and impressive works of art by revered craftsmen, thus leading to inclusion into the collections of Buckingham Palace, Chatsworth House to more recently the most famous auction rooms around the world, it has transcended cultures, fashion and design for over two centuries.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF BLUE JOHN
Blue John is a remarkably beautiful natural wonder that is only found in a handful of caverns near the village of Castleton in Derbyshire. The unusual name is believed to have derived from the French ‘bleu-jaune’ which means ‘blue-yellow’, which aptly describes the colours of the banding within the gem, although often the full rainbow of colours on display will include blue, yellow, purple and white.
Its discovery was once attributed to the Romans, though this has since been debunked as the earliest recorded reference to the stone comes from a letter dated 1766. The industrialist Matthew Boulton, who is most famous for his partnership with James Watt and the improvements they made to the steam engine together, attempted to lease the mines in 1768 so he could mine the gem and make decorative ornaments. The available evidence would suggest the gem had been mined for quite some time by this point, possibly even back through medieval times.
At its peak in the late 18th century, it is estimated that up to 20 tonnes of Blue John were mined every year, though this was down to three tonnes by the 1890s. Many ornaments have been expertly crafted and beautifully finished over the years, with anything from ornate candelabras to large goblets and intricately carved bowls being produced, some of which ended up with royalty at Buckingham Palace as well as being exported around the globe. Blue John is still mined but in very small quantities, estimated to be around half a tonne per year. The raw material is kept within Castleton, where it is stabilised, worked and designed into ornaments and beautiful jewellery.
Whilst supply is limited, a ‘lost’ seam was rediscovered in 2013 and two years later the first new vein in a century and a half was discovered, so hopefully supply will increase just slightly over the coming years. But there are only 15 known veins of the gem, and it is unknown just how much remains in the various caverns.
You can visit some of the caverns yourself and take guided tours around the mines that house this extraordinary gem. Your cavern guide may even be one of the small team that painstakingly hand mine the gem during the winter months. There are gift shops alongside some of the caverns and a store in nearby Castleton should you wish to own a piece of this multi-coloured homegrown treat.
Our new Blue John range is British mined, designed and made. To be the first to know about Rebecca's exquisite Blue John designs, follow us on Facebook.