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Jewellery

How C W Sellors Transformed Five Centuries of Fashion Into Modern Jewellery

To accompany the House Style exhibition at Chatsworth, which is open until 22 October, Sotheby’s has produced three videos sponsored by specialist luxury jewellery retailer and manufacturer C W Sellors. We caught up with Chris Sellors and his jewellery designer daughter, Rebecca, the duo who worked closely with Lady Burlington to make the exhibition exhibits and the new jewellery collection.

How did the opportunity to work with Chatsworth come about?

The relationship between C W Sellors and Chatsworth dates back to the early 1980s when Chris Sellors, founder and managing director, was just starting out as a newly trained jeweller and lapidarist. He discovered he shared a love of Derbyshire Blue John with Duchess Deborah and the 11th Duke who purchased several of his early designs. When Lady Burlington came up with the idea of telling the story of five centuries of fashion at Chatsworth, she turned to Chris to bring some of the family’s glittering past back to life. "The work is absolutely incredible," said Lady Burlington. "I love that a Derbyshire company has got so enthused about this and has gone to such pains."

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NUMEROUS SKETCHES WERE MADE FROM THE ORIGINAL PHOTO

What challenges did you face?

"Having to work from a single, sepia photo of the lost headdress was a challenge, but an enjoyable one," said Paul Barker, C W Sellors Master Jeweller. "It was literally the only reference the team had to go on. It was worn by Louisa, Duchess of Devonshire at the lavish Devonshire House in 1897 as part of her costume as Zenobia, the third-century Queen of Palmyra, whose beauty was reputed to eclipse Cleopatra’s. "We made detailed sketches based on the photo," continued Paul. “There was a positive aspect in that the limited reference gave us a degree of creative license."

The finished headdress contains over 450 stones, ranging from a few millimetres in size to much larger pieces, sourced from all over the world: 164 Simulated Diamonds, 33 Amethyst, 118 Peridot, 119 Pearls and 19 hand crafted Derbyshire Blue John. It took 18 months to complete.

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THE HEADDRESS TOOK 18 MONTHS TO COMPLETE

How difficult was it to recreate the lost headdress and the relics diamond tiaras? 

While the headdress is considerably larger than many of the commissions we routinely undertake, all the processes and skills employed were the same traditional jewellery making skills that we use every day in our manufacturing workshops. Alongside the head-piece, our workshop and design team made copies of the celebrated Chatsworth diamond tiaras to go on display as part of the exhibition. However, unlike the headdress we were given privileged access to the originals.

The techniques used for recreating these pieces were the same as they have always been over the past 2,000 and more years – namely time, patience and skill. Between them the team working on the Chatsworth commissions had over 60 years’ experience in fine jewellery design and time 'at the bench.'  Putting their handcrafted jewellery making skills to the test has been a challenging but rewarding experience for everyone involved.

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THE FINISHED HEADDRESS CONTAINS OVER 450 STONES

What inspired the House Style jewellery collection?

Duchess Deborah's insect collection has been a wonderful inspiration for many pieces in the House Style Collection, including moths, caterpillars, spiders, wasps, dragonflies, beetles, bees, butterflies and even a grasshopper. These have been brought to life using 18ct yellow gold, silver, diamonds, precious and semi-precious gemstones and Plique- à-jour enamelling to capture the delicate colours in the insects’ wings. The famous Devonshire Lotus and Palmette diamond tiara, commissioned by Duchess Louise, the double Duchess married to the 8th Duke, has sparked a range of glittering 18ct white gold, diamonds and Derbyshire Blue John pendants, rings and earrings. They are also available in silver, marcasite and Derbyshire Blue John.

An early 19th century decorative chatelaine, another treasure on display, comprising a watch, seals and charms has been remodelled into a series of pendants in silver marcasite, Derbyshire Blue John and garnets for an authentic yet original interpretation of House Style. Finally, the House Style logo designed for the exhibition, together with the coiled snake from the Duke of Devonshire’s crest, have been turned into yet more fine jewels as stylish mementoes of this fabulous exhibition. 

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DUCHESS DEBORAH'S INSECT COLLECTION INSPIRED MANY PIECES OF THE MODERN JEWELLERY

What did you learn from being involved in the House Style exhibition?

While the level of traditional jewellery making skills is sadly in decline for many UK manufacturers, we were grateful to have had the opportunity to put ours to the test and prove that our level of expertise was at least equal to the jewellers of the late 19th Century. "It has been a privilege to have been invited to recreate such historical pieces and the 74-piece House Style Collection." said Chris Sellors, the company’s founder and managing director. "In doing so we like to think we’ve shared our affection for Chatsworth and the past and present generations of the family who live there." Now everyone can enjoy owning a piece of House Style jewellery. Made in Derbyshire for Derbyshire’s greatest house; a suitably stylish way to celebrate the landmark exhibition 'Five Centuries of Fashion at Chatsworth.'

Are you planning any further collaborations with Chatsworth?

We have been fortunate enough to work with Chatsworth over the past 37 years and we look forward to working together in the future to develop our relationship further.

For further information on the Chatsworth House Style collection visit http://www.cwsellorshousestyle.co.uk

LEAD IMAGE: CWS SILVER MARCASITE AND DERBYSHIRE BLUE JOHN 4-STONE DRAGONFLY BROOCH

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