LONDON — The British artist-jeweler John Donald couldn't find anyone to showcase his work when he began designing in London in the early Sixties.
Establishment jewelers didn't believe in "funny, modern jewelry," as Donald himself put it, and the fashion was still for antique or faux antique pieces.
Now Donald, 78, is considered a father of modern British jewelry design, with his experiments involving gold and his handcrafted pieces featuring organic shapes and genuine and synthetic stones.
Donald's work is the subject of a major retrospective at Goldsmiths' Hall in the City of London. Goldsmiths' Hall is the seat of the London livery company that has been hallmarking gold since the Middle Ages, and that continues to support the craft and industry of silversmithing and creating precious metal jewelry.
The show, which opens Friday and runs through July 1, will feature some 120 pieces, all of which have been lent by Donald's fans in the U.K., U.S., Middle East, Hong Kong and Japan.
On June 13, the designer will be in the spotlight again when Christie's London puts 15 of his pieces up for auction in the much-anticipated sale of the late Princess Margaret's jewels.
"I can still remember Princess Margaret and her mother picking their way over the cobblestones to my mews house in Bayswater, where I used to work," Donald said over coffee in the Goldsmiths' vault, where his jewels are stored. "And it wasn't a nice mews either. It was very scruffy, Victorian and cobbly."
After meeting the princess in 1964 — thanks to her photographer husband, Lord Snowdon — the two became friendly and Donald regularly crafted pieces of jewelry for her. He also has made jewels for Prince Charles to give as gifts.
In 1968, Donald eventually quit his mews and opened a small shop at Cheapside, in the City of London. Donald made most of his jewelry for private clients on commission.
Donald's designs often look as if they've washed up on the shores of a magical island, or grown among the greenery of a fantasy forest. His iconic pieces include a white and yellow gold brooch inspired by the corona resulting from the eclipse of the sun, crown shapes with tiny colored gems that look as if they are floating inside the hollow, and a gold bar brooch that resembles a cluster of twigs.Since he first began, Donald has experimented with gold, pouring the molten metal into cold buckets of water and watching the formation of cornflake shapes, or tiny cups and beads, which he would later gather up to form a brooch or bracelet. Donald also would cut and shape bits of solid gold to mimic the crystal formations of malachite or iron pyrite, and create corrugated or nubbly effects on the precious metal.
Although his influence has been far-reaching, Donald never intended to spark a revolution.
"I started work at the end of a very sterile period in this country," he said. "There were still food and clothing ration books, and overall, design quality was at a low ebb," he said. "It was easy to come up with new ideas."
Donald, who closed his Cheapside store in 2004 and retired to country life in East Sussex, continues to design. Lately, he's been working with wax. He creates shapes, makes a plaster cast and then pours gold into the cast.
"I've built a new workshop in the country," he said. "I'm not spent and I certainly haven't said all I have to say."
@tradesy is turning the concept of a showroom upside down with its new space in Santa Monica. Here, the company plans to hold events, art exhibits and a showcase rare fashion pieces like this Louis Vuitton boxing set. Get all the details on Tradesy’s first showroom on WWD.com. #wwdnews
Spotted last night at the @erdem x @hm launch event: Kate Bosworth, Rashida Jones, Kirsten Dunst and Selma Blair. The party, which took place in LA, also marked the opening of their pop-up shop. “I was interested in creating a collection that wasn’t in any way disposable. It was about pieces you’d create and keep forever, things that have a permanence to it,” designer Erdem Moralioglu said. #wwdeye (📷: Katie Jones)
Renee Zellweger in yellow in 2001 and again in 2017. Chosen as one of the 12 @pantone Leading Spring Colors (and dubbed “Meadowlark”), it only makes sense that the bright hue stands the test of time and is making a resurgence this season, seen already on stars like @blakelively and @gigihadid. (📷: Donato Sardello & @rexfeatures) #wwdfashion #tbt
Dior’s 70th anniversary celebration continues with a new exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. “Christian Dior,” which is scheduled to run through March 18, takes a look at the founders tenure from 1947 to 1057 and feature 40 designs. Pictured here is an evening gown from the Ailée, fall 1948-49 haute couture collection. #wwdfashion (📷: Brian Boyle)
As one of the most recognizable models in the world, Christy Turlington Burns has an insider’s view of the fashion industry and the allegations of sexual harassment swirling around it. “I can say that harassment and mistreatment have always been widely known and tolerated in the industry. The industry is surrounded by predators who thrive on the constant rejection and loneliness so many of us have experiences at some point in our careers,” Turlington told WWD, along with her suggestions for how the modeling world should protect younger women and men. Read more on WWD.com. Link in bio. (📷: Tony Palmieri) #wwdnews
@asics America has tapped a new brand ambassador: famed DJ/record producer @steveaoki. This initiative is intended to set the tone for the new brand identity and philosophy and will include partnerships with influencers and in-store and off-line activations that will continue into next year. This is Asics’ most significant marketing effort in two decades, and is expected to attract younger consumers to the brand. #wwdfashion
24-year-old Jean Prounis is redefining the rules of jewelry. Formerly a studio assistant to Jemima Kirke and a design apprentice at Ghuran, she focuses on handcrafted subtleties and ancient goldsmithing techniques. “There was a really sterile feel in the environment and I wanted to have jewelry with character that shapes how you wear it everyday,” Prounis said. Each piece is hand made in New York, either by Prounis or three other jewelers in the district. #wwdfashion
“These collections continue to build on that vision, empowering differently abled adults to express themselves through fashion,” said @tommyhilfiger of his line of adaptive apparel, which launches today. The line consists of 37 men’s and 34 women’s styles based upon the pieces from the spring Tommy Hilfiger sportswear collection. #wwdnews