“Other people like looking in clothes shops, I like looking in ironmongers’!” – Jean Scott-Moncrieff
Contemporary jeweller and designer Jean Scott-Moncrieff warns me that she can be an unusual holiday companion. Her fascination with hand tools follows her everywhere, it seems.
Her workshop, nestled in the Sussex countryside, is filled with traditional tools and by her own admission, Jean, like many makers, has her favourites. She mentions a particular set of tongs she will never part with and comments, “Whoever invented the bow drill invented such a clever thing.”
Identifying with craftsmen from ages past plays an integral role in Jean’s work. Her inspiration is rooted in her love of the artefacts of ancient cultures. Her loop-in-loop chains, for example, are constructed using an ancient Etruscan technique. She is, however, careful to avoid pastiche. Her designs retain a confident, contemporary tone that seamlessly carries the textures and influences of the past into a more modern context. The result is a sense of understated luxury, of elegance and sophisticated reserve – pieces that can be worn everyday or finish a formal ensemble for a special occasion.
“I’m in awe of the skill that those ancient craftsmen had,” she says, “Considering the modern technologies we have now that simply weren’t available to them then.”
She recalls going to view an exhibition of the Cheapside Hoard that included a mock-up of a medieval jeweller’s workshop, complete with bench and tools. “I looked at it and thought, ‘I could sit down here and start working’!”
With its remote location and rustic, timber aesthetic, her own workshop is the perfect setting for a recreation of the past. With a few exceptions, such as gas torches and polishing motors, Jean uses entirely traditional tools and methods to make her work.
Attending an evening class in her twenties first tempted Jean away from a career as a graphic designer and into the world of metalworking. Exchanging the two-dimensional for the three-dimensional was a big step, she admits, but the engineering and craft skills required to put a piece together are still a source of pleasure to her today. “People who like my work value something that has been made by hand. They don’t want total perfection, they want to see the maker’s hand at work.”