Charlotte Metcalf is the Editor of Great British Brands and the co-presenter of Break Out Culture, a weekly podcast with former Minister of Culture, Lord Vaizey. She is also a film-maker, author and journalist. Every week she’ll be reporting on cultural events, exhibitions, fairs and publications that are of interest to the communities of craftsmen we represent and celebrate, with a particular focus on goldsmiths and silversmiths. Following a break over January, we are now back for 2023.
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This January marks 77 years since the late Jocelyn Burton was born. She died in 2020, following a prolonged battle with bowel cancer, but her reputation, as one of the finest craftspeople to have worked with precious metals, lives on.
Jocelyn was always ahead of the game and her time, becoming the first woman to be admitted as a Freeman to the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths when she was just 27. Typical of her self-deprecating sense of humour, Jocelyn relished the fact ‘Freeman’ had been crossed out and replaced by ‘Freewoman’ – and framed the certificate. She was made a Freeman – or Freewoman – of the City of London a year later.
Her talent was evident as early as 1967 when, as a student at the St. John Cass School of Art, she won the De Beers International Award for a diamond and gold necklace. Three years later, Jocelyn set up her own Red Lion studio and workshop in Holborn, where she was to remain till towards the very end of her life. Her work was soon exhibited at the Archer Gallery from where the legendary American war photographer, Lee Miller, commissioned a striking pendant, which was a peapod filled with pearls on a silver necklace with a sea urchin spine.
Her career rocketed in 1973 when Sir Roy Strong commissioned her to make a centerpiece, based on the Albert Memorial and echoing the museum’s own Victorian tower, for the Victoria and Albert Museum. It remains on display as part of the museum’s permanent silver collection and is inscribed in Latin to commemorate the opening of the Henry Cole Wing.
Read more on the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum website.
I was lucky enough to know Jocelyn and was a regular visitor to her Red Lion Street studio, a converted stable in a charming mews on the site of a former sheriff’s court in Holborn. It was a happy, congenial gathering place for friends and clients alike, and you never knew you might meet at her many parties, from a Kuwaiti Princess to a barrister from the Inns of Court. I once took the sculptor David Williams-Ellis to visit her and he never forgot how she threw open the door and warmly welcomed us in, wearing a glittery black kaftan and brandishing a swan-necked decanter of red wine with a decorative silver top – designed by her of course. Even when she was very ill, she was never deterred from seeing and entertaining her friends – we’d just push her wheelchair round to a local restaurant for lunch instead.
Jocelyn is by no means the first well-known woman jeweller, but the variety and sheer scale of some of her pieces sets her apart. She’d relish taking on vast tasks that, given the limited technology of the last century, proved especially challenging. These ranged from an elaborate table top fountain for the Fishmonger’s Livery Company to a pair of solid silver dolphin wall sconces, four feet high and weighing 20 kilos, commissioned by Lord Inchcape.
Jocelyn Burton and Alison, her sister, meet HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. Photo courtesy of Alison Fairman
Later in life, she started designing bold jewellery that she wore herself. Her silver and gold bat pendants were inspired by an embroidered bat she saw on an Imperial robe in Shanghai and Jocelyn bats brought you luck. Yet, however theatrical, exuberant and original her work, it was always underpinned by her attention to detail and technical mastery. It’s this combination of creative audacity with technical perfection that imbued her work with its integrity, strength and enduring, timeless beauty.
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Note from the editor: We would like to give thanks to Alison Fairman, Jocelyn’s sister, for assisting with our research and providing access to images for this article. Our CEO and Founder, Kevin Baker speaks of Jocelyn with great admiration and reminisces on regrettably missing an opportunity to meet her. Thomas Lyte see Jocelyn Burton as a revolutionary of our craft in Britain, who always created with such freedom.
We have selected a number of case studies that demonstrate the broad range of our capabilities designing and making in precious metals.