Georgina Izzard, 27, is a collector, design historian, jewellery specialist and gemmologist (FGA) and works as a researcher and archivist in the jewellery industry. She is currently studying for a PhD on Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter during the 1940s-50s.
ATG: How did you get the collecting bug?
Georgina Izzard: I have always connected objects with stories and memories, so forming little collections as a child came naturally – from a mineral and rock collection wrapped in cotton wool, to seashells from family holidays and pressed four-leaf clovers from a prolific mutant clover patch.
However, I have my paternal grandfather to thank for showing me that creating a collection can be a considered and exciting lifelong focus. He has long been an avid stamp collector. I briefly joined him in this search as a child and became preoccupied with collecting stamps that included flowers in their design. My favourite part was ‘curating’ my small collection by creating different categories for the stamp arrangements in the special slip book he gave me.
What drew you to collecting jewellery particularly?
It has always been about jewellery; I don’t consider my move to collecting as an active one. I grew up enjoying my grandmother’s stories about the many rings she wore, each a jewel passed down from extended family, a gift or a holiday souvenir.
From a very young age, I built up the belief that jewellery was a wonderful way of marking an occasion, regardless of cost. I still have a ring with a little, swirled-rose shape that my aunt made for me one Christmas using a piece of wire from the packaging of a present. Collecting jewellery has stemmed naturally from wearing it and I’m fortunate that my work in the jewellery industry means that I have been able to see some incredible jewels, old and new, that have inspired my own selection.
Can you remember your first item?
I guess I have many ‘first items’. I have jewellery that I’ve been gifted at special occasions, as well as the family wedding rings that have been passed down to me; those wedding rings are the items that have been in my life for the longest.
The piece that feels like my first proper step into collecting is a cameo ring with rubies and split pearls that I bought at Sworders, where I briefly did some work experience with their jewellery team and was a saleroom assistant on viewing days. It was my first in-person bidding experience and I unsurprisingly got caught up in the auction atmosphere.
Though I went only £20 over my (modest) intended budget, I had to add buyer’s premium, so that taught me! The ring still feels like a real jewel and it was like nothing else I owned at the time, so I always enjoy wearing it.
What elements do you look for when considering a purchase?
I predominantly look for something that I’ll wear, so I’ve got to like it. Being around jewellery every day has helped me to better understand my own jewellery and so I look for pieces that will add something different to my selection, whether that’s due to the maker’s use of materials, techniques or a particular design style.
I own two pairs of earrings by Scottish jeweller Cristina Zani, who works with carved and painted wood, plus leather and pearl hoop earrings by British jeweller Tania Clarke Hall.
As a gemmologist, I love stones, particularly the unique nature of a gem’s colour and inclusions. I’ve found this approach to be especially helpful when you can’t really afford what might be considered the ‘best’ quality stones; instead, I like choosing stones that have good examples of a particular inclusion, for instance.
Although I like buying the work of independent makers, my work on Birmingham’s mid-century jewellers makes me value the collaborative effort involved in making batch-produced jewellery, using machinery new to jewellers and with restrictions on metals and energy.
Where do you find items to buy?
I have established a tradition of buying a piece of jewellery whenever I go to somewhere new; wandering little streets on jewellery hunts has become a staple part of holidays with friends.
I try to buy from independent shops or galleries in these towns and cities, but I have some real finds from antique markets too, like some great silver earrings from a flea market in Riga, Latvia.
I keep receipts and try to write a couple of lines about where and when I buy pieces, but each generally has a story, which makes it easy to remember.
At home, I always enjoy the Goldsmiths’ Fair every September- October for contemporary precious-metal jewellery and silver. Year round, Contemporary Applied Arts (CAA) gallery, Marylebone, has a great membership of makers.
For a range of jewellery styles and ages, I like browsing Fellows’ auction catalogues. Based in Birmingham and London, I like to think of this browsing as contributing to my research of mid-century Birmingham jewellery, but I always go a bit off-piste.
What is the most you have ever spent on an item (so far)?
I really spend very little, relative to other collectors. Many collectors value anonymity because of the high value of their collection; I am not quite at that point yet, but I still consider my jewellery as high value in terms of makers’ skill and labour and in the pleasure I get in wearing it. I can be open about my jewellery because my collection is of relatively low financial value, but I don’t like thinking of it in those terms anyway!
Some of my favourite pieces that I wear the most are under £100, but I’ll spend into the hundreds for specific pieces. My holiday budget rarely exceeds €70, but I’m always pleasantly surprised by the incredible work you can find for this value.
How large is your collection?
I have started to record more information about each piece and must make a complete inventory, but I imagine the total number is in the low hundreds – it’s funny how quickly it grows. This amount always looks a lot when they are in boxes, but I can make room for more! I like varying what I wear and wear different jewellery every day, so they all get their turn.
Do you think collecting habits change as you get older? If so, how?
I don’t know yet, but I think my approach has changed already. From working with jewellery and some minor making experience, I know a bit more about how makers might work with materials and set stones and I am more critical of how things are made and their condition, whether old or new.
Asking these questions means I am still interested in techniques, combinations of metals and manufacturing processes that are new to me.
Who do you admire in the world of jewellery?
I work with independent jewellery specialist Joanna Hardy and I have learnt so much from her. She always champions integrity in jewellery design and craftsmanship and I really appreciate that emphasis. Working with her has helped me to question and understand each jewel’s story.
The jewellery industry and collecting world is very close-knit and I am fortunate enough to have met and worked with many great makers, dealers, curators and specialists.
Tell us more about your PhD
I am a PhD candidate at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Royal College of Art on the V&A/RCA History of Design Programme.
I research the work of Birmingham Jewellery Quarter’s manufacturing jewellers in the 1940s and 1950s, following their production of items for the armed forces in the Second World War. I analyse materials, machines and tools, as well as jewellers’ stories and archival sources, to ask questions about makers’ concepts of skill and identity in this period.
My research is funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council via the London Arts & Humanities Partnership.