Wales is a hotbed for Celtic jewellery. Recently we spoke with Gwern Gwynfil of Rhiannon Jewellery about her passion for her profession.
What is the company’s history and mandate?
We were established in 1971 with the express goal of bringing Welsh and Celtic heritage into the spotlight. Not to do so in a nostalgic and reproductive sense, but as a living Celtic tradition rooted in the vibrancy of the still strong and vital Welsh cultural and linguistic heartland of Wales. Back then, almost everyone in the town were first language Welsh speakers and it still has a majority of Welsh speakers and is genuinely a living, vibrant, Celtic homeland. It remains our mission to show that Celtic culture lives and breathes and thrives – more so than ever now with the new global village created by the digital age. We are, and always have been, at the very cutting edge of this. Yes, we create original knotwork artwork and pieces, but we also draw upon and grow all the other artistic Celtic traditions, many of which look remarkably contemporary and modern. The Rhiannon design style is unique and strong and clearly thoroughly rooted in our Celtic past whilst looking very strongly to the future. It is too easy and too frequently assumed that Celtic equates to knotwork – ironic when we recall that knotwork was originally fused into the Celtic artistic tradition as an Asian import. Indeed, it is one of the great strengths of Celtic artistry that it is a millennia-long fusion of styles across a broad geographic melting pot which creates an enormous pallet of visually stunning styles upon which we can draw as we develop that style for the present and the future.
How has it evolved over time?
From small beginnings as an outlet for local artisans to sell high quality handmade pieces, the original retail outlet soon became internationally known as the Welsh Craft Design Centre. Rhiannon decided to teach herself the art of gold and silversmithing so that she could sell her own products as well as those of others and everything grew from that point. In 1999, the business acquired the buildings on either side of the original building and after a very extensive renovation added the Rhiannon Gallery, the Museum of Celtic Art, new viewing workshops, a much larger craft gallery and separate jewellery showroom, a café and, latterly, a small two-bedroom maisonette available as a holiday let. Around the same time, I completed my training as a Diamantaire and we started to develop a premium stone setting side to the business, making Welsh Gold limited edition pieces, with and without precious stones, and very consciously taking the brand up to the very top of the premium end of the market. Over time we have become increasingly certain that quality and longevity count more than anything else and remain determined to maintain and increase our presence as a premium international designer jewellery brand. I still hand-pick every precious stone and diamond and refuse to compromise on quality or value. Celebrating our 50th anniversary this year, and with Rhiannon herself retiring officially at the end of next summer, I plan to expand the business both by adding retail locations – London is top of the list – and continuing to grow the company’s online presence and sales as well as nurturing and improving the fantastic Rhiannon Centre in Tregaron. In spite of the challenges of the past year the plan is to raise significant new equity funding this year and next to grow and thrive as we enter our second half century.
What are the rewards of the job?
Nothing beats a happy customer, and we have customers who have thousands of pounds worth of our jewellery because they are so happy. There is always something magical about making bespoke pieces too. There are many occasions where customers have come to us with sketchy designs or old jewellery to be melted and remade into something new and creating something special for them, then seeing how much it means to them is always a joy. Both Rhiannon and I are also very committed to bringing life and vitality to a deeply rural and relatively poor part of Wales. There is a horrific paucity of opportunity unless you wish to be in the agricultural sector, work as a tradesman or work for the public sector. Good quality, high skilled, value creating jobs are very scarce and we want to grow the whole town of Tregaron as a jewellery business hub if we can. Bringing good jobs and economic vitality to our hometown and, in doing so, helping to support the growth and health of the culture which contributes so much to our collective Celtic heritage.
What are your core products?
Unique design in silver, gold, and Rhiannon Welsh Gold – the range is huge. Unlike most jewellers and brands, we don’t retire any designs but will keep making them forever, unless they are specific limited editions. We provide a lifetime guarantee; if you wear out your piece of Rhiannon by wearing it every day for 25 or 30 years, we will make you the same piece brand new for half its current retail price in exchange for the one you have loved so well and for so long that it has become a pale shadow of its original self! We can do this for around 95 per cent of all the designs we have ever made.
What are your thoughts on the current state of the Celtic marketplace?
We do need more innovation and a greater willingness to create new Celtic styles and artistic traditions that are more than knotwork or copies of historic or archaeological pieces.