Ever heard of niobium? Me neither! In this week’s Spotlight, we meet Alice Fry who uses this unusual material in her jewellery. 

Her work’s inspired by the natural minerals and crystals and she tells us why Sheffield and Derbyshire hold a special place in her heart…

Alice at work

Where do you live and what do you love about it?

I’ve just moved to Yorkshire and have a workshop in Sheffield. I love how Sheffield has a hive of silversmiths and jewellers to bounce off. I’ve been introduced to so many amazing makers; it’s a real family.

What do you make/create?

I create bespoke jewellery and silverware inspired by gemstones, minerals and rocks – using the ancient technique of chasing and repousse to ‘reimagine’ these crystal formations. I also specialise in the metal ‘niobium’, which I use to add highlights of colour to contrast with silver.

How would you describe your work?

My work is the embodiment of ethereal, fantastical mineral specimens with playful colour. I like juxtaposing angular, geometric shapes against organic rock-like forms, often using colour or texture to further contrast the two. I hope to create original, enduring works of art that can be passed down as treasures for generations to come – just like the earthly, timeless crystals and minerals that inspire me.

What do you love about what you do?

I find hammering metal all day long to be very therapeutic and fulfilling. There’s something innately satisfying about taking a flat sheet of metal and shaping it into a finished piece to be cherished and loved.

I also love being in control of all the aspects of my business – from photography to branding and exhibitions. Even though it can be time-consuming and challenging, I find that overcoming these problems gives me huge confidence boosts.

What/who inspires you and why?

Taking root in my childhood rock collection, my work is inspired by mineral specimens, rocks, and crystal formations.

It’s largely driven by my visit to the Blue John Caves in Derbyshire. I find it fascinating that hidden under these humdrum hills in the Peak District are the most beautiful purple crystal formations. My work encapsulates this feeling of unearthing hidden treasures. It also takes inspiration from mineral specimens you might find at the Natural History Museum, or textured rocks you might pick up on a beach.

I’m in love with the chaotic beauty of the rock formations the Earth throws at us, after billions of years of growing.

What’s your favourite piece and why?

My favourite piece is my “Amethyst” niobium box. I love the bright purple lid of the box that gives hints of blues and pinks on the facets of the crystals at different angles. The lid is chased by hand from a flat sheet of niobium. It was very challenging to create such sharp crystal shapes in close proximity to each other, and I made a few chasing tools especially for it. The lid is my own “amethyst” in metal and the cylindrical shape of the box is intended to represent a “core sample” of amethyst rock.

Although it is a small box, it packs a punch!

Amethyst niobium box

How did you get into doing what you do?

Some people have described the way I talk about my journey into jewellery as “a love story”.

As a child I collected rocks; I would drag my parents to rock shows and picked up rocks that had an interesting texture, colour or shape. I was about seven year old when my parents bought me a National Geographic children’s rock tumbler for my birthday and I remember the feeling of glee when the rough rocks I had collected came out of the tumbler all  shiny and bright and full of colour. My dad helped me glue it onto a metal ring and I wore it with pride to school the next day.

Taking jewellery nerd to the next level, I attended an after-school jewellery-making class (beading bracelets) in primary school taught by local jeweller and artist Sally Kheng. She was a huge inspiration for me and even ran a jewellery-making party for my 11th birthday! Throughout secondary school, I beaded jewellery with my friends and set up a jewellery-making club at school.

The transition from beading to metal work began when I did a one-to-one ring-making class when I was 13. This was the pivotal point at which I believed I could make a career out of jewellery making.

I also went to jewellery exhibitions, such as the “Desire” exhibition in London, when I was about 15. Here, I talked to many jewellers about my future career and it really opened my mind to the possibilities of jewellery. Talking to jeweller Alex Davis really inspired me to continue studying science and bring the scientific side of my brain into my jewellery work. Another jeweller, Brian Eburah, introduced me to the wonderful metal niobium, with his eye-catching colourful jewellery.

After studying Maths, Chemistry and Art for A-Level, I went straight to The Glasgow School of Art to study (BA Hons) Silversmithing and Jewellery Design. And I graduated with a First in 2020. From there I went straight to Bishopsland Educational Trust (a postgraduate residential course for silversmiths and jewellers) which I’ve just completed.

Where would you like to see your business in five years’ time?

I’d like to be taking part in big exhibitions such as Goldsmith’s Fair and meeting new customers. As well as having a steady stream of commissions to make larger bespoke work, I’d also like to teach part-time. I love passing on knowledge and seeing people’s excited faces at learning something new.

Who’s your dream customer – if you could pick anyone (dead or alive!)

My dream customer would be Leonardo de Vinci. He had an eye for engineering, design, craft, art and everything in between. He’d truly appreciate the technique and the work that goes into chasing my pieces. Although he was mostly famous for his paintings, he’s my idol, as he was a jack of all trades, and a master of all! He was also dyslexic, like me.

Where can we catch you?

I’m exhibiting in Shine 2021 (23 September- 22 December), a selling exhibition run by The Goldsmith’s Centre for emerging makers. Head over to their exhibition space in London to view my work in person, or browse on their website.

I’m also a selected maker for Elements Festival of Jewellery and Silver that’s showcasing work online and at pop-up events. I’m exhibiting at the pop-up exhibition at Hamilton and Inches in Edinburgh 14-17 October 2021. You’ll also be able to see me doing chasing demonstrations live there.

You can find out more about Alice and her work here.