Catherine Hills: Gill Wing Jewellery Q & A

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Gill Wing Jewellery is celebrating its twenty year anniversary with their original featured jewellery artist, then fresh RCA graduate Catherine Hills, by collaborating with and allowing her to 'take over' their gallery in the month of May. Here the gallery interviews the jeweller...

How did you become a jeweller?

CH: While I was on my challenging foundation year at Maidstone, I discovered my talent lay in 3D work. My initial desire to be a scientific or book illustrator was replaced with thoughts of being a jewellery designer. I was encouraged by my family to find an artistic career that might have a greater chance of financial success. I guess they worried about the life of a struggling artist!

If not jewellery...what would you be doing instead?

CH: I love the idea of being a zoologist, as the natural world holds so much wonder and fascination for me.

If I had not been offered a place at Art College, I intended to be a speech therapist. I actually secured a place at, Central School of Speech and Drama.

I had always dreamed of a career in the arts, so once I was offered the place at Maidstone Art College, my path was set and I have not looked back.

Which 3 words describe your jewellery?

CH: Tactile, Textured and Tempting!

What steps go into making a piece of jewellery?

CH: The steps are different, depending on what I am making. My 'ready to wear’ pieces, which I sell in my shop and other galleries, are small batch produced cast pieces.

In the past, I drew the design in my sketchbook, often making a basic model in paper, in order to get the proportions correct. I then made the master myself, from metal, to be reproduced using the casting method. However, for the last eight years, most of my masters have been made in wax, as I cannot get the same finish I desire in metal. I now draw the designs with even more accurate detail, so my amazing wax carver can carve them by hand, never with CAD! It is vital to me, that the old craft skills stay alive and I support them, wherever possible.

Other pieces, the 'one off' jewellery items, I fabricate completely by hand, from start to finish; often using a fly press to create the initial shapes.

The most interesting and challenging commission I have done since I opened my shop, was to create my version of a customers favourite Silver Bangle, from South America, in solid Gold. I was totally out of my comfort Zone, as I had to use hammering techniques, I had not used since I was at the RCA, in 1993. I was also using large amounts of sheet Gold and wire; something I rarely get to use, due to the high material value.

It turned out better than I had hoped and the customer was thrilled. The satisfaction, I got from making the piece myself by hand, from beginning to end, was immense.

Where do you go for inspiration? (Person or place)

CH: I get my inspiration, increasingly from nature, especially from creatures under the sea. I love swimming and life under the water fascinates me. I spend any spare time I have, going to art exhibitions, museums and galleries, for research and ideas. My favourite past time is wandering around antique markets, mairs and brocantes, as I am a collector of strange, often useless, objects; which I use as props, for my photography and my shop display.

Is there a material or technique you would love to use but haven't yet?

CH: I have only recently started working in platinum, as, until now, I did not have a suitable torch for the job. It is a very different metal to work with and I have not mastered it yet but, hopefully, that will change! I have a real affinity to silver and I love everything about the metal. I am so familiar and comfortable with it; it is just like an old friend.

I would love to go to Italy and do a granulation course, with the amazingly talented jeweller, Giovanni Corvaja. I have always been obsessed with beaded, bobbly textured jewellery and the ancient art of granulation. My work is characterised by its highly textured surfaces, in combination with the oxidisation and polishing away, to create a striking contrast. So to learn the original beading technique, would be a wonderful skill to try to get to grips with. 

What jewellery are you wearing at the moment? 
(what is your favourite piece of jewellery that you have ever made?)

CH: The piece of the moment, is my new Owl ring, with orange sapphire eyes, worn on my right hand index finger. I have never worn a ring on that finger, but I have discovered I love it, so now I wear a ring on both of my index fingers!

My favourite piece of jewellery that I made, is my Oxidised Silver 'Baroque Armour Collar' Necklace. I initially made it to sell but as soon as I had finished it, I took it home with me to wear. I have never done that before, but it feels like it belongs to me and expresses my personality. I wear it often and despite of its size, it adds some glamour to jeans and boiler suits, which I live in.

"Green is my favourite colour. Green is all around us: in nature, the grass, the leaves of plants, flowers and trees.” - Catherine Hills

Do you have a favourite jeweller, someone whose work you crave?

CH: My wedding ring was made for me, by my good friend, Christoph Zellweger. We met at the RCA and, as he was trained by his father, a Swiss jeweller, the craft is in his blood. His reputation, as an experimental, avant garde maker and his attention to detail and traditional technical skill, is greatly admired everywhere. That is my most treasured piece of jewellery. It is set with a special, 'Context Cut’ diamond, which I have never seen before, or since. It tells mine and my husband's story; with its detailed personal imagery and engraving.

I have a special necklace made by Victoria Walker, which was a gift from my husband. It is a Silver and Gold ‘Rose.' I rarely get given jewellery, for obvious reasons, but he knew how much I admired her work and I love it.

I think if I could have any jewellers work, it would be a special piece by Andrew Lamb, or a Wendy Ramshaw Ring.

What is the reason for jewellery in this world?

CH: I think jewellery is in the world for two reasons; to adorn the body and make people feel good, unique even, and to tell a story. However, the greatest and most important reason, is as a gift of love and friendship.Throughout history, jewellery has been bought and given, as a sign of love and affection. It is permanent, something that passes through generations.

I am increasingly being given old, or broken family jewellery, to make it into something new and representative of the time. Something that my customers can pass on to their children.

What tool can't you live without?

CH: I could not do without many of my tools, but if pushed, my favourite hand tool would be my pliers and my desk tool, my micro motor.

However, I love my torch and soldering has always been something I love to do. It started at Middlesex, where I had to learn to solder multiple times, on one piece, as I was making strange, large, articulated rings. Soldering was a skill, at which I needed to become adept!

What was the best thing about working on the Harry Potter jewellery

CH: Making the jewellery for the 'Harry Potter’ films, has, up to now, been the most exciting and probably career enhancing job I have ever done. The films are so popular and people are fascinated to hear what pieces I made for it and how I was chosen to make them. They are wonderful films and they have been a firm favourites of my children.

It was fate that put me in touch with one of the films costume designers, when she visited my workshop in Clerkenwell, in 2002. Vivienne gave Warner Brothers, my name, as they were looking for makers. One day, many months later, I got a fax from them commissioning the work.

I thought it was a joke when a fax with their 'very recognisable' but faint logo came creaking through on my ancient paper roll fax machine; a hand me down from my father, from the 90’s. It was almost like magic, I could not believe it and I still pinch myself. Vivienne and I have remained friends and I am so grateful to her and for making that fateful day possible.

The best thing about working on the 'Harry Potter’ films, is seeing the work you have made, appear on the big screen. To see it, put in context with the story made me feel part of something much bigger. It has also bought customers to me and it has given me the 'Harry Potter' stamp of approval.

The most enjoyable piece I made was Luna’s Radish earrings. I had to learn the beading technique especially and it was a very happy time as my son was about to be born.

Who is your jewellery for? Is there someone you would like to make a special piece for?

CH: My jewellery is for anyone who wants to wear it and its important to me to have a good and affordable price range. I have a wide age range of customers, from teenagers to ladies in their 80’s. My customers are not exclusively, but mostly, women; but I do make jewellery for men.

The last 'one off' piece I made for Goldsmiths Fair, to my joy and delight, sold to a lady in her 80’s. It was an unusual piece. A very large ornate and dramatic, 'Baroque Necklace set with green adventurines. It was wonderful that at her stage of life, she felt so comfortable with herself, to wear such a theatrical piece. It made me smile and made my show special. She bought it during the last hour on the very last day of the Fair!

I would like to make a piece of jewellery for: Kate Blanchett, Lupita Nyong’o and Tracey Emin.

Why did you choose green for the installation collaboration with us at Gill Wing?

CH: I use colour in my instagram feed. The colour palette of my images, each month, are linked to the colour of the month’s birthstone.

May is the colour green, as the stone is an Emerald, which also happens to tie in perfectly for the start of the Spring theme and will carry through for my Gill Wing Instagram “10 Day Takeover”.

Green is my favourite colour. It was the colour I chose for my bedroom, as a child and coincidentally is the colour of my birthstone, Alexandrite.

Green represents the source of life itself; photosynthesis. It is the predominant colour of the earth when viewed from space. Green represents health and wellbeing and the environment and proximity to it has been proved beneficial for everyone’s sense of wellbeing. Green is all around us: in nature, the grass, the leaves of plants, flowers and trees. Research has shown that the proximity to greenness helps people to get better when they are in hospital and reduces stress and improves an athlete’s performance. The shade of green in plants can be an indicator of their healing capacity and their role in keeping the planet safe.

I have made four pieces of jewellery especially for Gill Wing using different green stones; An Emerald Pendant, a Peridot Ring and Earrings and Necklace in different shades of green Tourmaline.

In short I love green.

What is your favourite way to welcome in Spring? Any fave food dishes/produce? Let us know if you have a fave cafe or recipe!

CH: My Fish Tacos are my favourite Spring recipe and, more importantly, all the family love it - including my children! It’s a light, tasty, healthy meal that we have nearly every week, in the Spring.

My favourite all time recipe is: The River Cafe's, Squid, Parsley and Cannellini Bean Stew! Yum! 

My favourite haunt in Islington, is an English breakfast cafe; 'The Rheidol Rooms’ just off St Peters Street, near where we lived when our children were little.

How do you manage to keep a work life balance?

CH: It is really hard to get a good work life balance, it’s something everyone aspires to do.

Once you have a child your priority shifts to caring for them. I have a husband that has always wanted both of us to pursue our careers. We do not just have jobs James is an actor so it’s a vocation. Our daughter was extremely ill when she was twenty two months old so for the next ten years I worked from home. At this time the lovely workshops in Clerkenwell were sold and refurbished so we all had to vacate anyway.

I have definitely benefited from working away from home again having a shop with a workshop.

It was much harder working from home as I had no start or finish time so I spend too much time running in and out of my workshop at all times of the day and night. Having said that working from home and having small children meant I could continue my business and feel I was there for them at all times.

The shop makes me have regular work times now and there is a very clear distinction between work and home giving a much better balance.

The key to getting a good work life balance is having a few people that you can totally rely on to do parts of the job you need help with as it’s impossible to do it all well.

My people are; my husband James who is very supportive and is our family chauffeur dropping and collecting the children from various places!

My talented goldsmith Tim who makes some of my traditional commissions leaving me to design and make what I love and do best.

Finally Daisy and Jo my social media and branding marketing duo they totally get me and my style and are fantastic to work with.

It’s not just me it’s a few other special people too.

What are you most excited about for 2018?

CH: I am really excited about the upcoming release of a major feature film, for which I made the jewellery! So looking forward to seeing my work on the big screen again!

Home wise; finishing redecorating what was my old workshop, in our home.

It’s been four years full of junk and stuff I did not want to clutter my new shop! I am a bit of a hoarder…!

My family have decided it is to become a cinema room; as watching films is something we all love to do together.

This Q&A is reproduced with the kind permission of Gill Wing Jewellery, and was first published by them on their website


Rebecca van Rooijen


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