Muriel Wilson, Founder member of ACJ and ex Editor of Findings magazine talks about commissioning a piece of jewellery.

Muriel Wilson Zoe Arnold Brooch/Pendant

It must be an unrivalled treat for a dedicated, but not rich, jewellery collector to be given the means with which to commission a very special piece. I was astonished, in April 2013, not only to be invited to a party at Goldsmiths' Hall in my honour when I retired from editing Findings, but to be presented with a startlingly large cheque representing generous contributions from over 40 of the guests – old friends from  ACJ, SJH and from the Hall.  The purpose of the gift was an opportunity to commission a piece of jewellery from an artist of my choice.

The challenge seemed daunting but on the way home I knew immediately what I wanted, and chose Zoe Arnold, whose work I had admired since buying a ring some years back with a little bird poised looking proudly down at its tiny golden egg. I have been intrigued by her idiosyncratic choice of materials and components, her skill in composing these into unique and evocative expression, comparable in some ways to Renaissance jewellery in their interpretation of a client's taste or history.  As a poet as well as jeweller, Zoe is able to articulate choices of components, so that the jewel can be biographical or snatch a significant memory.

We met to discuss the project, and after a catechism of questions about my tastes, my 'career' and ambitions, gradually focused on possible ideas. I had brought with me a few meaningful talismanic bit and pieces, souvenirs of events or people, favourite works of art, while we worked towards possible combinations. Then I waited while Zoe, busy with plenty of other orders and work for exhibitions, thought about our ideas for my piece.

Some months later, seven exciting drawings came through the post, so we met again and finalised my choice, and off she went to begin making the piece. It was to be a brooch, but we were concerned that the  agreed components would be heavy and Zoe suggested making it convertible into a pendant.

The largest element, the slab of labradorite, reflects my fascinated discovery of the mineral in my first job in 1954 in Birmingham Museum's Geology Department. The antique lava cameo with its asexual, mysterious half-smile stands for my, as yet, only basic study of jewellery history; the tiny opal is from the collection of gemstones-I-might-use-one-day in the period when I tried ham-fistedly to design and make jewellery, and the gold circle is inscribed with words from a well-known saying of my late husband's favourite philosopher, Wittgenstein: 'Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent'  - acting as an (ineffectual) brake on my now legendary tactlessnness.

But – there is a back as well!  On the silver support is a mysterious oxidised lozenge-shape, drawn from a favourite painting in the National Gallery by Pieter Saenredam of a church interior where the austere white colonnade is articulated by such shapes, acting as memorial hatchments.

Muriel Wilson Zoe Arnold back




The long gestation of the brooch increased the exciting prospect of acquiring something so intimately personal and so beautiful. The novelty of the process of commissioning something so important, which the generosity of so many friends had made possible, will stand as a landmark for me as an aspiring collector of contemporary jewellery and passionate devotee of beautiful things in all media.

Thank you, everyone, who made it happen.


Muriel Wilson          




Photography: Joel Degan