Ian Gillespie OBEMany congratulations to JHH Gillespie OBE, known as Ian to his friends, who celebrated his 100th birthday in April 2020. A founder member of ACJ in 1997, he is still making jewellery. Read more about his life, and his jewellery and silversmithing.





Ian is ACJ's first Centenarian!

We asked him about his work and his making, and he has kindly sent images of his work, and this article:


John ( Ian ) Gillespie, Centenarian and founder member of ACJ

I graduated BSc in Civil Engineering at Glasgow University in 1939. I joined Sir Robert McAlpine in a reserved occupation at Clydebank building munition factories in the grounds of the Singer sewing machine factory. Two members of the staff had to take turns overnight on air raid duty. I was on duty on the Monday night and the Clydebank Blitz occured on the Tuesday. All of the town was flattened and my two colleagues were killed.

After three years with McAlpines I decided to join the Royal Engineers, with whom I spent four years, including landing on Gold Beach Arromanche on D-Day with Force PLUTO. It was our wedding anniversary! Then from Normandy to the Baltic.

In civilian life after the war, I joined the Clyde Navigation Trust in Glasgow as a civil engineer. I then joined the Tyne Improvement Commission in Newcastle upon Tyne, latterly called the Port of Tyne, as Assistant Chief Engineer. I progressed through the organization to retire after 10 years as Managing Director.

For over 60 years I have been a member of the International Navigation Association with HQ in Brussels which is the forum where professionals from around the world join forces to provide expert advice on infrastructures to facilitate the growth of waterborne transport. I chaired the UK section for 5 years and served for 4 years as an International Vice President.

I am President of the Institution of Civil Engineers North East Seniors Section, having been a member of the Institution for 60 years. Also for 60 years, I have been a member of Newcastle Rotary Club, serving a term as President.

My hobbies include jewellery and silversmithing. I have kept bees for 60 years, and played golf for 80 years around the world, including in all the European countries, USA and Japan. I served on the Board of Governors of the Northern Counties School for the Deaf, this interest arose from my wife Ellen being a Pediatrician dealing with handicapped children.


Jewellery & SilversmithingJhh paper knives 1: Seahorse Silver

In 1975, my wife Ellen & I visited Ron and Marjory Farrer ( both architects); they said they had started making small pieces of jewellery in silver, and demonstrated to us the magic of soldering. This resulted in Ellen and I deciding to take up silver as a hobby.
We attended summer classes run by Norman Grant at Lundin Links, Fife for several years. We also took part in weekend classes run by Norman Cherry in Kelso.

We registered at London Assay Office with makers mark J&EG. The year date happened to be a. We also attended evening classes at King Edward School in Morpeth where Mr. Ellicott was an expert in raising bowls. My professional work as a civil engineer in Ports took me around the world, and we took the opportunity to further our jewellery and silversmithing skills.

For example we spent time with the Navaho, Hopi and Zuni jewellers in Arizona. We visited the Mikimoto Pearl Island in Japan, and spent a day in the 6 story factory of George Jensen in Copenhagen. I twice visited the world centre for gemstones at Ider Oberstein in Germany.

JHHG CoffeepotIn 1995 I attended a Gold Granulation master class in Manhattan at the Jewellery Institute of New York. In 2005 I spent a morning at London Assay Office where the Superintendent Assayer Dr. Robert Organ showed me round, explaining the processes involved. During a visit to Beijing I spent some time in a factory making cloisonne decorated vases and bowls. My son John lives in New York so I am familiar with the American craft scene. I got to know of dichroic glass, subsequently making use of it in Jewellery, also a lady living in Chicago makes dichroic handles for my letter openers. I also learned of urethane being used for forming spoons. My son in law and I made a 30 ton hydraulic jack for forming the bowl of the spoon. Another piece of equipment we made is a geared device for drawing down wire. We incorporated an old car seat belt.


JHHG dichroic pendant

I have always admired the work of other craft persons and have visited glass studios round the world. I like mixing silver and glass e.g. I fit silver collars and handles on claret jugs. Such is an outline of my training in silversmithing and Jewellery entirely as an amateur. I am greatly indebted to the two Normans, Grant and Cherry, for instilling in me the importance of quality in what you make:

if it is worth doing, do it well to the best of your ability”.

They also encouraged me to draw each design on paper. I am on my 19th design book.

Such advice I pass on to younger members of the ACJ as a guideline to their careers.




I named my work Seahorse Silver. (I am an old Sea Horse!) 

JHHG seahorses JHHG hallmarkAn aspect of my making jewellery and silversmithing vis a vis professionals is that they require to make a living and so have to choose their market, settle on a price band and design a suite of items within that band. Time spent on each item must be financially viable. In my case making in silver and gold is a hobby where time spent on an item is not so important, nor do I have to have a suite of designs to be recognised by the public. So I see professionals as designing narrow and vertical , whereas I design widely and horizontally, and as time is not important I can make items which would not be economic if they were to be sold. In this observation I am not being critical. The comment does not apply to one receiving a commission to make something where there is the valued rapport between the buyer and maker.


Another observation aimed at young professionals is the great advantage of being a member of ACJ with all the opportunities of networking, especially as many of them work alone in their studios. ACJ is a wonderful organisation run by dedicated volunteers.

JHHG 3 bangle JHHG Lapis bow
JHHG decanters 1 JHH celtic cross 1
JHHG OBE YinYanSuite


The Yin Yang suite, gold over silver designed on my PC.


I took the basic Yin Yang design which comprises two circles

within a larger one and using half of each of the smaller circles.

I then played around with the design, e.g doubling the X axis,

this produced an ellipse. I then rotated the X axis which further

distorted the design. I then printed off the design to different

sizes and made a suite of items, broach, necklace, cuff links etc.

I then cut the silver and gold as ellipses, cut the gold in two

and overlaid. I have not gone back to that design, I moved on.

JHHG Yumico Saki Pendant 

The Mikanagi Saki label

Years ago, at an international Ports conference, at the banquet
I sat with my Japanese fellow Vice Present Kiyoyasu Mikanagi and
his wife Eiko.

We talked silver I said I would make him a label for his Saki bottle,
but he would have to help design it.
One of the attached photos shows the sketch he thereupon made.
It is designed in the shape of a Shinto Shrine and bears the words
MIKANAGI and SAKI in Japanese.
I got a friend who is a professional hand engraver to engrave the lettering.

Sadly, Kiyoyasu died recently. His daughter Yumiko wrote to me saying
she had inherited Dad’s Saki Label and she has replaced the short chain
with a long one and wears it with pride as a pendant, which says

 JHHG saki label design