dorrie nossiter

Dorrie Nossiter

When Polly was a student training at John Cass in London the style of her work was greatlly influenced by various jewellers, the most prominet of whom was Dorrie Nossiter probably because, as a young Magpie, Polly used to play with

polly gasston

Polly Gasston

Mum’s jewellery in which there were two pieces by this marvellous woman, and it must have made a huge impression on her.  As we were going through the few pieces Polly still has from her student days the recurring theme of her work made me curious about this source of inspiration.


We’ve all heard about the Industrial Revolution, the Arts and Crafts Movement, Art Nouveau and Art Deco but I for one never knew which was the chicken and which the egg, nor how they influenced each other, but it’s a fascinating story about arts and styles with which we’re all familiar, and especially about the role these times played in the jewellery trade.  But I’ll back up a bit to set the scene…

The Industrial Revolution started in Britain in 1760 and really continued till 1840, and was the term used to describe the economic

machine made 1880

Machine made circa 1880

development in Britain. In laymans terms it was the change from an agrarian and handcraft economy to an economy dominated by industry and machine manufacturing.  Technological, socioeconomic and cultural changes were huge and rapid, which in turn meant that workers acquired new skills that took them from being craftsmen using hand tools to being machine operators and factory workers.  You can immediately see how this would affect the jewellery trade.  Not everyone had been able to afford jewellery up until now, and the styles and materials were completely influenced by the relatively few designers and makers, but now with the advent of the possibility of mass production, people who had no history in the jewellery trade were designing and manufacturing jewellery for the masses, and it was being made by machines operated by people who also had no skills with the metals and stones invloved.  While this sounds like a recipe for disaster it wasn’t all bad, and it did introduce new materials and styles to the trade and it made it widely available by being so much more affordable.

william morris

William Morris

But not everyone was enamoured with this new mechanised way of producing everything and the reaction to it was the Arts and Crafts movement which started in about 1880, spearheaded and supported by the likes of William Morris of the lovely wallpaper fame, Augustus Pugin, Architect and designer, and John Ruskin, writer and art critic.  They railed against not only the conditions of the workers but also the way in which quality and design had suffered in the process.  They wanted artists to be responsible for their own designs, to make their crafts by hand and to pass on the skills to others thus maintaining an extremely high standard in both design and quality which, they felt, had been lost in the mechanising of production. Because the movement was supported not only by artists but by intellectuals as well, it moved quickly and spread from England to Europe and America.

Dorrie Nossiter

Born when the movement had been going for about 13 years, Dorrie Nossiter was the perfect product of the Arts and Crafts movement. She was educated at the Municipal School of Art in Birmingham where she studied, among other things, plant drawing.  When she was at school she won a prize for drawing which was a book called Plant forms and Design by Midgley and Lilley and she drew extensively on this bookfor her inspiration.  Coupled with her love of gardening, it’s easy to see how this influenced her jewellery making. She used both silver and gold, and she loved coloured stones – mostly semi precious – and pearls, which represented the flowers that inspired her. She was well loved, flamboyant and hard working and enjoyed a good deal of success as a jeweller.  Interestingly Nossiter’s work is often mistaken for that of another jeweller working at the same time, Sybil Dunlop.  A little bit older than Nossiter, Dunlop also drew on nature for her inspiration and to the unpractised eye – like mine – it’s easy to see how the work of these two artists could be confused, but Polly pointed out that Dunlop’s wire work, in particular, is not as fine as Dorrie Nossiter’s and after comparing pages and pages of images I think I can begin to see the difference.  What I find extraordinary is that neither Dorrie Nossiter nor Sybil Dunlop signed their work. Hallmarking was not mandatory until 1973 which was right at the end of both these jewellers careers, but without a signature of any sort on their work, getting them misattributed to one another is hardly surprising.

polly gasston

Polly Gasston 1972

After Polly graduated as a goldsmith she worked in London for a few years and then her life changed and took her away from the bench for nigh on thirty years. When she came back to it she found that her style had changed dramatically; it had become stronger, bolder, and completely contemporary – and seriously influenced by the goldsmiths of the ancient near east.  But I think the influence of the ancients is more about the metal than the style because while this change in style is completely evident when superficially comparing work from her youth and her work of today, it’s safe to say that if you look at her current work with knowledge of her past style, you can see that it still exists to some degree. Her signature ring is a vine ring – a piece of wire twisted and wound to look exactly like the tendril from a vine.  She still loves the bright cabochon stones that she favoured in her youth, and she still strives for a natural, organic look and feel to her work which is exactly what influenced Dorrie Nossiter all those years ago, and in turn Polly. Sort of ‘same book, different cover’ really.

polly gasston brooch

Polly Gasston 2018

As a discerning Magpie I can see that if Polly had come back to the bench and simply retained the style from her youth she might not enjoy the success that she does today because styles move on and tastes change. But how clever of her to leap back into the trade picking up where she left off, technically, but completely up with the times and wholly marketable from the get-go with her new style, without sacrificing any of her natural instincts for colour and form.

Old style or new, this Magpie’s fave jeweller. Obviously!

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