Q&A: Mary Michel

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Mary Michel is the Director of the Incorporation of Goldsmiths in Edinburgh. She has been with the company for 15 years and is responsible for initiatives such as Elements and the forthcoming online Ethical Making Resource. She also sits on the board of Craft Scotland and is their Vice-Chair. She answers the Benchpeg Q&A.

What’s your name, and what do you for a living?

MM: Mary Michel, I’m the Director of the Incorporation of Goldsmiths in Edinburgh.

How did you come to work in the jewellery industry?

MM: By happy accident – I started here 15 years ago on a temporary basis while I was doing my Mphil. The job and I just grew together from there.

How would you describe your work to someone who doesn’t know it?

MM: The Incorporation supports and promotes the work of jewellers and silversmiths in Scotland, through exhibitions, events, conferences, training and grants. My job is to come up with the ideas and then make them happen.

What is your creative process?

MM: Whether it’s an idea for a new project at work or when I write, which I love to do, I get everything down on paper, in words, pictures or diagrams. Even if half of it feels like rubbish at that point it gets a good flow going, and I then go back and refine it later. 

Where do you love to shop?

MM: My husband Olivier is from Metz in France, so I tend to wait until we go back on holiday and shop there. There is something wonderful about French style, even in their high-street shops.

What is your inspiration?

MM: I did an Mphil in the philosophy of sustainability. This has given me so much inspiration over the years into why we live and consume as we do; and what we might do to change that. It keeps drip-feeding into my thinking and has definitely contributed to the work I am doing now on ethical making and the circular economy.

What piece of jewellery do you most treasure?

MM: Olivier asked the amazing Dorothy Hogg to make me a silver bracelet (which I’m wearing in this photo). She put 5 rings on it, to represent Olivier and me and our 3 children. She said she could add more rings if we had more babies – but I think 5 rings is perfect! Dorothy works closely with us at the Incorporation and she has been such an  inspiration to me as a working mother. Her talent in design and making is matched by 

her incredible kindness and thoughtfulness about other people and her terrific sense of humour.

What piece of jewellery do you most desire?

MM: I got this really striking black and gold necklace from Stacey Bentley at Elements last year. She’s now made one in the most beautiful shade of blue which I very much desire! I love the strong geometric shapes on these necklaces and I always feel that I have something really special on when I wear mine.

If you could only be remembered for one piece of your work, what would it be?

MM: Definitely the online resource we are launching on ethical making. The aim of it is to take away the stress for makers looking to have a more ethical practice by giving them clear, trustworthy information and practical tips. This is something that’s been in my mind for a few years and it’s been amazing to see it coming together and to speak with so many makers who are interested in this. It feels like some meaningful and much needed change is really happening. There’s also a huge opportunity for ethical sourcing with the Scottish gold being mined in Tyndrum 

– this photo of me with some Scottish gold was taken this morning when it came into the Edinburgh Assay Office, who are managing the Chain of Custody to ensure a transparent supply chain.

What would be your advice to someone starting out in the industry?

MM: Make, make and make! Get as much time at the bench as you can and learn from the people around you. I’ve found jewellers and silversmiths to be incredibly open and generous with their time and skills – there is such a willingness to pass this on to those starting out.

The Benchpeg Proust Q&A

  1. What’s your favourite work of art?
    MM: I have a painting of some Scots pine trees by Sir William Gillies that my grandmother left me, similar to this one. It’s so evocative of the Scottish Borders and reminds me of staying with my grandparents near Eddlestone and my childhood home near Lauder.

  2. Who from past or present would you invite to a dinner party for the evening?
    MM: The children’s author Roald Dahl. I loved his books as a child and I’m now re-reading them with my own children. They are so full of wit and imagination and also very touching. I think a dinner party with him would be enormous fun.

  3. Do you have any pets, if yes, what is their name?
    MM: Sadly no, I grew up with boxer dogs who were massive characters. Maybe one day...

  4. What is your most treasured possession?
    MM: I have just inherited my brother Thomas’ writing desk. It has lots of small compartments and drawers to squirrel things away in. It’s lovely to have a space that’s all mine – though I’m still finding leftover fag packets and Far Side cartoons in hidden compartments!

  5. What would you consider a perfect day?
    MM: A (probably freezing) picnic and swimming at Yellowcraigs or Gullane beach with my family and friends, followed by a long dinner with lots of good wine back home.

  6. Is there a favourite journey, trip or voyage you hold dear?
    MM: Favourite” might be stretching it a bit, but every summer we have a chaotic car journey from Metz down to Chatel in the French Alps. It takes about 6 hours and there’s usually a fair amount of fighting, shouting and spilt drinks but we get there in the end and there’s always the sense of shared adventure and the anticipation of arriving.

  7. What is your greatest achievement?
    MM: To date it’s been setting up Elements, the Festival of Silver, Gold and Jewellery in Edinburgh that‘s now coming in to its third year. It’s been fantastic to see work of such incredible style brought together in Edinburgh. Hopefully that achievement is about to be topped by the launch of the ethical making resource!

  8. What advice would tell your younger self?
    MM: Plan your life as if you would live forever; live each day as if it were your last.

  9. Can you sum yourself up in one word?
    MM: Enthused.

  10. What motto do you live by?
    MM: 'Don’t wait for your ship to come in, swim out to it.' My Great Aunt left this note at my breakfast place when I stayed with her as a child. I still have it pinned up inside my desk.

Image credits: Images sourced from Mary Michel, the Incorporation of Goldsmiths and Pinterest.


Rebecca van Rooijen


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