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Martyn Pugh

by Rachael Chambers

Published: May 2012

Having won awards from craft&design magazine and The Goldsmiths Company as well as the UK Jewellery Awards, Martyn Pugh’s work is celebrated for its craftsmanship and design. In 2012 Martyn will have work on show in prestigious exhibitions such as the British Design Season at the V&A and ‘Gold – Power & Allure’ at Goldsmiths’ Hall.
In preparation for these events I found Martyn busy finishing pieces in his workshop - a cow shed in the middle of an urban Midlands housing estate where he has been working from for the past 35 years. It’s proximity to Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter and Martyn’s home clearly makes this an enviable base, as he explains;
“It has the advantages of being an interesting old oak-beamed building with a grass courtyard outside providing the ideal summer picnic spot yet only a ten minute cycle ride from home and, being central, it’s easily accessible to most of the country. The proximity of the Jewellery Quarter, just half an hour away, also gives me access to specialist skills such as casting, spinning, laser and tig-welding, stone-setting, and enamelling, which I occasionally use, enabling me to make such a broad range of work.”
Martyn has produced a silver Jug that is currently on display at the V&A in ‘Fit for Purpose’, part of the British Design Season exhibition that opened in March. He has also been restoring a rare 19th century Matthew Boulton vase and making several pieces of jewellery. These include a platinum ring set with a 3.5ct diamond and a pair of wedding rings and bridesmaid’s pendants re-modelled from jewellery in the bride’s family collection. However, the most important current piece is a ruby and diamond, yellow gold ring, a gift for his wife on a very special anniversary.
“I am fortunate enough to have been in business for a fair number of years and as a consequence, have been privileged to make a number of prestigious pieces. Perhaps the most prestigious to date would be the pair of Jugs I have recently made, one in ‘Pure’ Gold and one in Palladium, or then, it might be the dinner service I made which consists of 50 pieces of tableware, although maybe it’s the work I made for 10 Downing Street – it’s difficult to say. Then, of course, there are the commissions for clients that I am not at liberty to talk about!”
There is one particularly prestigious piece that will go on display at the Goldsmiths’ exhibition ‘Gold – Power and Allure’ that I was keen to know more about. The ‘Pure’ Gold Claret Jug weighs 2.1 kilos and stands 38cms high. It is a magnificent piece that was technically challenging and which took 10 years to become a reality, as Martyn explains;
“The idea for the solid gold jug was conceived some years ago, but before it could become a reality I had to do considerable research and experimentation to find a gold that would be strong and practical. Gold in its pure state is a soft metal and it would not be able to serve the purpose of a jug in frequent use. My research led me to a micro-alloyed gold that is of 99 percent pure with one percent titanium. This particular gold has the special quality of being able to be fashioned in a soft condition and subsequently hardened by heating. Although only previously used experimentally for making wedding rings and not a piece of such large scale, I realised that it could provide the solution and suddenly the jug became a possibility. The gold bullion was specially alloyed and the jug painstakingly made using a combination of high-tech and traditional time-honoured techniques. The whole process took 10 years from the moment my client said, “Can you make me a Jug in pure gold” to the pouring of claret from the finished glistening piece.”
“My client wanted an asset that wasn’t simply a value on a piece of paper, but something beautiful, tangible and unique, that combined both the intrinsic value of gold with artistry. He now has an asset that he can use and enjoy on a daily basis as well as being an heirloom for his family – or as my client said, “an everlasting investment.”
Martyn explained the commissioning and making process that produces such unique pieces;
“I begin by talking to the client about their tastes, needs, personally significant details and budget to guide them through the many options available. Some customers know exactly what they want, others need suggestions, so I also show work from my collections and images of past commissions to illustrate different styles, finishes etc. to help them visualize their finished piece. If using stones I will show a choice explaining the differences in qualities and price. Whilst chatting I usually sketch ideas, subsequently producing a finished design for the client’s final approval - only then do I ask for a 30% deposit. Making is the metamorphosis from two dimensions into a piece that exceeds the clients expectations using whichever combination of techniques produces the best result - raising, forging or fabricating silver, gold, platinum or palladium. All is possible and success is making the perfect piece through a pleasurable and fun process”
Clearly there have been many defining moments in Martyn’s career and I was keen to understand how it all began, had he naturally gravitated towards metal?
“I’ve been making things since I was a child. I made soap box carts, built bicycles and made intricate model kits,” explains Martyn. “I learnt to use hand and electric tools in my father’s extensive workshop, subsequently leading to rebuilding and modifying cars. This interest eventually, combined with a growing interest in art, led me to believe that a career in car design beckoned. However, during my Foundation year at Stourbridge College, the experience of working by hand with many materials including glass, led to the realisation that I needed to be in control of the whole design and making process rather than working as part of a team.”
“During the first year of the 3D Design Course at Birmingham Polytechnic I explored several disciplines including furniture, graphics, product design and jewellery, working with wood, plastics, glass and various metals. By the end of the year, I knew that I wanted the total control that only metal would provide - the precision that I needed to turn my ideas into reality. I realised that only running my own workshop would allow the single-mindedness to create objects that satisfied my standards – clearly I’m a control freak! Gold and silversmithing provided the scale of objects I was interested in, together with the possibility of self-employment. Graduating with a Masters degree I started my first workshop in my very understanding parents’ garage, later moving to my current location where I now have a considerably larger space than my initial small workshop.”
As Martyn mentions, he has been working as a designer/maker since the 1970s and has created a successful business for himself, but in those years there have been many changes in the craft world, I was intrigued to find out how these changes had affected Martyn’s business and how he had managed to embrace the changes.
“The greatest change is the mainstream acceptance of contemporary design,” he comments. ”Another change has been brought about by the demise of volume production of Silverware and Jewellery in this country, with 90% of jewellery now bought in the UK being manufactured overseas. Consequently buyers increasingly realise the value of the personal connection they can have with the designer-maker. We generally don’t mind where our necessary fridges and T-shirts are made as long as they work well and are comfortable, but everyone needs things with a personal meaning that make living a pleasure. It’s these objects made by designer makers that allow their customers to own pieces that reflect both their and the makers’ individuality.”
“There has also been an increase in high-quality shows which, with the birth of the internet, has made it easier for buyers to find makers who produce individual work of quality in stark contrast to that available on the High Street. Potential customers can now reach me through those shows and via my website and, consequently, I have a steady flow of work.”

Martyn Pugh - Gold & Silversmith
8 Winyates Crafts Centre, Redditch,
Worcestershire B98 0NR.
T: 01527 502513
www.martynpugh.co.uk

 
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