Did Queen Elizabeth I have you in her good books? You would have reason to be optimistic if she gifted you with a locket concealing portraits painted by Nicholas Hilliard, her miniaturist. Sir Frances Drake and Sir Thomas Heneage were two lucky recipients.
Queen Elizabeth I did not venture out without her own locket ring – a treasure of rubies, pearls and diamonds. Hidden under the diamond face were two portraits: one of Elizabeth herself and one of her mother, Queen Anne Boleyn, beheaded when Elizabeth was just two years old.
Elizabeth’s cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, kept a picture of herself and her son, James, in a bejeweled Peniciuk Locket – another treasure to be passed on when she was beheaded.
Prince Albert gave his beloved Queen Victoria a bracelet with eight lockets, each holding a portrait and lock of hair from one of their children. When Albert died, Victoria wore a mourning ring and a gold necklace locket that read: ‘Die reine Seele schwingt sich auf zu Gott’, or ‘The pure soul flies up above to the Lord.’ Inside was a lock of Prince Albert’s hair on one side, a photograph of him on the other.
In the late 18th Century, wealthy women used Vinaigrette lockets to mask less than pleasant body odors. Stuffed in these lockets were sponges that had been soaked in fragrant vinegars made from dried herbs or essential oils.
The mystery and romance of lockets has persisted over the centuries. What is hidden inside?
Joanna Lovett is carrying on the locket tradition with her unique design work here in Vancouver. “I have found that when someone is looking for a locket as a gift, they really stop and think about that person and often, they tell me, in a way they have not done before.”
Each of Lovett’s lockets has a hidden space for a special note or memento.“My friend and fellow artist came to me overwhelmed by the recent loss of her brother. She needed to find some way to honour his life.” Together they decided to create a ring with a compartment to keep some of his ashes. “The ashes were then sealed with a plate that has his initials and 48 tiny raised dots that she can see and touch, when she flips open her locket . The locket helps her treasure the number of years he lived in a healing and lasting way.”
The Earth Locket was the first that Lovett made. That series went on to include 6 more: Dream, Muse, Promise, Starfish, Planet and Treasured. “I have made over 280 lockets in these designs so far.”
Lovett keeps a log noting the unique numbers assigned to each locket. The chosen numbers have personal meaning: “a daughter’s date of departure to volunteer in Africa, a passed mother’s birthdate to remember her beginning not her end, years of marriage, number of children, the year a friend started out on a new venture in life, and so many others.”
Since Lovett also tracks locket owner names, dates and residences, she is now creating a map to show where her lockets are in the world. Each spring, Lovett will don one of her own lockets and travel to Europe, particularly Italy, for additional inspiration.
Though she makes all types of jewellery, Lovett’s second favourite outlet is rings. “I study hands a lot and am a fanatic about making rings, not only as a pleasure to look at, but to be super comfortable to wear. There are no edges on my rings and the insides are finished to a silky smoothness. It actually takes way longer to finish the inside than the outside!”
Her Stacker ring series is particularly popular. “I add to my Stacker series every year and have customers come to my shows and galleries regularly to add to them.”
Lovett started metalsmithing in grade 9, “thanks to a very progressive shop teacher who let girls into his classes.” She took summer jobs working under an experienced Robson Street jeweler. Lovett enjoyed the work so much, she kept on part-time through a BCIT business diploma and a career in Market Research.
Once her children were born, Lovett started doing jewellery repair and custom work for customers and galleries across Canada. The lapidary work required “hours and hours of cutting tiny semi-precious stones. I also repaired and rebuilt a lot of Inuit, Southwest and First Nations sculptures.”
Lovett was eventually inspired to create some sculptures of her own. “My carvings were of soapstone and alabaster and with inlaid semiprecious stones. I think working with sculptures and cutting stones lead me towards the textures and soft edges of the jewelry that I make today.”
In 1998, Lovett decided to make a full-time career out of jewellery design. “I contacted the jewelry department at VCC. It was good timing because they wanted to get more experienced students in the program. I was looking to receive formal training from no-nonsense European Master jewelers who expected excellence, so it was a perfect match. I loved every minute of my time there. “
Lovett takes an old school approach to her work. “For my materials I use locally sourced, recycled, re-refined pure silver as much as possible for my castings. I mix it with a specialty alloy that results in a lustrous sterling silver that is a pleasure to touch and work with. This sterling is also tarnish resistant.”
“In order to get the original soft shapes and designs for my pieces I use the investment casting process. Basically it’s the same way the ancient Egyptians made their adornment, plus some fancy equipment! The making process usually involves mocking up a design with foil/wire and wax – anything!”
“I then carve the original, cast the original, make a mold of it, make repeats – often then adding details and parts together, connecting many pieces together in what is known as a tree, casting again and then finishing all the parts and setting any stones. It all is very detailed, satisfying work.”
Working alongside Lovett is her talented assistant, Ceridwen Gammer. They go to a local casting service for the melting and pouring of the metal.
Lovett’s work has recently gone Hollywood. One ring and one locket were carefully chosen as key parts of the plot for the feature film Justice Unleashed, shot in Vancouver. Actress Emily Rose will wear the Earth Locket and leading man, Antonio Cupo, will wear a ring from the Roman Road series.
With all of her experience, what would Lovett recommend to other artisans looking to establish themselves?
1. Seek out other creators
“Surround yourself with all kinds of creative people. They speak your language.”
2. Tend the business
“Create strong connections with people in the business world and learn to speak their language. I belong to a very supportive group of women called ‘growyourbiz’. We meet once a month to learn from each other. We share openly all aspects of our very different business challenges.”
3. Quality first
“I test, test, test to make sure that everything will stand up to my customers expectations.“ Offering quality and being reliable allows Lovett to be stocked in top-flight retailers, such as the Vancouver Art Gallery Shop.
4. Get out there
Meet current and potential customers in-person. Lovett is getting ready for the Celebrate Vancouver show that runs from July 21st to 24th. “It is a wonderful celebration of Craft from all over Canada, free to attend and held in the spectacular Jack Poole Plaza just beside the Vancouver Convention Center.” Lovett will also make time for the various Circle Craft shows and Shiny Fuzzy Muddy, next running on December 10th and 11th.
Written by Elizabeth Newton
• Lovett jewellery photos courtesy of Joanna Lovett