Normally by this time in November, members of ACJ Wessex would be engaged in final preparations for Winter Jewels: frantically polishing new stock, checking work returned from the Assay Office and setting the final stones, desperately hoping that we don’t have any last-minute disasters. We’ve all been there, on our knees under the bench, wondering where the stone went, whether it will still be intact when we find it, and why we hadn’t already done this weeks ago. (We have, haven’t we? It isn’t just me?)
We would normally be finalising stock sheets, cleaning display cabinets and hoping that we have the right balance of showpieces that catch the eye and demonstrate our talents, medium sized pieces for those customers who like to treat themselves to something a bit special, and Christmas present earrings at the lower end of our price range. Gill would be checking the Christmas tree lights and supporting new makers and encouraging those of us who are organisationally challenged to provide all the important pieces of paper, at least before we open, if not actually by the deadline that rolled by a couple of weeks ago.
2020 has brought many changes and many losses. No doubt many of you have, like me, been frightened of being ill, actually been ill and lost someone you cared about. In the light of this, it seems almost callous to care so much about a jewellery exhibition that is online rather than in the wonderful room by the café at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens. And yet for many of us, this little loss makes all the bigger losses of this year so much sharper.
Winter Jewels is not just an important source of income for many of our jewellers – although it certainly is important. It is not just a collection of beautiful jewellery hand made by around 25 (it fluctuates) talented people – although it is this, too! It is not just a great opportunity to buy meaningful, local gifts for your loved ones whilst also enjoying a walk around the stunning gardens, a delicious cake from the café and a chat with your friends – although again, it very much is this opportunity.
For the makers, Winter Jewels is part of the rhythm of the year, one of the rituals that mark the passing of the seasons and which provide the framework for our lives. There is also a great sense of community around Winter Jewels. As makers we are often alone in our studios, and although ACJ Wessex gives us the opportunity to meet every so often, it is at Winter Jewels that we spend most time together, and at Winter Jewels that we meet regular and new customers. It is such a joy to steward, talking to other people who love jewellery, and helping people to find the perfect piece of jewellery for themselves or others. Not to mention enjoying a bacon roll or (OK, maybe and) a delicious cake in a quiet moment!
So, the loss of our physical exhibition is much felt by us all. All is not lost, because we do have an online exhibition that can be found at https://www.acjwessex.co.uk/wj2020.html
Will an online exhibition be the same? No. But, based on my enthusiastic perusal of other online exhibitions, there are some real advantages. I love visiting jewellery and craft exhibitions and shows. However, I can come away feeling rather overwhelmed. Perusing the online exhibitions from the calm of my own home has enabled me to look much more thoroughly before I get befuddled, to make notes more easily, and to come and go at my leisure before finally making my choices.
Please let us know in the comments what Winter Jewels means to you! And one final plea – please support local, small businesses. It doesn’t have to be us. There are many hardworking, talented people who have had a rough year, and who need your support.