Interview Me: William Griffiths (jeweller)

Interview by Stephanie Williams at e.g.etal

Tell me a little about your background and how you got to where you are today?
I haven’t done any formal training. I didn’t really like school very much and after failing all my exams I went back to do them again. I saw a job advertised in the paper, to make jewellery, and I thought ‘I will give that a go’. I started the job and was a bit disappointed because it was basically standing at a machine making wedding rings all day. I did trade work for about 15 years, in workshops, being a patternmaker and repairs. Then I’ve gone off on my own little tangent making my own designs.

I was born in England and we went to New Zealand when I was five years old. I spent most of my life there. My Mum was a painter and my Dad was a crazy inventor, so I have been brought up in this artistic sort of thing.

If I really look back, I started making little bits of jewellery when I was seven years old. I remember making a ring for Mum with this stone glued on top of it. Getting a bit of metal and bending it around. Mum’s still got the ring, so I was thinking of one day having a retrospective exhibition and showing that.

I can’t say I’m self-taught because I have been taught by some pretty amazing people. When I was 18 I went to London and got a job in Hatton Garden in the jewellery district. It teaches you a lot of precision and tricks of the trade which I still use.

How would you describe your work? The work at e.g.etal is inspired by tattoo art. I have always had a thing about tattoo parlours, even though I have no tattoos myself. I like the artwork. I like sacred heart stuff. Even though I wasn’t brought up religious, my parents were religious. There were always pictures of religious iconography around the house. I have always liked tattoo art, which often goes into the religious iconography side of it.

What about the range in your workshop? Do you find the pieces in e.g.etal are different to there? Yes it is. I tried some of the big cathedral type rings at e.g.etal and they didn’t sell. They were quite out there but that’s what I really like making, stuff that is out there. If I didn’t have to make money, I would sit there and make the most out there, unsellable stuff!

I had an exhibition with Julia de Ville last year and I made these taxidermy type things. That was a bit of an experiment. I’m really good at mechanical things, my Dad was an inventor.  I used to make all these mechanical things with gears. So I made all these little things of mice where you turn the handle and the mice turn around and it plays Swan Lake and opens the curtains. Like a diorama, made to look like it’s old. I’d like to do an exhibition of the cathedral type stuff, but it’s quite a niche market. Most of my big pieces are in LA at the moment.

What techniques do you use to make your pieces? It’s a mixture of making a masterplan, making a mould of it and then you’ve got the wax. Reworking the wax with a wax pen and then casting that. It’s mainly fabricate but I would usually make a mould of that then put the components together.

Is each piece unique? Yes, each piece is put together in a different combination. In their own way they are one offs even though I have moulds. Sometimes there are ten different components in one piece.

Do you find you have a celebrity following? I have sold to a lot of celebs. The last person that bought something was Russell Brand. He bought earrings for Katy Perry, some gold chandeliers with diamonds on them. I’ve also sold to Marilyn Manson, Angelina Jolie and Billy Idol.

What common themes link each of your designs? The tattoo art and medieval ranges are at e.g.etal. I try to make my medieval pieces look all hand beaten and stuff, using rubies and diamonds. I also like using unusual cut stones. The Melbourne stone buyers aren’t going to buy stones that are too weird, so I like buying old, rose cut stones from overseas. I usually go over to the gem shows in Bangkok and Hong Kong.

What do you think has informed that style? Has it evolved over time or has it always been a part of your style? I have been through lots of different stages. I have always been obsessed with sailing ships. A lot of tattoo art is based around sailing ships and sailors have tattoos.

Is your creative process ordered or organic? It’s not ordered! It’s organic. I have ideas and pictures in my head. Sometimes I’ve got a catalogue of moulds that I have made over the years running through my head. Sometimes it’s a whole lot of pieces of wax sitting in a tray and I think, that looks good next to that. It’s almost an accident that it goes together.

In a way it’s ordered, it’s not all haphazard. Quite often I will make a piece or even or one component of a piece that I can add to a whole lot of pieces. The hearts and daggers at e.g.etal, for instance, I’ve got moulds of the hearts and moulds of the daggers and I can rearrange them however I want. I do cast most of my work and casting has got a bit of a bad reputation, but I do always make my own master patterns.

Do you do a lot of research outside of your making or does it seep in naturally? I guess it seeps in naturally. I do a fair bit of travelling. I like to go to places in Europe and look at architecture. I just take it in really. Architecture is a big favourite, you know with all the cathedrals and things. Just even going to somewhere like Florence. Everything is beautiful – the door handles are beautiful, every little detail they make, they put beauty in it.  I travel at least once a year, sometimes twice a year.

What have been some of your favourite special projects, exhibitions or collaborations you have been involved with? The taxidermy exhibition curated by Julia DeVille, A Deus ex Machina. I used to do a lot but I haven’t done any exhibitions for quite a while. I did some in Bologna too, with HR Giger.  It’s a different world for me, such a different style from where I am now.

I’ve collaborated with fashion designers as well. I’ve helped out with Alexander McQueen’s shows and shoemaker Terri de Havilland. He’s a good friend of mine, I stay with him when I go to London, we drink wine and talk about shoe design! With Alexander McQueen we made this human skeleton with a spine cast in aluminium. It had hinges down the side of the ribs and clamped onto the model’s back.

Dolce & Gabbana have used my stuff in one of their shows, and Vivienne Westwood. That’s a weird one though. Her jeweller actually ripped one of my designs off. Pretty blatantly! It was a big skull ring of mine and they covered it with little sparkly stones. I thought that was quite good, like taking the piss out of skull rings. It was about 15 years ago. In fact when I was in London Last time, I met up with two friends, one of them had one of my original rings on and one had the Vivienne Westwood copy. Her jeweller probably didn’t tell her!

Do you work alone or do you share your creative space? I’ve got two people who do half the week each. I do all the design and they help with the production.

How do you stay connected to the wider creative community in Melbourne and overseas? I don’t know really, I just do my own thing. I always like to go to exhibitions and use the internet to see what people are doing. One of my favourites is this guy called Sevan Bicacki, he’s a Turkish guy in Istanbul and makes these crazy diamond encrusted rings. I have my own blog but I have personally never written anything on it!

I imagine if blogging doesn’t come naturally to you, it would be hard to have your jewellery hat on then move into blogging, PR etc? I find the computer keeps me away from my bench. I sometimes get annoyed with the computer for making me sit there and write emails to people. I do really want to learn how do to 3D design on the computer though. I’m going to give it a go.

And internationally? I look in the shops I like. There’s a shop in LA called Maxfield. I always go in there and have a look. Last time I was in London I had a look in Liberty and Dover Street Market.

Where do you find your creative inspiration? Is it ever formal? Sometimes I will just go to the library and sit and look at pictures. I actually find I’m most inspired when I’m travelling and jetlagged. I wake up at 3 in the morning; the TV’s crap and I get out some paper and start drawing. I find my mind is just racing, I can’t get enough ideas on the paper. That’s one reason why I like travelling, I get productive. Sometimes it takes me years to pull out the pad with the drawings and make the stuff. My mind just goes crazy.

Which designers, artists or creative people do you admire? New Zealand jeweller Tony Williams, Simon Baigent from Monsalvat, Turkish jeweller Sevan Bicacki and Rene Lalique

What would be your dream project? I would like to make the cathedral pieces – big diamonds, crazy stones and have no limit on the amount of money I could spend. I worked for this guy in London. I have a photograph of me holding this diamond, it’s about the size of a 20c piece worth about ¼ million pounds. I made a bracelet, earrings, ring, necklace set. It was all 18ct gold covered in diamonds, even the chain had diamonds all the way around the back. It’s quite amazing being given a pile of stones and pile of gold and a picture to make this piece. My other dream project would be making a jewel encrusted 24-piece dinner set.

Outside of jewellery what do you enjoy doing? I enjoy doing metal work in the form of blacksmithing and I like camping around Melbourne, going to the Grampians. I also play music; I play drums in a band sometimes. Playing the music, I get to go to festivals and things like that. I used to play punk when I was eighteen then into rock, now it’s a bit folkier. Music isn’t my passion, jewellery is my passion. At one point I was asked to make a decision between music or jewellery. I was in this band in London and we got a record deal. My drumming wasn’t really up to scratch. The guy said I would have to practice more, which means I would have to either take music seriously or forget about it. I made a decision to forget about the music. The band went through some other drummers and ended up splitting up. I sold my drum kit and said I would never play the drums again. It wasn’t until a friend of mine said their band needed a drummer. I hadn’t played for ten years, but I would fill in for this gig. I started about seven years ago. I would go traveling to sell my jewellery but also do a bit of a ‘world tour’ playing little bars and festivals. Now it’s just once every two months

One response to “Interview Me: William Griffiths (jeweller)

  1. Pingback: William Griffiths on Interview Me « The Airloom

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