A visit to Elizabeth Gage’s boutique on West Halkin Street gives a glimpse into her larger-than-life jewellery which has captured the imagination of many people. The impact of the mix between traditional methods of making fine jewellery and the more ethnic qualities of craft jewellery, spiced with a deft touch of style, is enchanting. The warmth and humour of the jewellery are apparent the moment it is worn, as are the unusual vibrant colours of stones and enamel. Indeed, Elizabeth Gage herself makes a virtue of displaying her own work with an ease and style that fits naturally into everyday life, her vivacity and charm providing an ideal match for her fascinating designs.
Born in London, and emigrating to New York in 1941, a long childhood illness left Elizabeth Gage with many hours to read, and from this was born the great love of history that has been a key influence in her work. Both her mother and grandmother were artists and Elizabeth herself studied at Chelsea School of Art. In 1963, she enrolled at the Sir John Cass College. “I was led to jewellery because a friend offered me a ring and although I knew what I wanted, I could not find it anywhere. Being a tenacious type of person, I thought if I cannot find it, I will make it!
“My time spent at the Cass was fascinating. Frank Oliver was wonderful to me. I showed him what I had designed and he showed me how to make it. Gold was £35 per ounce in those days. I made my first pin, sold it, bought some more gold and it went on from there.”
During the mid 1970s, Elizabeth lived in the United States, returning to London in 1979 and opening her own small studio in Beauchamp Place. By 1983, the business had grown and Elizabeth was ready to expand. She found a lovely shop but in terrible condition, in Albemarle Street, later that year. She decorated it in tones of pink and green and created a comfortable, welcoming place for her clients to shop. “I love interior design and started with a beautiful regency lantern and an 18th century French sofa. Then I went to town. I wanted the shop to be friendly, elegant and feminine.”
Her dexterity with metals, enamels and precious stones is remarkable. She is not a designer who chooses stones for their value alone, but rather for their beauty, complementing these with objects which appeal because of their shape and colour – from Baroque pearls to Sumerian amulets and 19th century intaglios. Elizabeth’s inspiration comes from a variety of sources – art, history, mythology, foreign and ancient cultures to name just a few. Coins, fossils and particularly historical relics also play a large part in her work.
Elizabeth has always been conscious of the importance of combining comfort and practicality with imagination and creative design. A number of pieces may be raised to suit the needs of the moment – tourmalines, spinels, black jade and amethysts can be altered for evening wear by the addition of detachable pearls, or adorned with diamonds. Necklaces can be made with interchangeable pendants. “I am very much aware that women today desire timeless jewellery which is suitable from both casual and more formal occasions.
“Everything is made in our various workshops. We discuss the design before it is made and I give them the idea of what I am looking for. Very often I watch the process of things growing. I am sometimes away from the shop designing and finding unusual stones.”
“I have a very large English clientele, but much of my work goes abroad. At first, I was probably better known in America than over here. So often designers have to make their reputation abroad first. Now the children of my clients come in and commission their engagement rings. This is the gradual process of building up a business.
“I try to produce jewellery which people can afford and treasure. To me jewellery is to be worn and enjoyed morning, noon and night.
“I almost always wear the same pieces every day. I don’t generally wear the jewels that are on show, because I don’t want to become too attached to them. I still have the first piece I made and would not part with it for anything.
“My clients are highly individual with their own style and I try to create pieces that do not go in and out of fashion. A quest for uniqueness sums up in part my quest for what is different.”
Having trained for six years as a goldsmith, her first major commission was for Cartier in 1968. A resounding success, she went on to win many accolades including the prestigious Queens Award for Export, British Jewellery Designer of the Year and the coveted De Beers Diamond Award for her Agincourt ring, described as an engineering masterpiece. Elizabeth Gage is today recognised as one of the most influential and creative jewellery designers of the last four decades. Using jewels and gold instead of paint and canvas she has become an acclaimed and highly regarded artist.
Elizabeth’s Agincourt ring set with peridot and amethyst,1967
Collected and worn by women and men throughout the world, her jewellery is admired for its imaginative use of colour and gemstones. Her close attention to detail together with her highly skilled goldsmiths, bring to life Elizabeth’s extraordinary designs. Elizabeth Gage is not governed by tradition; her jewels are an unorthodox expression of her unique creativity.