Last month saw the launch of a new line of handmade jewellery inspired by Shakespeare. ‘The Noble Fool Collection’, created by jewellery designer, Jane Nead, is exclusive to The Arter located in Stratford-upon-Avon, and is on sale now via the shop itself or the Shakespeare by Design website. All items are handmade in sterling silver in Jane’s workshop and hallmarked by the Goldsmiths’ Company Assay Office. Selected designs will also be available in sterling silver, plated with 22ct yellow or 18ct rose gold.
Inspired by Touchstone from ‘As You Like It’, Jane Nead has taken hours of meticulous research into the play, its performance history and the use of touchstones in hallmarking, to develop a collection of pieces that are truly unique and beautiful.
“I’ve always loved the character of Touchstone the Fool, with his dry wit,” comments Jane. ”
“Early in my research, I discovered that Shakespeare wrote the character for Robert Armin, a member of his company, who was also a Goldsmith. Touchstone always ‘tells it like it is’ in the play – he is the measure of all things, exposing counterfeit and falsehood, much like real touchstones which are used to test precious metals. ”
“I have used elements of the original designs to create Touchflowers, diamond-shaped pendants and little Fools,” she explains. “The Fool silhouette is inspired by the statue of Shakespeare’s Fool on Henley Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, and the recurring diamond pattern is a reference to the traditional ‘harlequin’ pattern of a fool’s motley. Touchstone remains central to the Collection through the repetition of fretwork patterns inspired by the swatches I discovered during my initial research.”
At the heart of The Noble Fool Collection are two signature pieces: a box pendant and flower pendant. “There is a marked difference between the way most characters adapt to their lives in the Forest of Arden and the way Touchstone continues to hark back to his life at Court,” Jane continues. “This
reluctance to adapt is an important part of the design concept. The box contains a genuine touchstone fragment that can be removed and used to test precious metal , thus retaining its functionality. Likewise, in the play, whilst he is able to step outside his ‘box’ on occasion to enjoy the freedom of the Forest, Touchstone essentially remains trapped in his Court persona.”
The Touchflower pendant takes inspiration from traditional decorative touch needles. Each of the petals on the necklace is a touch needle of a known alloy and, when rubbed on the touchstone, the mark can be compared to a metal of unknown fineness for colour and texture. This 700 year old method of assaying metals is still in use today.
“The Touchflower represents the Forest of Arden, it’s shape was taken from an Elizabethan tapestry that was the inspiration for the set and costume design of a recent production,” says Jane.
“The fretwork of both pieces was inspired by the embroidery on a Touchstone costume, with the marks around the edge of the box echoing those made on touchstones. The embroidery swatches that I used to create the main fretwork patterns depict leaves, flowers and vines, but these are constrained by the rigid framework of silver, echoing Touchstone’s preference for the restraint of his life at Court.”
The Noble Fool Collection has been lovingly crafted by Jane Nead with a passion any Shakespearean can identify with. Inspired by the words, plays and life of William Shakespeare, Jane doesn’t just confine her influences to the physical world, but takes most of her inspiration from concepts, ideas, words and feelings. “I love the theatre, particularly Shakespeare’s plays, and I always enjoyed literary analysis,” she explains. “Once I realised that I could make this the focus of my work, I just had to decide where to start. There is so much richness of meaning an imagery in Shakespeare’s works and it’s an exciting and fascinating way to begin the design process.”
The Arter, exclusive stockists to the Shakespeare by Design debut collection, is situated within Hall’s Croft which is part of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and was once home to Shakespeare’s daughter, Susanna, and her husband Dr. John Hall. It offers a wide range of handpicked, unique and affordable gift ideas by talented local makers – visiting is a must for anybody making the trip to Stratford-upon-Avon. For more information, or to plan your visit, visit the website here.