Silver celebrations for Peak District Artisans

This year is the Peak District Artisans’ 25th anniversary and as part of the group’s silver anniversary celebrations artsbeat is taking a closer look at two artisans who work with silver – jewellery designers Rachel Emmerson and Karin Sheldon.

Both of them are using ancient techniques to make stunning contemporary pieces in totally different ways.

Rachel designs and creates her range of exquisite fine enamel jewellery at her studio in the heart of Cromford Mill.

She has a fantastic space on the first floor overlooking the heritage site where she is able to use a wide array of tools to engrave her designs on to the silver and gold and fire the richly coloured enamels.

On her neatly-ordered shelves are rows and rows of tiny pots containing all the precious minerals, in a rainbow of colours, that she uses to create her designs.

“For me, it’s about colour. Enamel is such a dynamic material in terms of its colour range and combining it with engraving creates wonderful refractions of light,” explained the 42-year-old.

After studying art in Brighton she went to the School of Jewellery at Birmingham to learn hand-engraving and then she set about creating her collections.

“At first it was hard learning how to use the tools, which is probably one of the reasons not many designers are working in this way, but I knew what I wanted to create so I stuck with it,” she said.

She has since won several awards for her craftsmanship and is considered by her peers to be one of the best enamellers in the country.

The techniques Rachel uses are called Champlevé, which dates back to ancient times and was used in Celtic and Romanesque art – treasures found at Sutton Hoo were decorated using the process – and Basse-taille, which dates to the late middle ages.

Put simply, Rachel carves out a design in the silver, fills it with enamel and smooths it down when it comes out of the kiln. Her engraving alters the depth of the enamel and subtly affects the colour.

By contrast Karin Sheldon has looked to the Far East for her inspiration and uses age-old techniques from Japan and Korea.

One of them, Mokume-Gane, is a process involving the layering of metals which is actually used to make a samurai sword. The other Keum-Bo allows her to fuse 24ct gold to sterling silver.

You can see examples of both in a brooch for which Karin won the Jobling Gowler 3D Art Prize in 2011.

Karin, 63, works from her home in Macclesfield, a town made famous by its silk industry. Her family were part of the silk trade and her mother worked as a dressmaker.

“I grew up around fashion and textiles and expected to work in the industry, but while I was on my foundation course I found myself messing about in the metalwork department.

“One of the tutors was impressed with what I was doing and they suggested I rethink my next step. Instead of textiles they suggested the jewellery and silversmithing course at the then Sheffield School of Art and that’s how it happened.

When she left college she worked with a jeweller to learn about the trade and started her own business repairing jewellery. She then concentrated on bringing up her family and it was only about 12 years ago that she began seriously designing her own jewellery.

“I have an enormous fascination for altering the surface of metal and I enjoy learning new techniques and filing them in my library to use when I get an idea. My work is very subject driven and the collections are all different. I don’t think anyone would be able to look at something and say that’s by Karin Sheldon.”

Both Rachel and Karin value the peer support they receive by being part of the PDA and considered themselves honoured to have been selected.
“I am glad that they go through the strict selection process,” said Karin, who has been a member for eight years “because that makes you feel you have achieved something by getting there.”

In 1991 Peak District Products was formed as a way of promoting the wares of producers in the Peak District. The late Dowager Duchess of Devonshire was a founder member and remained president until 2006 when the Earl of Burlington, her grandson, succeeded her as president of the group with the new name of Peak District Artisans.

From its beginnings the group has provided the very best of a wide variety of products, although today the emphasis is more on arts and crafts. Members work in many different media from watercolour to wood, crayon to collage and stoneware to sculpture and many more. For more details go to