Barbara Tipple’s engagement ring, featuring a six-carat old-cut diamond
British jeweller Barbara Tipple has been in the industry for over 45 years, having been inspired by a visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum when she was 19. She studied jewellery design at Hornsey College of Art. In 1973, during her second year, she was awarded her first De Beers Diamonds International prize, an accolade she would receive twice more, making her one of only two British jewellers to receive the award three times – the other being Andrew Grima.
Tipple has always remained an independent jeweller and is renowned for her unconventional designs, often inspired by nature and featuring unusual combinations of materials such as steel, bronze, moonstone and quartz, with each piece handmade in Britain.
Based in Southsea, Hampshire, where she lives with her husband David, who is also her goldsmith, she shares the most precious pieces from her own collection.
Antique lorgnette brooch
This came from a wonderful client of mine, Mrs Dorothy Payne, who first came to me when she was about 92. She wanted to commission rings because she wasn’t dextrous enough to fiddle around with clasps any more. She was an incredible woman; super bright and very gutsy.
She never worked but she adored dressmaking; she would have loved to be a fashion designer. We used to go out for lunch; I remember one time her doctor calling to tell her she needed to go in for a blood transfusion and she said “I can’t possibly, I’m lunching with my friend!”
She died when she was 102 and her son gave this to me as she had been fond of me. It would have been a present from her husband when she was young so it’s very old: from about 1910.
The craftsmanship is incredible: you press a little button and out pings a pair of glasses, it works beautifully still. I don’t need glasses so I never wear it – I’d be terrified of losing it – but I love it as it reminds me of Dorothy.
Rock crystal necklace
I bought this necklace when I was a student, probably from Antiquarius on the Kings Road. It would have been about 1973, when I won my first Diamonds International award – maybe I was celebrating that. If I was in the area I’d always pop in and have a browse because I loved to look at antique jewellery but I certainly couldn’t afford to buy much.
This necklace however I had to have, even though I was a poor student – I probably wouldn’t have eaten for a few days! It speaks to my love of translucent stones, especially rock crystal – it has a subtle glow that’s really beautiful to me.
I especially like the way the crystal is wrapped in silver, rather than drilled. I’ve used rock crystal myself a few times: I made a cuff that looked like blocks of ice going around the wrist. I used to wear this necklace a lot; I don’t wear it as much anymore but maybe I should, it’s lovely.
This also came from Antiquarius: it’s a netsuke, a very old Japanese ivory carving. When I was a student I spent a lot of time wandering around the V&A looking at the Japanese department and the Chinese bronzes, which I think reflected in some of my work.
The museum had a huge collection of netsuke and I found them so funny and fascinating: they always told stories. I desperately wanted one, so when I saw this little guy I bought him. He’s very old and beautifully carved.
I can’t remember his name but he’s the bringer of gifts, carrying this sack on his back. Originally he would have been attached to a belt. I keep him near me when I’m working, as a good luck charm.
This perfume holder has quite an intriguing past: it was apparently given to my great-aunt, my grandmother’s sister, by an actress in London. Her sister was also on stage and it must have been a gift from one of her friends – unfortunately I don’t know if it was anybody famous!
My great-aunt obviously gave it to my grandmother at some point, who passed it on to me when I was about 16. I was always fascinated by jewellery and she could tell that I liked it; one day I was looking at it and she just gave it to me.
I don’t keep perfume in it now, it’s just a nice memory of my grandmother. Although I find all these antique treasures utterly charming, I would never design anything like them. I just appreciate the quality and the uniqueness of them.
Engagement ring and cross
These two pieces go together, and it’s quite a funny story. My husband David (who is my goldsmith) proposed to me in Paris 23 years ago with a simple gold ring with a princess-cut diamond of about 0.80 carats. I wore it for many years, then he found a beautiful old-cut, 3.6-carat diamond which he made into a more contemporary ring, and popped the princess-cut diamond into the cross.
A customer of ours really wanted an old-cut diamond like mine. They are quite tricky to find, these lovely old stones, and after looking for about two years I found one which was exactly the same but bigger: six carats. The client felt it was too big, so I suggested that she buy my ring and I would have the bigger diamond – which goes to show how totally unsentimental I am!
David had backholed ‘Love David’ in the shank. And funnily enough, the client’s husband’s name was also David – so the ring fit, the price fit, and even the ‘Love David’ fit! So she bought my ring and David set the six-carat diamond into my Rock design [main image], which is more contemporary again: it looks like the diamond is sunk into rock.
I wore the cross with the original diamond in for years, and then David made me a moonstone cross so I wear that one now. It’s handy having a goldsmith for a husband!