The Lifetime Achievement Award
Lifetime Achievement Award 2020: Charlotte de Syllas
The Goldsmiths’ Craft & Design Council gives a Lifetime Achievement Award Medal (LAA) in recognition of a recipient’s outstanding contribution and commitment to the craft and industry of Silversmithing, Jewellery and the Allied Crafts. This year the Council’s LAA goes to:
Charlotte de Syllas
Charlotte has achieved a long career creating bespoke jewellery to her own designs. Each piece, made to commission, is suited to the client’s personality in a blending of colour, texture and form. The simple lines and sculptural smoothness that characterise her work often conceal, however, an intricate structure that has involved all her skills as goldsmith, fine carver and artist combined.
Charlotte’s work was celebrated in 2016 by a retrospective exhibition “Sculpting Gemstones” at Goldsmiths’ Hall. While no two pieces were alike – even earrings deliberately don’t match – together they displayed a lifelong love of colour and an original approach that brings innovation to traditional forms.
Charlotte decided to become a jeweller at the age of 15 and a mere ten years later, in 1971, she was made Freeman to the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths. Her talent had been noted and her entire student output acquired for the Goldsmiths’ Collection by Graham Hughes (Art Director 1951 –1981). She became Liveryman in 2007.
Growing up in an architectural family, she had a keen sense of design. At Hornsey College of Art in 1960s she was taught by Gerda Flöckinger, who regarded jewellery as art and encouraged experimentation of every kind. This suited Charlotte well, and a lifetime of questing and questioning now began, with techniques and materials pushed to extremes in pursuit of a special effect. Learning to cut cabochons proved a turning point, opening the way to shaping solid blocks of colour into three-dimensional forms. Charlotte now followed her own path, sculpting and carving gem materials with distinctive and sometimes startling results.
Dense hardstone – frequently jade – would be dramatically transformed to a wearable lightness, becoming feathery and translucent, or sinuous and lithe. Metal was no longer just a supporting frame but, integrated into the structure, it worked in partnership with stone. Gemstones themselves were viewed afresh: inclusions were seen not as flaws but spurs to the imagination. When dark lines in an aquamarine suggested weeds in flowing water, the entire crystal was shaped into a rippling wave. Inspiration sprang from natural forms: shells and wings, fins, feathers and curling leaves. But curves and spirals also have an intrinsic strength that is vital for delicate jewellery in constant use.
Working alone and to small, detailed scale can make a piece slow to complete, especially when fitted around family life. After years in London, Charlotte now lives and works in Norfolk. She still runs private classes in her studio, and also does occasional restoration work for orientalists.
Over the years she has taught at all the leading schools of art and design, including the RCA, and has given lectures and seminars at many major institutions such as the V&A and British Museum. She has also taught in Nigeria, Finland, India and Russia.
While most of Charlotte’s jewellery is privately owned, important pieces – both commissioned and acquired – are held in permanent collections at the V&A, the Crafts Council, the Goldsmiths’ Company, London, and the Swiss National Museum, Zurich.
Among the numerous awards and honours she has received are the Jerwood Prize (1995), the Goldsmiths’ Company Award (2007), and a Queen Elizabeth Trust Scholarship (1999) for exploring fine glass-casting (after a year’s dogged experimentation, she returned to minerals). Her work has been widely exhibited and featured in print.
Charlotte’s designs are distinctively unique and unparalleled. Her work, legacy and contribution are unrivalled, making her a worthy recipient of the GC&DC’s 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award.
Lifetime Achievement Award Recepients
2019 Grant Macdonald
2018 Patrick & Vivian Fuller
2017 Caroline Broadhead
2016 David McCarty
2015 Norman Bassant
2014 Gerald Whiles
2013 Christopher Lawrence
2012 Tony Shepherd
2011 Alex Styles
2010 Dorothy Hogg
2009 Stuart Devlin
2008 Paul Podolsky