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Arts & Crafts Bernard Instone

Bernard Instone (1891-1987) was born and educated in Birmingham. He became a renowned designer of contemporary jewellery in the 1920s and a considerable name and employer in the trade. He is remembered today as a key proponent in the second wave of Arts and Crafts metalwork makers and designers. His jewellery is highly collectable.

Instone lived and worked across the city. Born in King’s Norton, his family moved during his childhood to nearby Sparkhill. He travelled to the city centre to take up his scholarship position at the Central School of Art, aged 12. Instone gravitated to metalwork and attended the Birmingham School of Jewellery and Silversmithing, which still occupies its same premises on Vittoria Street in the Jewellery Quarter today. He later returned to the school to teach in the year preceding the outbreak of the First World War.

Between his education and his military service, Instone’s talents were spotted by successful Arts and Crafts silversmith and jeweller John Paul Cooper, who had also taught at the Central School of Art and must have had a strong stylistic influence on Instone. It was from Cooper’s studio in Westerham, Kent that Instone was selected by goldsmith to the Berlin Court Emil Lettre to train at the workshops in Unter-den-Linden, Germany. His brother, Lewis, was also employed by the Court as a silversmith. With this foundation, Bernard’s practical knowledge of jewellery making and silversmithing would inform his designs for the rest of his career.

After the First World War, Instone began to pursue his own creative routes, particularly his characteristic Arts & Crafts style. With the 1920 opening of Langstone Works, his workshop in the Digbeth area of central Birmingham, Instone became a business owner and employer. Rumour has it, he managed the business with a strict hand. Indeed, when his sons joined the firm, a trade story puts it that he refused to pay them, instead buying things for them as and when they needed it. His sons Paul and John went on to lead the business side of the company (until they fell out and Paul continued the business alone). This gave Bernard time to focus on adapting his designs for a larger, more commercial output. This included selling his work to the famous London department store Liberty.

Instone championed the British contemporary jewellery trade. He became President of the Birmingham Jewellers’ & Silversmiths’ Association in 1937 and was a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths in London. He also helped organise the 1935 British Art in Industry Exhibition at Burlington House.

Instone’s silver gem-set designs typically invoked nature and all its colours. Around pearls, amethysts, citrines, moonstones and chrysoprase stones, he wove silver leaf and flower motifs. Some necklaces and bracelets were designed as wreaths of interlocking or layered vine leaves and berries. Others have bright enamel in soft blue, pink, green and yellow to depict simple floral motifs that resemble forget-me-nots and lily of the valley. Most depictions of leaves and flowers are stylised and relatively simplistic to show off the stones or enamel. They have a clear design link to the softer shapes of the Arts and Crafts movement, in comparison to the contemporary Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles. The balance of colour with motifs taken from nature has ensured the enduring appeal of Bernard Instone jewels. Some carry a mark of his initials, whilst some have a stamp of his name or of his workshop, Langstone; others bear no direct mark and must instead be matched to known designs.

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