Q&A with contemporary jeweller Mirri Damer

Each month, Seasalt celebrates Cornwall’s vibrant artistic community by shining a light on the county’s creative pioneers. We spent the morning with contemporary jeweller Mirri Damer at her Falmouth workshop.

How did you get into jewellery?

I studied sculpture at art college and was interested in the line between fine art and craft. My work was made using traditional craft methods. When I finished, I looked for a trade where I could earn a living by making things. Jewellery was a natural fit.

My granny was a great collector of jewellery and in particular a 1960s jeweller, John Donald. I grew up fascinated by her collection, for me it conjured up glamour, sunshine and pirates treasure. I continue to be inspired by his work along with other jewellers from the ’60s. They used a lot of natural forms in a way that hadn’t been done before.

What else inspires your work?

I do loads of walking, drawing and collecting objects. I keep the words; colour, form and texture in my mind when I’m wandering around on the cliffs and the beaches. I draw and take photos, collating visual information. My work is understated but with a luxurious touch. It’s important that it can be worn within a Cornish lifestyle, on a daily basis and become part of who they are.

Can you tell us about your practice and process?

The initial idea comes from a form or texture and I begin to make a basic model in metal. I carve into it with grinding tools and files to get a basic form and once I’m happy with it, I will add to it. I use a lot of grinding and polishing tools on a small motor, this helps me put the form in and filing gives the final finish. By making it in metal first, it’s a haphazard, organic process, which evolves as I go along.

The good thing about metal is it is small and looks delicate, however it’s so resistant you can hammer it. I like that you have to force it to do what you want.

How long does a piece take or do you work on more than one at a time?

I always have a few pieces on the go, as I think it’s important to come back and look at things, reassess what I’ve done. Because jewellery is so small, the slightest curve in the wrong place can stand out.

From start to finish, if I knew what I was doing and what the design was, I could complete a piece in a week.

You make bespoke commissions for customers, are there any you can tell us about?

Customers will often come to me with their own stones. That will be a springboard into a design. I have a friend who is a gemmologist, she travels to Namibia and visits the mines there. She came back with the most amazing tourmaline. I worked with her on a piece and created a pendant that looked like a rockpool, with this beautiful deep blue green tourmaline.

I also worked with Dawn French on her engagement and wedding rings. As she knew of my work, she put my name forward to create the crown she wore, when she was announced as Falmouth University’s Chancellor. I worked on the project as part of a collaboration with the university’s fashion department. I made the crown based on Cornish flora, I incorporated serpentine from the Lizard and created an abstract shape inspired by the gorse flower. It was a great project to be a part of.

Can you tell us what you’re working on at the moment?

Lots of customers bring me their heirloom jewellery that they’ve inherited, often it is damaged or not in a style that they would wear. I take out the stones, melt down the gold and redesign a bespoke piece of jewellery for them. Customers give me free reign because they want their new piece to reflect my design style. This is great because I can be super creative!

What is your favourite part of the making process?

I get to a point when I know it’s going well. That’s my favourite part, when I can feel that I know it’s going to be a good piece of jewellery. It’s probably about mid-way through, just when it starts coming together.

What are your favourite materials to work with?

I love working with gold, I think the colour suits my work. I like the hidden treasure look, pirate gold, as if you’ve dug it up on the beach. My favourite stone would be a sapphire. I love sapphires and mainly work with them, as they’re the next hardest stone to a diamond. They come in every colour of the rainbow, they’re beautiful.

How do you source your materials?

All the materials I use come from the ground. I didn’t want to lose sight of that connection to the earth. I go to Sri Lanka to see the mines where I see the sapphires coming from the ground and going through the cutting and polishing process. I’ve built up a trusted network of suppliers and mine owners, it’s nice for my customer to know the provenance and where the stone was found. I go back every year and spend a month there, to revisit them and choose my sapphires. The UK market for sapphires is predominantly blues and pinks whereas I like other colours, which is why I go direct to the source. This allows me access to more unusual colours that haven’t been treated to suit the UK market. I love seeing where everything comes from.

What brought you down to Cornwall?

I’ve been in Cornwall for 16 years. I’ve lived in London, Bristol, abroad, various places and ended up in Cornwall and loved it. I brought my kids up down here and ended up staying.

Which is your favourite part of the Cornish coastline to explore and why?

I’m fond of the stretch between St Agnes and Porthtowan, it’s beautiful and wild. My kids grew up there, so we have lots of memories. I also love Rosemullion Head near Falmouth, lots of little coves and quiet gardens. They’re both special places to me.

When did you open your workshop here?

I was looking to find a showroom for my jewellery. When this shop became available I was delighted. I believe that the High Street in Falmouth is the best place in the town. It’s full of independent shops and makers and has strong community support. People have been able to discover my work and I get to meet my customers and be able to see their reaction to my work.

There is a team of us that work here in the workshop. We have Emma who is a bench worker, she helps me make jewellery and we have Charlie who is the studio manager, he does all the office work, paper work, customer orders. It’s amazing to have him, so Emma and I can just be at the bench making.

What does your perfect day look like?

I’m a positive person, so I enjoy most days! I love coming to the workshop, I love working, I love the beach and I love walking my dog and try to go for a swim most mornings.

Mirri wears: Treen Cove Jumpsuit

Seasalt Modern Creatives