Inspired by Ireland

When you consider Irish jewellery, and how it has evolved over time one trait is consistent – virtually every piece of Irish-crafted jewellery has a meaning or story behind it. ~ Story by Marguerite Bourke.

Ireland has a rich history of jewellery design which can be traced back to its Celtic roots. As far back as 2000 BC, Celtic craftsmen adapted ideas from nature to produce intricate designs based on simple motifs using gold, bronze and silver. Triskeles, Spirals, Animal Motifs and later Crosses were woven into Celtic Knotwork designs in rings, torcs, bracelets, earrings, brooches and pendants.  Craft jewellery in Ireland is mostly hand made in hallmarked sterling silver and recent trend of mixing materials have emerged; adding touches of gold to silver. Today Irish jewellery designers continue to be inspired by their Celtic roots and heritage, while embracing design and innovation.

The Crafts Council of Ireland is the main champion of the craft sector in Ireland and has been working with the Irish jewellery sector to promote the quality, authenticity and evolution of jewellery design both at home and overseas. According to Brian McGee, Head of Market Development at the Crafts Council, “There is no single design aesthetic in Ireland. While Celtic designs are perhaps the best known, especially internationally, Irish art colleges have been producing extremely passionate and creative new designers who have brought a real sense of contemporary design and innovation to the sector.”

Imagined, Designed, Made in Ireland

Despite the recent economic downturn Irish craft and design is growing considerably; the craft sector in Ireland is currently worth €500 million to the Irish economy. Currently 25% of Irish jewellery is exported but that figure is expected to rise as more designers focus on international markets – including Canada. Ross O’Colmain, SVP Enterprise Ireland, Canada; comments; “Enterprise Ireland has been working with leading Irish jewellery designers to accelerate their exposure in the Canadian market. We have had a very positive response from local Canadian buyers who embrace the story that Irish designers are conveying through their inherently distinctive pieces.”

The global recession has resulted in consumers becoming more discerning about their purchases: while they may be buying less, they want to invest in gifts that are authentic, unique and that will last. Retailers and consumers alike are considering the story behind a product and asking if it has something modern and contemporary to say, while also having real provenance and authenticity.  In celebrating the unique provenance of Irish craft, the Crafts Council of Ireland developed a new consumer brand to encourage consumers to buy Irish craft – ‘Imagined, Designed, Made in Ireland’.

As part of its drive to bring Irish craft and design to a global audience, ten Irish jewellers recently participated at Inhorgenta, the major international trade fair in Munich, Germany under the “Imagined, Designed, Made in Ireland” brand. This is one of many initiatives to highlight Irish jewellery on an international scale.

According to Brian McGee, “Since the time of the Celts, Ireland has been internationally renowned for its quality jewellery making and we are on a journey to recapture this reputation Traceability, authenticity and ultimately communicating the story of Ireland and our heritage to consumers are crucial factors to the selling process, and is all a part of this uniquely Irish brand.

Spotlight on Irish Jewellery Designers

Irish jewellery offers a touchstone to our past as well as a vision for our future.

Solvar’s ‘History of Ireland’ ( is a collection of hand crafted jewellery from Ireland. Each piece in the collection is engraved with panels that represent some of the most historical eras in Irish history. It begins with the Celtic swirl dating back to the Neolithic age right through to the Partition of Ireland in 1920.  Available in 14K Gold and Sterling Silver, the collection includes rings, bracelets, pendants, earrings, cufflinks and brooches.

TJH ( design wedding rings, hand-made in their Dublin workshop and can be made in a combination of metals, including Sterling Silver, 10kt, 14kt, 18kt and Platinum. Their Eternal Celtic Wedding Band Collection sell very well in North America and the rings denote of your appreciation of Celtic heritage and design.

JMH Manufacturing is a similar story; a family run business in Dublin producing Irish classic jewellery, bearing the Irish Hallmark that you will find on every single piece. As is the case for Irish designers the ‘Made in Ireland’ stamp conveys the quality, workmanship which has been passed down through the generations.  

Jean Butler is a well known Irish name, famed for her leading role the international Irish dancing phenomenon, Riverdance. Jean has designed jewellery called The Jean Butler Jewellery Collection captures her charm, grace and finesse perfectly, while subtly reminding the wearer of their Irish heritage. The Jean Butler Collection shows an ability to observe and recognise the many diverse aspects of Ireland’s character in a most unique and contemporary manner. Each piece is carefully crafted in sterling silver, complemented by gold toning.

Ireland is leading the way with some of our newer, innovative designers inspired by Ireland’s past but moving towards more unique, edgier designs.

Christina Brosnan, grew up in Co. Clare, a hotbed of craft, inspired by her mother who made fine Irish lace. The wild Irish landscape has influenced her designs and her collections feature three-dimensional bead weaving techniques. Christina has recently introduced her new collections ‘Contour’ and ‘Osseous’.  Both collections use sterling silver or 14-carat rolled gold with semi-precious gemstone and bone.  The pieces in this collection are dual purpose – they can be worn as a necklace or in your hair, for example. Christina explains, “This gives them a “transformer” type quality and makes them playful pieces.”

A former sculptor turned goldsmith, Martina Hamilton is one of Ireland’s leading producers of contemporary Irish jewellery. She takes a figurative, experimental approach to making jewellery, working mainly sterling silver with 18 carat gold accents. For over 20 years her distinct award winning international brands including ‘Spirit of Ireland’ have been designed and handcrafted in her rural studio in the West of Ireland. Inspired by the poetry of Yeats and the beauty of her local landscape Martina continues to design new jewellery collections, her latest being “Oyster Pearl and “Full Moon”. Pearls catch the light and both reflect and contrast with either textured or polished metal surfaces in the Oyster Pearl collection. Full Moon, Ice Moon and Blue moon pendants embellished with precious stones represent the seasonal moons.

Maureen Lynch’s designs espouse elegant simplicity and high quality. Each piece is pared down and sculptural. It eliminates all manner of fuss. “I fell in love with metal 20 years ago,” says Lynch. It has been an ongoing affair. “Simplicity is what I like. My pieces take their cue from the body itself. I always bear in mind the contours of the body when designing, so that the wearer feels comfortable and at ease.” Her signature oval perfume bottles on a silver chain come with a swatch of linen inside them that you can spritz with your favourite scent so that you and only you can smell it. You can also keep a lock of hair, a love poem or photograph inside. Maureen says “I keep a child’s drawing in mine.” This collection has flourishes of gold in its silverwork, so people can mix and match it with their jewellery.

Fiona Kerr’s ‘Celtic Chaos’ collection is a modern mix of Celtic designs coupled with the chaotic randomness of nature. Fiona explains, “The inspiration for Celtic Chaos came from a couple of different directions, I liked the idea of getting movement in to my work but without it looking too mechanical or over engineered, by having the silver balls rolling around inside you get movement and sound, something to engage the wearer. The spiral design came from a combination of influences from Celtic art and the geometry in nature, when I look at this range I often think about swirling galaxies.”  The holes in the top layer of silver are all drilled individually so no two items are the same.  Using silver and 22ct yellow gold for this design brings it to life enhancing the three dimensional form, the polished gold surface on the inside almost makes it look as if there is a light inside.   

Showcase Ireland

Every January over 5,000 international buyers descend on Dublin, Ireland for ‘Showcase Ireland’ and Irish Jewellers feature prominently among 350 of the country’s leading designers, manufacturers and craftspeople. Showcase Ireland is marketed internationally by Enterprise Ireland. For more information on Showcase Ireland or any of the jewellery buyers featured s contact Marguerite Bourke at Enterprise Ireland, Toronto on or (416) 9345033.