This year we are so delighted to welcome Heather, founder and silversmith behind Suffolk Silver, to the Thrive Collective. Her stunning jewellery designs are thoughtful, intricate and celebrate the beauty and wonder of the natural world. Heather often sources her subjects from local beauty spots in Suffolk and has even created an exclusive design for Thrive, in celebration of the gardens at Helmingham Hall. In this conversation we spoke to Heather about discovering her creativity, the process of working with silver clay and her hopes for the future of Suffolk Silver.
Heather working in her home studio
Have you always lived and worked in Suffolk? How does the Suffolk landscape inspire your jewellery design?
Yes I’m a Suffolk girl born and bred! After leaving school I travelled and taught English in Africa, before settling in Leicester with my now husband to do my nurse training. The pull of the Suffolk coast was always strong, so 7 years later we moved back and couldn’t be happier here. Inspiration for my jewellery is very literally taken from our Suffolk countryside. Using shells from our beaches, to acorns from our woods. Each piece has a real connection to a place and celebrates our beautiful landscapes.
When did you first discover silversmithing? Have you ever worked creatively in any other mediums?
Working in the creative industry is totally new to me. An art teacher once suggested it was best I didn’t take my study of art any further! But after a career as a nurse and having my two boys creativity through silversmithing is a wonderful and welcome release.
In 2016 I treated myself to a Silver clay course with the lovely Emma Mitchell. I’d admired her work for a long time and it was an absolute pleasure to meet her. I hoped I’d perhaps come away with something, wearable, I never expected to come away with a whole new career!
Since then I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with Woodbridge Jewellery Workshop and have discovered Kim Thompson’s online tutorials and a whole new world of traditional silversmithing has opened up to me! The modern and traditional techniques compliment each other so well and have really broadened my range.
Nature and the environment are the focus of your work and you capture intricate details through your jewellery, tell us a little bit about the processes you use.
Silver clay is a fantastic new medium, in which fine, recycled silver is mixed with an organic binder to form a clay. The clay captures incredible detail and lends itself perfectly to my style of jewellery.
Depending on the piece I’m making I’ll either make a mould of the natural find, this means the piece is a true replica and enables me to make pieces like my Sycamore necklace all year round. Or with pieces like my sage leaf earrings the leaf is pushed directly into the silver clay, making each piece unique.
As a business that celebrates nature, ensuring that my materials are sustainably sourced is incredibly important to me. I exclusively use recycled fine and sterling silver. Often referred to as ‘eco-silver’ it’s made using scrap silver from the medical, electronics and jewellery industry, there’s no loss of quality and it’s a wonderful way of reusing silver that would otherwise have gone to landfill.
You have made a beautiful new work especially for Thrive at Helmingham Hall, how did you choose your subject and work on this piece?
The gardens at Helmingham are absolutely beautiful and I really didn’t have to look hard for inspiration, in fact I was spoilt for choice! When I visited, the rose garden was just about to burst into bloom, the forms of the rose buds are just so elegant I thought they would make the perfect piece to celebrate the garden. The rosebud is such a tactile form I felt it needed to be 3D, so I carefully made a mould of the bud, before casting it in fine silver. I then spent a nervous few hours before firing the piece working with the dry, brittle clay, ensuring every detail was crisp and clear. After firing I hand polish all my pieces, watching the beautiful silver emerge is one of the highlights of my craft!
Do you have any plans for future work, seeking new inspiration or something you would particularly love to craft?
I’m a real beachcomber and am always on the hunt for amber! So I’d love to include some of my finds and some sustainably sourced semi-precious stones in my range. I’m working on a few new ideas combining the textures of nature, with gems. I’m really excited about them, so watch this space!
Are you open to commissions?
Absolutely! Working with customers to create something just for them is a real pleasure. Perhaps you have a treasured shell or a connection to a tree or plant or even a sentimental piece of lace? I can cast all of these finds and many more in silver, creating a truly individual piece of jewellery
What is your favourite thing to work on?
My favourite piece to make would have to be my sage leaf earrings, they combine traditional silversmithing techniques with modern silver clay and I can really get lost in making them!
What small businesses and brands are you loving at the moment?
There’s such a growing movement of small businesses and makers, I’m spoilt for choice! I love Hart Healing Kitchen for deliciously scented, sustainably made candles. Old Brewhouse pottery for beautiful stoneware, drinking from Ali’s mugs is a real treat! Bud and Bee for gorgeous homegrown flowers and Vida Haus make the best Chai Latte and Chocolate Brownies. The yoga’s pretty good too!
I love a playlist, ‘The Soothing Edit’ from The Daily Grind is a current favourite. The ‘No such thing as a fish’ podcast keeps me laughing and sometimes the peace and quiet of my studio once my children are asleep is just what I need!
// Images courtesy of Heather Williams @thesuffolksilversmith / product photography by Megan Clark//