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Tuesday, 2 January 2018 8:13:55 AM Australia/Sydney
When NAJO founder Jo Tory travelled to London recently, she was struck by the renewed vibrancy of the capital’s fashion and art scenes. London, it seems, is well and truly back at the forefront of cool. Here, Jo shows us the best of London via a few of her personal highlights.
The V&A and Balenciaga
London’s V&A Museum has always been one of my favourites – no surprise given that it’s the world’s best repository of decorative art and design. But I was particularly thrilled with the Balenciaga exhibition currently on show.
Spanish couturier Cristóbal Balenciaga was considered the master of haute couture in the 1950s and 1960s, even by fashion icons Christian Dior and Coco Chanel. To be able to get up close to the details of his original garments was a treat. He truly understood the architectural potential of a garment to transform women.
My favourite Balenciaga quote says “a woman has no need to be perfect or even beautiful to wear my dresses, the dress will do that for her”. I love this idea. At its heart lies the genius of simplicity in design, part of NAJO’s core ethos. As contemporary UK fashion designer Gareth Pugh puts it: “There was always an assumption that if something is incredibly expensive and very laboured over it needs to be very fussy. And I think that with Balenciaga the most beautiful things that were produced were the things that were the most simple and sublime.”
The Saatchi Gallery
Anyone who finds themselves near Sloane Square should definitely take a little time to explore the area, including the stunning window displays of the design boutiques along Pimlico Road and the contemporary art found at Saatchi Gallery.
A high point for me was the exhibition Calder on Paper: 1960 – 1976, a presentation of gouaches on paper by the American artist Alexander Calder. I have always loved the whimsy of Calder’s work in his signature sculptures and mobiles, so to see these graphic works on paper was inspiring.
Sculpture was a highlight at the gallery’s exhibition Iconoclasts: Art Out of the Mainstream. For me, the standouts were Echoes of the Kill (2015) by Alexi Williams Wynn, whose intricate wax sculpture was executed with an extraordinary and innovative technique, and Corvid (2011) by Kate MccGwire, a complex twist completely and perfectly covered in black crows’ feathers.
Old hotspots are new again
Regenerated in recent years, London’s traditional hotspots for fashion and art are enjoying a new lease of life. Don’t miss Oxford Circus for an iconic high street experience, Knightsbridge for a taste of London luxury, and Camden for an edgy market scene. First-time visitors will need to check Carnaby Street off their list in the heart of fashionable Soho, home to some of the city’s best dining. Shoreditch, in the city’s arty East End, is also enjoying renewed favour along with the adjacent Spitalfields, bustling with hipster cafes, cool markets and independent boutiques.
Play tourist, wherever you are
Travel reinvigorates creativity and regenerates our spirit for life’s next chapter. Wherever you’re headed this holiday period, even if you’re enjoying a staycation, be sure to include a gallery or museum visit to enrich your perspective. From all of us at NAJO, Happy New Year! Shop our latest collection now >
Wednesday, 18 October 2017 1:58:20 PM Australia/Sydney
Hand-hammered silver is a celebration of artistry
With the texture of rippling desert sands or the moonlight dancing across the ocean, the evocative beauty of hand-beaten sterling silver jewellery is enduring and universal.
At the core of its tactile appeal is the imperfect, hand-hewn element. Like nature itself, it is irresistible in the way it plays with light and beckons to be touched.
The technique of hand-beaten silver
Hammered or beaten silver is unique in the modern jewellery world. It’s crafted using techniques and skills almost entirely unchanged for generations – centuries, even.
The process is as simple as the name – and the effect – suggests. Fine, gleaming polished sterling silver is carefully, painstakingly hammered all over by hand to produce an organic texture. Every dint, dent, nick and impression is individually formed to create a one-of-kind pattern.
Because it only requires basic tools (hands, hammer, patience), it’s one of the earliest decorative styles developed by ancient metal craftspeople. Today, it manages to be as prized as ever for precisely these fundamental, handwrought qualities.
NAJO’s own artisan silversmiths in Mexico bring the age-old method to large bangles, petite earrings, spectacular collars, statement cuffs, wide rings and delicate pendants in stunning sterling silver. The shadows cast by each indentation create an optical illusion of movement and colour play. More playfully still, beaten silver covered in luxe yellow gold recalls the nourishing corn so intrinsic to Mexican life.
Hand-hammered silver in history
These beaten silver designs pay homage to the spirit of Mexico and the silversmiths working in the Grand Workshops of Taxco in the 1930s and 1940s. One such workshop was Los Castillo, who produced this beautiful hand-hammered jug with its classic Mexican style.
While it may have ancient roots, the distinctive rustic look of hammered silver only returned to popularity in the US around the end of the 19th century. In reaction to the prevailing fashion for production-line technologies, Rhode Island-based silver manufacturer Gorham developed an exclusive collection of handwrought silver under its boutique label "Martelé" – the French word for "hammered". Martelé silver pieces were exquisite creations that embraced artisanship, proudly showing the hammer marks of the maker instead of the buffed perfection of a machine-quality finish.
It's a sentiment as relevant as ever today, where evidence of the maker is a powerful reminder of an old-school beauty that’s so rare that it’s become new all over again. It sure does give fresh meaning to the idea of a 'maker's mark'.
Monday, 17 April 2017 4:10:00 PM Australia/Sydney
Think they don’t make things like they used to? Good news! The tradition of silversmithing is alive in Mexico.
Still made by hand, still made in Mexico
Today, NAJO’s Mexican sterling silver jewellery is still handcrafted in the workshops of Taxco, southwest of Mexico City. This is where the NAJO story began 30 years ago, and where the rich tradition of Mexican silversmithing began much earlier.
Those were the days… of Mexican silver
Taxco’s extensive silver reserves were discovered by the Spanish as early as the 16th century, although the mining town only really became world-famous as an artisan centre for silversmithing in the 1930s, when William Spratling set up what would become the first of the Grand Workshops.
Taxco’s Grand Workshops
Along with Spratling’s Las Delicias, Taxco’s grand workshops comprised Margot’s, Los Castillo and Antonio Pineda. Together, these workshops employed thousands of silversmiths in Taxco in the 1930s and 1940s and firmly established the town as a must-visit destination for jewellery enthusiasts and artistic types. By the time NAJO founder Jo Tory first visited in the 1980s, as she recalls, “just about every local family worked in silver and had workshops in their homes.”
The ‘grand’ has gone, but the skills remain
Taxco today is very different to its heyday. Workshops have reduced dramatically in both number and size. And yet the skills and knowledge passed down through generations of apprentices are still to be found by those who are willing to seek it out.
The people behind the pieces
Over the decades, NAJO has built strong personal relationships with individual Taxco silversmiths, who masterfully maintain and execute the time-honoured techniques behind some of our most popular designs.
Silversmith Jesus Hernandez handcrafts our enduring Naj ‘O’ Bangle, using the technique of die stamping. In this method, a sheet of sterling silver is pressed into a concave die so that it reproduces the shape of the die. The pieces are then hand soldered together to form the distinctive ‘O’ bangle, and hand-polished to a gleaming, bright white finish.
Meanwhile, master silversmith Señor Melesio uses the intricate repoussé technique – along with his 68 years of experience – to handcraft our show-stopping Abanico Necklace. Repoussé involves meticulously working the metal from the back side by hand to produce a motif in low relief. For added drama, the traditional pattern is then accentuated with oxidation.
There’s something a little magical about knowing these techniques have hardly changed over generations, and that, even today, NAJO’s made-in-Mexico jewellery continues to preserve the noble legacy of Taxco silversmiths.