Meet the Maker of our Celtic Jewelry Designer
You may or may not have thought about this before but for each piece of Celtic jewelry handcrafted in Ireland and leaving our shores, there is a jewelry designer and silver/goldsmith behind the piece. Let us take you behind the scenes to learn all you need to know about the passion and craftsmanship that goes into creating every piece of handcrafted and bespoke Celtic jewelry before it is sent off to customers around the world.
Why handmade jewelry?
Having trained as a silver & goldsmith, I really see the value in handmade pieces as opposed to machinery made or mass produced Celtic jewelry. It offers our customers the opportunity to work directly with the maker and to design their own item of wearable art. Rather than a repetitive, generic machine-made jewelry, there will be slight, subtle nuances and features that will be different in each piece. Every Irish goldsmith adds their unique skills and style which shines through. This can only be seen in handcrafted jewelry and this is exactly what makes it so precious.
What Inspired your Celtic jewelry collection ?
I set up Claddagh Design as I wanted to create a range of Irish inspired, design-led handmade Celtic jewelry. Much of my inspiration is drawn from the amazing discoveries from ancient times, many of which are now on public display in the National Museums of Ireland. I have always been interested in Irish archaeology and many of historic pieces discovered around Ireland has influenced my work. My Celtic jewelry designs are inspired by items dating as far back as the early Bronze Age in Ireland.
Throughout my collection, you will find references to the beautiful Celtic Torc and lunula or intricate detailing a similar to that found on the stunning Tara Brooch. Another exquisite example of Irish craftsmanship that has played a role in my design journey is the ornately decorated Ardagh chalice. I wanted to capture the beauty and history of these awe inspiring pieces by adapting elements so they can be worn in the modern age. More specially, I wanted to create a range of jewelry for those that appreciate the Celtic design aesthetic but prefer to wear a more contemporary style of jewelry.
When did you first begin making Celtic inspired jewelry?
I began straight after I left college. I studied sculpture in college which I loved. As part of the course, I was given my first opportunity to try my hand at designing and creating jewelry. Immediately, I knew I had found an area that I was passionate about and so, I decided to pursue a career in jewelry making. I was lucky enough to secure an apprenticeship where I studied under a very talented silversmith and well known jeweler here in Cork. Working with four other silversmiths and jewelers, we shared ideas and I learnt so many different skills and techniques during this time.
The range of commissions I worked on was diverse, with everything from engagement rings and wedding rings to chalices and tabernacles landing on my bench. It really was an exciting time with lots to be learnt and techniques to be silver and goldsmith techniques to be mastered. It was such a positive environment and it afforded me the opportunity to work on many spectacular pieces. From the very first day, I developed my skills and mastered the art of working on a wide range of silver and gold jewelry commissions but also many sculptural pieces in precious metals. Having discovered my passion, I went on to complete a Masters degree in design in Cardiff. And this is where, I truly developed my own design signature and style.
How do you handcraft a typical piece of Celtic Jewelry?
Each piece of jewelry is different but many of my pieces will follow a similar journey. Many of my Celtic designs including my Claddagh Wedding Ringsor our intricately inscribed Celtic Pendant begins with the initial sketches. Once, you are 100% happy with the design I have proposed, I then transfer these designs onto my sheets of sterling silver or gold. The thickness of the sheet of sterling silver, rose, white or yellow gold will vary depending on the item of jewelry I am creating. I use a special jeweler’s saw with a very thin, fine blade in order to give me this very level of detail of like to achieve at this stage. I then begin cutting following my sketches for precision.
This allows me to can transfer the jewelry design directly onto metal, exactly as we have agreed in the preliminary design sketch stage. From there I will remove the paper sketch and I will work on gently filing the piece. As the blade is quite fine, we do tend to get quite sharp edges so I smooth the rough edges and finish using emery paper for an extra fine finish. At this stage, the ring, pendant or other piece of jewelry will have started to take shape so I will usually send it for hallmarking at this point.
How are your Gold & Silver Celtic pieces hallmarked?
The process of hallmarking simply means stamping the piece with my own makers mark and authentication of metal by the Irish Assay Office in Dublin Castle. My makers mark is made up of my initials, EM for Eileen Moylan. Every maker in Ireland has a different mark. Once stamped with my makers mark, it is then sent to Dublin Castle for hallmarking. When it arrives in the hallmarking office, they independently test the piece to ensure the quality of metal is up to standard for example it must be a 9 or 18 karat gold or sterling silver before they will stamp it with their seal of approval. In Ireland, there are three marks that you can added. The first mark is the maker’s mark. The second is the mark of Hibernia. This is the mark of the Irish hallmarking office.
The third mark is the quality of the metal. In the case of sterling silver, it is 925 and this denotes the amount of silver. With sterling silver it is made up of 92.5% pure silver. The other metals are added to give its strength and malleability making it easier to work with and more importantly more wearable. The wonderful thing about the hallmarking system in Ireland is you can trace every piece of jewelry back to the maker. If in years to come someone finds a piece of jewelry I have made, by tracing the hallmark they can identify who made it they will know who made it, when they made and where they made it. It is lovely to know that in years to come there will be pieces of jewelry that will be traced right back here to my workshop here in County Cork.
The hallmarking office send back the pieces to me and I continue to work on the final stages of the piece. That may be polishing or adding additional engravings if it needs to be hand engraved. If there is soldering to be completed, I will quite often send-off separate parts to be hallmarked. When it arrives back I can solder together in place, This very much depends on the piece that I am making. That is usually the process.
How long do your customers wait to receive their unique Irish Jewelry?
Once the piece is returned from hallmarking and the final polish is complete, it is placed in an ultrasonic cleaner to remove the compound and residue from the workshop. It is then ready to go in it’s little presentation box and sent to their new owner. Generally, from agreeing on the final design to the date I ship it will take 5 weeks.
Tell us about your current Celtic jewelry collection?
The Claddagh Design collection is divided into four ranges.
The first being the Claddagh Jewelry collection. I wanted to put my own twist on what is an iconic image. I started by designing the Claddagh Tie Pins. Initially I started with men’s Celtic jewelry, as I found that there was very little men’s jewelry out there. From there, I developed the Claddagh pendant and Claddagh Ring which are often worn as wedding rings.
The Claddagh Ring is made up of three symbols. The hands which represent friendship. The heart in the center which represents love and finally the crown on top representing loyalty. The three symbols together combine the most important sentiments and foundation of every healthy relationship. The three most iconic symbols in Irish Jewelry.
The second range in the collection is my Ogham Jewelry range with my most popular pieces being our men's Anam Cara pendant and ladies personalized pendant Ogham is the oldest form or writing to be found in Ireland and can be dated back to as early as the 4th century. I have always been captivated by this mystical ancient script and so I decided to include it in my jewelry designs. It offers the wearer the opportunity to wear a personal message that only they will understand. An added bonus is these sleek and simple linear strokes down one central line each representing letters of the alphabet lends itself well to contemporary Celtic jewelry design. Generally, I first translate to Irish as this would be closer to the language that was in use at the time.
Celtic Knot Jewelry
The Celtic Knot Collection offers the wearer the opportunity to honor their Irish connection and Celtic heritage. Inspired by manuscripts and the ornately decorated artifacts of Ireland's past I hand engrave each piece with intricate Celtic knot work. The artists and craftspeople that originally worked on these astounding designs should and will always be honored in my jewelry. The never ending symbol of the Celtic knot as seen on my celtic knot cufflinks has no beginning and no end on my designs. This symbol represents and so my hope for each of these lovingly handmade pieces is that they will be passed down through generations of Irish family's worldwide.
Last but certainly not least, I worked on a number of design concepts based around the numerous examples of the Lunula and Torc discovered and as worn by the Celts. I wanted to create a range that was wearable but stayed true to the crescent or moon shaped form. By deconstructing the traditional form of the Celtic torc and how we know it would have been worn I was able to look at it from a different perspective. I worked on various torc pendants, torc cufflinks and other designs until I discovered alternatives ways to incorporate the torc into my jewelry collection. I retained the basic form which was seen as a symbol of mystical protection, I believe I created a range of wearable pendants that stay true to the original form but in redesigning as simple and solid pendants for the 21st century.
Custom & Bespoke Celtic Jewelry
As part of Claddagh Design, I also wanted to offer a custom jewelry service. It is a really nice part of the job. A customer provides me with a brief description of the piece of jewelry they are looking for. It can be as simple as one word, a concept or an idea that inspires them. To be able to translate an idea or concept that is special into a precious metal is a true privilege for me. By nature, we are all born creative but often, we won't have the means of creating pieces ourselves. I am fortunate enough to get the opportunity to make these beautiful pieces of jewelry for the person that commissions the piece or for their loved ones. The beauty of bespoke Celtic jewelry designs is each piece is totally unique, a completely one-of-a-kind that they will never find anywhere else.
Celtic knotwork and Celtic designs tend to be intricate, mathematical and meticulous which suits my style of silversmithing. I also strive to achieve that perfectly hand made heirloom and the artwork of the celt is laden with symbolism which compliments my approach to my work. It is personal and it is a reflection of who you are. The natural properties of any precious metal allows me to design, mold and form jewelry that is timeless and will last forever. It is a piece you can always wear. When you make it your own unique idea , handcrafted with love then it truly is so much more special!