“A circular shape which symbolised the beginning and end of all things”: How a ring concept came to mean much more than technical triumph

Amanda’s career defining concentric ring design marked a special point in her life as a goldsmith. It would also come to represent one of her most profound commissions.

Amanda is walking through London’s Liverpool Street station avoiding day trippers and the odd stray pigeon. She descends to the underground tube station, reaches the platform and is stunned by the sight of one of her rings, almost 2 metres in height on a billboard. “I was so excited – I wanted to tell everyone walking past, it was my ring!” It was the poster for the 2016 Goldsmiths’ Fair (an annual event and exhibition showcasing talented fine jewellers and silversmiths in the UK) featuring Amanda’s concentric circle ring design. A design she had been refining and working on for months, specifically for her Fair application. After years of applying to the Fair, she was in! “It was an incredible time,” and all thanks to her perseverance and commitment to creating something novel, contemporary, and personally fulfilling

MAKER SPOTLIGHT

Amanda is a MA graduate of the Royal College of Art, which underpins her 20-year professional career. She has received a gold award from the Goldsmiths’ Craft and Design Council, has taught at the RCA and is a Freeman of the Goldsmiths’ Company.

Inspiration for the concentric ring started 10 years prior to that magic moment on the London underground. Amanda had received a commission for an engagement ring from a client of Indian heritage. “The client was a committed activist concerned about ethics and sustainability” she says, “so the brief was quite open, but it couldn’t have any gems or diamonds to limit potential links to conflict and should incorporate the Indian gold jewellery she had inherited from her family.” Amanda therefore focused on her client’s Indian heritage and researched the history of Indian jewellery with its intricate filigree shapes and designs. She selected different shapes for the ring, simplifying, enlarging and slowly evolving the shapes into a complete design.

…Nothing is impossible – you can always find a way.  Good design is about problem solving and finding solutions, and there is always a solution!

In 2015, Amanda revisited the design of the engagement ring and was gripped by the allure, beauty and simplicity of circular forms, expressed through the Japanese zen philosophy of Ensō, originally meaning a circle created by two uninhibited brushstrokes, symbolising creative freedom, enlightenment, strength, the end and the beginning. Adding depth to this Ensō form would lead Amanda on to creating the trademark design that she is now renowned for. “I take the modest circular shape and use it as a blank canvas on which to apply detail through texture and layers. The symbolism and the meaning of the jewellery unfettered by fancy shapes and distraction.”

Reaching this point was by no means easy. In fact, when she asked fellow jewellers for advice even those that had been in the trade for 30 years were telling her it was impossible to layer multiple concentric circles in the way she wanted. “But nothing is impossible! You can always find a way. Good design is about problem solving and finding solutions, and there is always a solution!” She found success with Computer Aided Design backed up by experience with casting, general hand-making skills and of course, some trial and error.

Not long after Amanda saw the underground poster, she received an email from Jessica, an NHS crisis management professional. Jessica had seen the Concentric Ring on the Goldsmith’s Fair poster, the day she had been told that her husband Nick had been tragically diagnosed with stage 4 renal cancer: she was “moved to tears by the image and the fear of losing him.” Jessica asked Amanda if she could, in the future, combine her wedding ring, Nick’s wedding ring and her mother’s, so that she could keep their memories close to her.”

The Ensō form that Amanda had managed to translate into jewellery had a profound effect on Jessica. Amanda’s original description of the ring summed up her feelings and has never left her: “A circular shape which symbolised the beginning and end of all things. Infinity, enlightenment, togetherness. Open and closed. Wholeness and completion.”

In 2019, Amanda received another email from Jessica, confirming the commission of the ring. Amanda recalls how she felt at the time: “I think she was incredibly brave when she first came to see me at the studio after Nick passed away. This ring had been on her mind for four years and she had discussed it with Nick during that time. It must have been very emotional for her to visit me, and then leave Nick and her mum’s rings with me. I had huge respect for her for that.”

Amanda’s favourite part of the making process was melting the 24ct gold with her 9ct rings, and working out the correct ratios so that Jessica would have the 18ct ring she and Nick had always intended to have. For Amanda, this process added something extra that went beyond simply remodelling the rings – it added additional depth and meaning into the metal itself.

But the most satisfying part of the whole commission was sending Jessica the ring during lockdown, especially as she was working 7-day a week during one of the most challenging health crises in living memory. “She had been so patient waiting for it, and now that I had finally completed it, I was really eager for her to have it before we went into lockdown, so I sent it to her. I know she’s been wearing it every day since she received it, so I hope it has brought her some comfort during her stressful days at work.”

For Amanda, creating and cultivating lasting relationships with customers is what makes a career as a bespoke goldsmith so rewarding. As she says: “During Lockdown my regular newsletters have helped me reconnect with my clients, and some have been in touch after 10 or more years to say they are still wearing and love their jewellery.” She recognises the challenges presented by the pandemic but at the same time stresses the importance of adhering to the philosophy of her new favourite word: pivot – something we all find ourselves doing in order to accommodate change.

“It [pivoting] can be a good thing,” she says. “It is not about changing the destination, just adjusting the trajectory.” And this can have lasting implications, especially on our ability to harness creativity to enact change, something Amanda knows all too well, when making her concentric ring once seemed an impossible task. “I like to think I’ve redefined what it means to go around in circles,” she says on reflection, “it was never about getting unintentionally confused, it was about finding clarity.”


Author: Curtis McGlinchey | Photo Credit: Amanda Mansell

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MAKER SPOTLIGHT

Amanda is a MA graduate of the Royal College of Art, which underpins her 20-year professional career. She has received a gold award from the Goldsmiths’ Craft and Design Council, has taught at the RCA and is a Freeman of the Goldsmiths’ Company.