Inside the Jewel Vault with Darren Sherwood

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Inside the Jewel Vault with Darren Sherwoodㅤㅤ

Jessica Cadzow-Collins

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JCC  My guest inside the Vault is the multi-talented mounter Darren Sherwood whose numerous digital skills blend seamlessly with his mastery of traditional craftsmanship.  The first and only goldsmith in his family, Darren started out on a foundation course at St Martins, then honed his skills in the greatest workshops in London from Grant MacDonald to Graff before setting up on his own.  On the way, he’s acquired more skills and accomplishments than most jewellers ever learn in one entire career.  Welcome Darren, I can’t wait to see what you have got for us inside the Jewel Vault!
DS Hello and thanks for having me.
JC Darren you’re amazing is there anything you can’t do?
DS So much - still got loads more to learn!
JC Oh well that’s incredible. So how have you been able to master so many different disciplines?
DS Well I wouldn’t say master, I would say more proficient in most yeah - it’s just down to, I’m a bit of a perfectionist so I continuously put myself down until I get something that I’m happy with really, which I was told in the trade that you are only as good as your last job so you always kind of aim for that!
JC Aim for perfection?
DS I don’t know if you ever achieve it!
JC Yeah so are you from a very creative background is your family this group of talented geniuses like you?
DS Well artistically no, cos my family originates from Trinidad and Tobago so we grew up there I spent my primary school years in Trinidad so there was no such thing as sport or art in Trinidad because they push bookwork and analytical skills more than anything, which is kind of strange for an island that created carnival.  So when I was growing up there was very little art we weren’t allowed by the schools to do art or if it was, it was your teacher wasn’t in to do something so go and do some art, it was like a substitute class but you know we grew up, my parents used to be involved in carnival so we were always around the big mask bands making. And witnessing people like Macfarlane or Peter Minshall he organised the openings for the Olympic games I think three times, and he is, I grew up with him designing costumes in Trinidad so, these are the things that kind of got me when I was young into the whole real creative thing and wanting to get into art - to get into Jewellery - I had no idea to get into Jewellery to be honest. 
JC So your parents & teachers were expecting you to follow a conventional academic path, how did you find yourself on that foundation course at Saint Martin’s that has led onto this roll call of the top workshops in the jewellery industry?  
DS Well we came back to England in 1994 and my sister was doing her O-levels in Trinidad so she stayed there until she was about 16. When she came back I moved into the same school that she did and she went into medicine she became a doctor, a GP, and obviously I went “I don’t want to do anything like that - I’m going into art” so you can imagine how that went down, but you know I did my A-levels in art, went for the interview at Saint Martin’s and they liked my work, and I got into the foundation course which was absolutely amazing. I’ve made some of my best friends and best contacts ever in Saint Martin’s, it was a great place it’s a great course you can trial everything so from photography to typography, sculpture, product design, everything;  so I specialised in jewellery, product design and sculpture because I love metal, I love shiny things so I thought I’ll go into sculpture and make metal sculpture products, like jewellery was just a tool to make metal things and then I realised I was way less talented I mean sculptors and fine artists mentality is completely polar opposite to mine.   One of the tutors turned around turned around and said you’re far too technical for sculpture, I can’t, I don’t have that freedom that sculptors have and I thought yeah well you’re pretty much right, I completely and utterly agree. I specialised in Jewellery because I thought I could still release my creativity, but on a very OCD technical level, to put it nicely.
JC Yes sure.  So, Darren you’ve had such a stellar pathway and worked with some of the greatest brands and names in jewellery from Graff to Cartier Stephen Webster, Garrard, Mikimoto, Grant Macdonald - you must have had some amazing gems and jewels pass through your hands.  So what was your personal criteria for choosing only six special pieces to put into your fantasy vault?
DS Well I’ve been very lucky to have been around and witness or handle some of these incredible jewels, pretty much from when I started in the industry but I think the six were probably not the most beautiful or amazing pieces that I’ve worked on but they were all - I mean, big steps for me personally.  Massive learning curve or an absolute nightmare of a job or just me trying new things and seeing how they’ll turn out which pushed me to a different direction in my career or in my personal skill sets. I have worked on things that are just astronomically expensive.  They were beautiful, but not one of my memorable pieces 
JC So tell us, talk through your pieces - what’s the first piece in the vault?
the silver and wooden clock
DS Well the first piece would be the silver and wooden clock that I designed back in the second year in college actually. Because of my work that I was producing in the first year of my BA course I was awarded a bursary from the Worshipful company of Goldsmiths, so I came up with this design submitted it to them and they approved it and I hand made that because back then I wanted to get into silversmithing more than anything so obviously as you can tell from the design I I very much like Star Wars and anything Sci- Fi
JC Yeah so true, the shape and the shiny body is very futuristic.  It’s an amazing shape for a clock, it’s like a piece of sculpture, with a long silver body with a round clockface set into the top, and with lots of lovely rich wood inlay – it’s pretty Star Wars-y is that where you got your idea?
DS Yes it was based on one of the newer designs or the concept designs for one of the ships in Star Wars episode one, which was out at the time that I made this. I’ve because my family in Trinidad also own, they have a Timberyard - tropical woods supplier; I always grew up around beautiful tropical words so I wanted to get that kind of combination of Silver and tropical would so obviously I picked a God awful shape and design where the typical Brian and Bob May thing as tutors was to say oh yeah that will be amazing that will be Fantastic!  This was an absolute nightmare of a job
JC I know I’m just looking at all of these curves it’s not an easy thing and then insetting into this very complex 3-D arrow which also flares and narrows at the waist, are these pieces of wood which must’ve been carved by you
DS  yes I literally went to a tropical timberyard bought a massive lump of paduke which is a beautiful orange wood and I offered the whole thing up and sculpted it to match the silver piece.  But the interesting thing was that I had to make the clock mechanism fit and to make the whole body to hold it in place and everything and to make everything symmetrical in metal and wood that was such a nice learning curve for me. I’d love to make another thing like it I just haven’t had the time as yet, I’ve got plans so maybe…
JC It’s interesting now primarily you’re a diamond mounter, but your early experience was really about using silver – and your love of form must have stayed with you to inspire your computer design skills.  You could have followed anyone of these career paths.  What was your first job after college?
DS when I left my degree course I went back to my old school as an art technician and I was losing the will to live really, because it was just so soul destroying more than anything. And then I got a letter from Brian Hill saying this gentleman is looking for a new diamond mounter to help him out or a new trainee. So I went there for the for the job interview - Mark Griffin, Mark Griffin at South Molton Street and I sat there and it was literally something to make a 4 claw collet in 9 carat yellow gold and I got there early I started at nine and I got there about eight I think and I left around 7:30 in the evening and I literally had one last solder on the bottom bezel because it was a little bit high on one claw and he said just heat up gently and press it down slightly and when that solder melts it will push that button bezel and so there I was heating it up gently this is after a 12 hour day almost and squeezing it down and then obviously over heated it - my tweezers snap shut and there was nothing left of this collet anyway you couldn’t find a claw anywhere nothing it was gone so for some miraculous way he goes you know what I see how you work and I’d like to give you a try so you can come in for a trial for three months to see how you get on see if it’s for you if you like it or not and then we can go from there. 
And then I was with him for six years it was brilliant yeah he’s such a good guy you know he he was very patient with me because I was breakdancing at the time still so I used to roll in red eyed cos I was break dancing the night before and he used to trust me.  I would say 80% of my work ethic is because of Mark, um I’ve never,  I used to work there I used to work really hard and I’ve never been in the workshop before him or left after him he works so so much harder than I ever could and obviously he turned out a lot more than I did but it was just incredible to see and because of that I kind of always had that work ethic stuck with me since. 
JC oh my god Darren I was actually cringing there at the image of your soldering fiasco, I really felt that.  I suppose we’ve all experienced nightmares like that!  Oh gosh… So talk us through the next piece in your vault.  This is the Gage style ring.
DS Ah yes the Gage-style ring.  That one - that was fun!
Gage-style ring with decorations surrounding a coloured gemstone
This is a design that the jeweller Elizabeth Gage made incredibly fashionable in the 1980’s & 90’s – yellow gold, big & bold & with decorations surrounding a coloured gemstone, quite ornate
These rings are pretty much very antique styled with loads of twisted wire that are mirrored so you have to have the twists opposite and loads of beads and loads of settings all over it and I thing that’s really annoying with this job one you have to turn up a flat band a wide flat band first which is your baseband that everything else slides onto or pins into so to get something completely symmetrical on those, annoying as it is, but the worst part is the twisted wires because you know, soldering a twisted wire if there is this the twisted wire has to finish at 0.8 mm wide then then each wire in it has to be 0.4, and then to solder that without melting them.  And to get them to meet at the back so the twist continues so it was absolute hell!
JC Yes Darren it’s making me feel upset just listening to that
DS Yes it was an amazing learning curve
JC It’s a beautiful ring  
DS Yes they’re beautiful things I just hope I never have to make one ever again but they’re lovely things and they’re very effective when they’re finished they do look really nice but like I say it was an absolute headache
JC So I’m presuming that this is in the vault because of the fact that it was a big learning curve, is that right?
DS Yeah it was an absolute huge learning curve because, I have this, I suppose I was probably 25 when I made that maybe. Maybe a bit younger, and I was still very much I need to get everything done quickly quickly quickly - these rings slow you right down, you can’t rush them because if you do, if you melt something like that most twisted band you are going to gonna lose days you know it’s it’s not a case of just pull it off and do something else, you will lose days on a job, as well as wasting a lot of metal and if you go too far wrong on it then you have to scrap the whole thing and start again, so they’re really good job to force you to, to take your time.  And just make you realise you’re not as good as you think you are because that is your perfect “you’re only you’re only as good as your last soldering job” really
JC  so it gives you respect to the metal and the technique
DS I hope this style comes back or more people get interested in it because this teaches a lot of people a lot of things, a lot of skill sets.  You can’t do this in CAD, that ring there is no way
JC Really? So there is no shortcut and you just have to learn how to do it, the technique - you have to have this mathematical precision?
DS Yeah an absolute nightmare
JC These sorts of eye-opening experiences - they didn’t daunt your determination to succeed in this industry at all? 
DS  No no I’m not really one to give up on things, you know I keep going until I’m happy, really and I’m very rarely happy, so you know I just keep battling on until I am somewhere where I’d like to be. Things like, jobs like this only make you better so, no things like that wouldn’t daunt me
JC so after Mark where did you go next?
DS  After I left Mark I went to Graff diamonds
JC  wow
DS International
JC And how did that all come about that must’ve been the most amazing experience 
DS Yeah well I remember that a couple of friends from Cartier told me that they will look for a new mounters, you should go and check them out and I went who the hell are Graff?   But alright but I didn’t have a clue I didn’t know.  And I applied for them and I remember going for the interview with Raymond Graff and he went can you make this? yeah, and I could do this? yeah I can do that yes and he says okay.  And he kind of just wanted to see my face and then he called back and I remember going in for the second interview and the security guard said when are you starting then and I said I don’t know I didn’t even get a job prospect yet I didn’t get told anything and um… Raymond called me and he goes yeah so when would you like to start? and I said I don’t know a month!   Completely caught me off guard, I didn’t have a clue I was going to get the job but you know it was a massive eye-opener Graff because it was a really see how the not even the other half the other 5% or the 3%...
JCC 0.01%  !!
DS Yeah I worked on the most expensive watch in the world and this £89 million necklace which is just mind blowing
JC Well and is this the piece in your vault tell us about piece no 3
DS Well piece number three this is a beautiful, yeah, it’s a ruby and diamond necklace that I made and you know it was a lot of fun I enjoyed it more than anything.  It’s a beautiful design. I really enjoyed it and the snap, the ‘tiny’ one carat ruby or sapphire at the back, no ruby, which for Graff standards is kind of small!  But it was just a really nice piece and I got to see it from start to finish as well see the stock photos of it as it was being worn and modelled, which was really nice - but there are so many things that could go terribly wrong in this job that you can’t really notice, because the double row of diamonds - so you’ve got round diamonds at the top set like a line bracelet and then the bottom is ruby and diamond like bearing in from hearts to emerald shapes and rounds.  That’s the problem you have with that, is when you put the centrepiece on the wrong way to pull on the necklace, if they pull too far apart or if you even if one joint is too tight in comparison to the others the whole thing is unsymmetrical.
JC Well looking at the model shot you’ve given me, it’s the sexiest necklace I think I’ve ever seen in my whole life it loses It just oozes glamour & excitement, the rubies look like droplets of blood, it flow down to the cleavage, it just looks effortless  - but when you start to describe the sort of technical nightmare of a assembling each of these articulations each every single collet it has to be a different size to fit that particular stone it does make you see in a whole fresh light - I must say it’s stunning! How many hours did it take?
DS Oh gosh that was I think about a three-week job I think
JC Graff’s gems and jewellery are a whole different level of quality and perfection, quite extraordinary, you’re so lucky to have experienced this world.
DS Yeah it was a lot of fun yes. That’s the good thing with Graff you’re able to experience things that you just wouldn’t see anywhere else in the world and they are stunning - stunning diamonds, stunning stones they really are probably the best in the world for what they do when it comes to - I remember seeing an emerald necklace there, and the size of the Colombian emeralds were just... you could buy a small country with the stones I reckon they were so expensive, beautiful, beautiful things.
JC So why is this necklace at all the amazing things that you’ve made and just mentioned, in your vault - why is it in your fantasy vault?
DS  I think it was one because I quite like rubies and this was one of the first necklaces I made, I just got very good memories from making this it was a lot of fun.
JC So talk us through piece 4 in your fantasy vault 
DS Ah the diamond cuff - the bane…
JC Is this also a Graff?  
DS Yes this is Graff piece so this was an absolute nightmare yeah…!
It’s like a huge cuff, probably about 6 inches long or high I would say so it goes up your arm and it was made up of little separate sections so in theory it looks like a fan, a symmetrical fan, you’ve got one centre open piece with diamonds down the middle of each, that it’s sprung so opens on two parts so it opens over the wrist and clicks down so the challenges included were from the design.  The first part, the first issue I got, was when you translate the design to a physical piece the curve doesn’t work, so if the curve doesn’t work then the rest of your layout doesn’t work, so for me to do something on a super accurate program, because most of this was on computer, with little handmade bits in between, so I CAD’ed (Computer Aided Design) the 3 sections as best I could, so that when it comes around the wrist it all just went out of whack and then you’ve got to think that so as the diamonds are tapering down from the top of the centre section that top round one is nine carats.
JC it’s it’s a vast piece
DS  Yeah the so called ‘pave’ they’ve got here is 47 carats of pave
JC Wow it’s mind blowing
DS So you can kind of understand the size of this thing it’s absolutely huge
JC How much was it worth?
DS  I have absolutely no idea
JC So this actually wasn’t a bespoke piece made to fit a person to order for a real person’s wrist it was just made on spec?
DS As you do!  It it’s really nice when it was finished it looks beautiful when it was polished, finished and everything, it looks really nice because all the stones in the middle look like they were floating because they were all on one bar going through them so you couldn’t really see the bar and they weren’t touching the ends.
It was it was a nightmare of a job and I’m kind glad I don’t have to see one again but since then I’ve made other cuffs for other companies so this thing has put me in much better stead than most mounters because to make cuffs this size not many people have!
JC  No Darren it’s kind of like some summiting Everest and then going onto only I don’t know climb Ben Nevis!
DS Yeah, yes so that’s why it’s in the vault because of the learning curve…yeah the learning curve and the sheer of amount of swearing that was involved in making it I think that was where I was
JC  So tell us about piece number five which is a cocker spaniel and adorable
DS  Yes this was a cocker spaniel for Faberge, it was to go inside one of the little eggs, so as you know when you open up a Faberge egg you’ve got a surprise in it?  So this was the one of them, and they phoned me up and said could you do this and I said maybe I’ve never tried it who sculpts a dog!? 
So I started off the way I started off as I found this really horrible like disgustingly scary little ceramic thing of a dog in a charity shop it was horrible it look like nothing like a dog but it kind of had a nice shape so I thought I’ll take some photos of that and I kind of had that on my screen and I pushed and pulled this is when I started using Z-brush 
JC Z-brush, that’s seriously advanced 3D sculpting software.
DS Yeah, I pushed and pulled this ball around and kind and you gotta think back then I didn’t know how to use it Z brush at all it but I kind of learnt how to use Z-brush by modelling this dog and finding out a new techniques and I did this in the weekend.
JC Wow!
DS I started on Friday night and finished Sunday
JC So instead of using wax and a traditional approach by carving it, you used digital 3-D modelling to create this – what’s the advantage of doing it on computer?
DS The good thing with doing things on the computer is I can size any size I want, so I’ve printed this out on my 3-D printer to about 6 cm high and then down to a centimetre high and it still holds all its detail
JC Well it’s stunning, and that’s piece five - why did you put that in having finished - how big is it finished?
DS  If I remember correctly it was tiny, something like two maybe 1.5 cm
JC Ooh mini
DS And he had diamond eyes and everything
JC He’s a super cute spaniel, with those long floppy ears and curly hair, he’s got his mouth open looks like he’s about to cover you with friendly licks!  The level of detail is incredible, I can even see tiny claws on his feet.
DS It was really ridiculous you can see how much I went into this I cut off his jaw and sculpted the inside of his mouth and all his gums and everything and then put it back in.
JC  Good heavens!
DS  Completely bonkers and over engineered but that’s kind of what I do -
JC The level of detail is mind blowing!
DS But this got me into learning a different program and a different way of doing CAD, it taught me a lot in sculpting, and what is actually possible and it forced me to do a things a different way because there’s no way you can do this in Rhino or Matrix it’s too sculptural and you couldn’t add the textures or all that stuff
JC So that’s why you’ve put it into your Vault - it’s yet another mile-stone along your journey in jewellery. 
JC So we got five pieces now in your fantasy vault, five quite different pieces what’s the sixth item and why?
DS  Well these were really strange earrings that I did for a workshop in London.  They were really creepy hands that an amethyst - so there was both sides the hands in different poses, two positions so you had an amethyst one at the top and watch at the bottom on either side of the ear, but the thing that got me this is like in here because my whole point of going into Z brush initially was to learn how to do sculptures you know back to my thinking that I could be like a sculptor one day, whatever but but I’ll get this and I’ll just sculpt Batman or something, and make a cool model then I’ll paint it and it will be amazing.  But then I realised I really cannot sculpt people and anatomy is a whole different new skill and I know nothing. 
I thought, right well I know nothing, so when I try to do my first hand that I did yeah you know you do the usual thing you get a lump and you try to pull out fingers and then it went terribly wrong it looked like something out of a horror film really so… yeah I didn’t do that one. 
So I looked at a few more tutorials and it went back into my anatomy, which has always fascinated me since I was young as well and most of the sculptors will tell you build your skeleton then you build the muscle groups then you go from there and that’s what I did I studied all my anatomy books and I got all the muscle group sorted, but what was really good with this was that when I sculpted the hand which was just a basic hand upright position, I then put a skeleton inside of it which is called rigging - so you make a hand then you put a skeleton in it then you can pose it and then all your details that you put on that initial hand follows, so it was like a massive massive step forward for me in the CAD side of things I learnt a load - loads and loads with that - that and they were extremely creepy!
JC And this was a one off piece for a client was it, just a pair of earrings?
DS Yeah yeah
JC And you went to this level of study and understanding and preparation to produce this pair of hands it’s just astonishing Darren!
DS  yeah bit overkill but yeah ha ha I know
JC Have you be ever been asked to do anything quite like this again?
DS No no I haven’t!
JC  Because they are beautiful the hands, you know the finished product they are stunning.
DS Yeah I had put little tiny diamond rings on them and they were wearing gold bracelets as well, so that bit was hand-made at the end
JC And so were they the client’s hands or were they just anybody’s hands - generic hands? 
DS No they were just they were anybody’s hands.  You’ve got a 2-D sketch of a drawing, of a hand kind of in the position that you want and then you’ve got to turn a 3-D hand into that pose, which is really interesting because… and also the hand that is slightly open so that looks like its holding something: the amethyst had to fit inside the hand with a collet so I had to make them in a way that, kind of like sculpt the stone and the bezel and the collet to fit inside that hand.
JC  Well I’ve been told by sculptors that hands are the, they’re a  whole level of mastery because once you can sculpt hands you can do pretty much anything!  They’re very difficult. 
DS  Well yes I’ve still got to work out the rest of the body I haven’t done forearms yet ha ha ha
JC You’ve set up your own business of course, haven’t you, plus it’s amazing you’ve had time to get married and raise a family you know, you work around the clock - how involved are you with the children or have they had to involved with your work so that they can see you – have you got them on the payroll yet?
DS Oh gosh yeah, my little Demon children yes. So we have a new shop Sherwood Jewellery based in Purley and my wife and I we renovated the whole place on our own over lock-down and we were juggling between one of us here and one of us at home with the kids and I’ve been working anyway because I’ve never stopped doing CAD work for people either in England or overseas so it’s kind of always working always doing something and you know my wife is absolutely amazing she is incredible at multitasking where as I pretty much have to remember to blink and breathe at the same time, you know.  So we’ve turned one of the rooms into a room for the kids, not that it keeps them inside that when they’re in there, so if you ever come over to the shop you will probably if they’re here, you’ll definitely hear them, and if they’re not then you will definitely see their evidence with little hand prints all over the wall, over the glass everywhere, the little Demons but yes I’ve four little ones from 1.5 up to 6.
Darren Sherwood and his family
JC Wow I can’t believe that, such a busy man, and with your wife married to a jeweller of your incredible talent what’s her wedding and engagement ring?  I’m expecting something very amazing
DS Yeah well well let’s see I made her engagement ring three years after we were married ha ha ha
JC  Under duress?!
DS Yeah kinda because you know it was literally… the only thing that made me make it was “Where is her engagement ring, you’re a jeweller?”  Ha ha I’ve got the diamond alright, one step at a time!   So yeah it was sitting doing nothing for quite some time but you know she got a very nice one, and I can’t even remember how big the thing was now anyway it’s like a kind of a halo I think it’s an Aascher cut in the centre with a split shank and set on all sides
JC  Amazing
DS  So yeah it’s a pretty cool.
JC So overall I mean now you’re running a shop, you’ve had a whole career, of how many years have you been in jewellery now?
DS it would be 22 years in total since I started.
JC  And so yeah you got many more years ahead of you obviously so what do you think is so special about jewellery that you’ve devoted these hours and nights - days and nights?
DS It’s essential.  People love jewellery even if you don’t like jewellery you still have jewellery if it’s a bead necklace or lace bracelet, it’s jewellery.  It’s as like portable money you know you’ve got people like I was saying about Morgan Freeman who is rocking his giant earrings just in case he dies anywhere he has money to bury him you know?
JC  Like a pirate!
DS Like a pirate exactly!  But I think that you know, jewellery is… people don’t really give it the kind of respect it’s due, because you gotta think every generation as far back as you can go to the Babylonians were making jewellery.  I enjoy fun jobs and things that are difficult, so people other people don’t want to touch it yeah you know I’ve never had a repeat job since I started.
JC But you are the go to guy anything is really difficult or complicated
DS I think the thing with jewellery is that I think people are getting a bit too used to the run-of-the-mill jewellery and they’re forgetting that jewellery is really not for you it’s who you’re going to give it to when you’re gone.  You’re making heirlooms for other people & I like the idea that pieces that I make can last 100s and hundreds of years and will hopefully still be cherished by the same family.
JC So that’s beautifully put Darren.  So let’s review your Vault: we have six pieces, all very different pieces: from your first foray at college into silversmithing making a sculptural clock from Caribbean wooden & silver, to the surprisingly difficult Gage style ring, the spectacular pieces you made at Graff: the diamond cuff and the ruby necklace,  the nano spaniel for that Faberge egg surprise, the amazing hand earrings: if you were about to lose all of those pieces apart from one which one would you save what which one would you keep safe in the Vault forever?
DS Well value wise it would be that cuff!  Ha ha I don’t know about keeping it safe for ever it might be in bits!  But no I think the spaniel.  That was the most fun for me yeah, I enjoyed that one and I got to look at a really cute dog to sculpt it so that wasn’t too bad
JC  Okay well you can keep that - but you probably need to have a loupe to have a look at all - to enjoy all the miniature detail!  Well it’s been wonderful looking at your fantasy vault and exploring you very inspiring very diverse and very technically difficult pieces, and sharing them with you, thank you so much Darren for sharing it with us!
DS  Thank you for having me.
Gage-style ring with decorations surrounding a coloured gemstone
the silver and wooden clock