The Queen of Silver Linings

Jocelyn Burton
When you step into Jocelyn Burton’s studio you are walking into the environment of a visionary and creative individual.

Everywhere you look sketches and paintings, life size models and fascinating pieces of art grab your attention like excited children, all with breathtaking vitality and an inspired originality.
Much like looking into the sparkling bright eyes of their creator, you can see time has not tempered her talent in any way and she retains that sense of fresh, youthfulness beneath her experienced hand.

A wonderfully charismatic woman, Jocelyn was born in 1946 and originally planned to read modern languages at Cambridge, but very quickly switched instead to train as a silversmith at Sir John Cass College .

“I realised that I was the kind of person who needed to create things so I pursued what I thought would both interest and motivate me the most. I wasn’t particularly bothered that I was moving onto a career path that was much more male orientated. I just loved the idea of working with precious metals and found them easy to sculpture and fashion my art with.”

It didn’t take Jocelyn long to hit the headlines and following a travelling scholarship to the former Yugoslavia in 1966 she won the De Beers International Award for diamond jewellery while still a student. Because of this success she was forced to leave before the conclusion of her third year as she was not allowed to gain practical experience whilst studying.

And in fact it was in 1968, not long after she collected her award that her own personal association with the Middle East began.

“If you look at the publicity photo that was taken of me by the writer Tom Sharpe, you will notice that I am not only wearing the winning necklace I designed but also an Abaya that was given to my father by King Faisal of Saudi Arabia.

“There’s a really interesting story connected to this because whilst looking for minerals back in the 1960s on a routine aerial survey, my father’s plane crash landed in the empty quarter and he ended up being rescued by Bedouin tribesman.

“King Faisal – who was a very warm and generous man – rewarded the rescuers with a gold watch and he gave my father, Monty, the Abaya as a memento of the experience. At that stage I didn’t realise that this would prove to be the start of a romance I have enjoyed with the Arab world that would thread its way through my life over the course of the next 30 years.”

As the “Swinging Sixties” came to an end and the more eclectic 70s beckoned Jocelyn did not sit still and by the start of 1970 she was ready to go it alone and set up her studio in Red Lion Street in London .

“This was a huge thrill for me. To be able to work at what you love is a rare treat and having just emerged as a young 20-something into the real world, the chance to have my own business was an opportunity not to be missed”.

Over the course of the next three decades, Jocelyn has gone on to produce some of the most admired and unique works of art and her connection with the Gulf has been maintained throughout this period.

“I was invited to exhibit some of my work at the very first luxury trade fair in the Gulf that was hosted in Dubai in 1976. I travelled there with Algernon Asprey and the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths and met Mohammed al Maktoum bin Rashid for the first time. Algernon had been one of the first interior decorators in the Guild to build palaces and grand houses.”

At home in the UK her star also continued to rise and the Thames and Hudson Manual of Silversmithing by Frances Loven was published in 1970 and contained many illustrations of Jocelyn’s work from this period.

The 70s provided her with a rich vein of form and during this period she produced designs for Aurum and was also commissioned to create a fountain for the Fishmonger’s Company to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee.

“There were hardly any other women involved in the Silver and Goldsmith trades and it would be fair to say that the attitude towards me in those days was perhaps not as accommodating as it might be today. The glass ceilings were as high as they were deep!

“Still, there were a good few supporters of my work from the male fraternity and I was doing well so I couldn’t really complain”.

The 80s saw her once again produce further work for the Middle East and she was commissioned to create many designs for the Sultan of Brunei, including a malachite barometer and an exquisite rose quartz cabinet.

“I’ve always had a deep appreciation of Arab art and architecture, particularly mosques and calligraphy and I feel that there is still so much to learn about the culture in this regard. I also really enjoy applying my creative skills towards the interpretation of a client’s wishes.”

In the early 1990s, she continued to fashion unique pieces for many important people in Kuwait whilst back in the UK , she was approached to create a set of sterling silver mustard pots with large baroque pearls especially for HRH Prince Philip.

Later she went on to win the United Kingdom Award for best design in silver and in 1998 she had an exhibition at Asprey and Garrads in Bond Street. In the modern era she remains one of a very small number of women who make large scale works in bronze, stone and precious metals.

Her passion and desire remain undiminished and earlier this year she did designs for several large interior lamps fashioned in bronze gilt with malachite. At two and half meters high, four of them are set to grace a new palace in Qatar .

In London you are never far away from one of her pieces of art and many are included in various public and private collections, such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, 10 Downing Street and St Paul’s Cathedral.

“The world is truly “my oyster” in the sense that I am fascinated by the beauty and complexity of nature. I pay great attention to detail, often incorporating precious and semi-precious stones and finely chased figurative decoration but overall I strive for timelessness and boldness of concept and form”.

I came away from the interview feeling privileged that I had been able to draw back the curtain into the world of this fascinating talent. Unpretentious and gracious, Jocelyn proved to be as humble as she is gifted and is deserving of all the praise and success she has acquired throughout her career.

She hopes to visit the Middle East in October with stop-overs in Qatar, Dubai, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain all part of her planned agenda and I would urge anyone interested in learning more about this very individual woman to visit her website at www.jocelynburton.co.uk

George R Vaughan