Picture: MARY McCARTNEY
John Donalds autobiography, Precious Statements, can be purchased from McNidder & Grace
John Donald is one of the most innovative jewellers of the Twentieth Century. John would probably describe himself as an accidental goldsmith, hailing, as he did, from a family of professional golfers from Elgin in Scotland. Once he had found his path, John became one of the vanguard of designers, goldsmiths and silversmiths, including Gerald Benney, Andrew Grima, Robert Welch and David Mellor, who flourished in the 1960s and 1970s.
After the intricate designs of the Victorian, Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods, large stones often became the most important and prominent element of a piece jewellery, defining social status. John overturned this concept and, throughout his career, he has been determined to show that design is paramount and stones and texturing are additional but subordinate to the design. He experimented with ideas referring to the basic form and structural geometry of plants, natural crystals or honeycomb, imbuing them with the energy which he had discovered in Italian Baroque art. Often he refers back to the essence of Victorian design, his favourite period. References to this era can be seen throughout his career.
One of the first designer goldsmiths to set up his own retail shops (three in London and, at one time, one in Geneva), John realised that a shop front was vital in the days before the advent of the internet. He claims that this was a necessity to become more solvent in order to finance his ongoing design process. It is more likely that it is an illustration of the drive, determination and entrepreneurial spirit that epitomises this master craftsman.
At the time when John was given the opportunity to open a retail outlet in the City, this area was very much frowned upon by the trade as it was too far from the West End. They were also against the idea that a designer should need his own shop but, despite that, John was one of the first goldsmiths to return to Cheapside (in 1968), home to medieval goldsmiths from the 12th century. He was also the last to leave it.
Through his retail shops, often with their on-site workshops, John has been active in offering over a hundred apprentices both the opportunity of working with a master as well as receiving hands-on guidance in the industry. He has also advised on panels in design colleges and committees. John’s designs and techniques continue to influence contemporary designers and he is still commissioned by international and corporate clients. His work can be seen in the collections of The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths and The Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Royal Museum of Edinburgh, The Jewellery Museum in Pforzheim, various royal families as well as heads of industry and those fascinated by design.
Russell Cassleton Elliott